Typography Basics Every Designer Should Know

Every designer needs to understand typography. Let’s start with the basics.

Typography in simplest terms is the art and technique of arranging type. Typography is born to make written language readable, appealing, and legible. The meticulous arrangement of type involves selecting from a myriad of considerations.

What are those considerations? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are the basics every designer should know.

 

A Preface to Choosing fonts

 

There is an astonishingly and tragic array of fonts available online for your pleasure. There’s no shortage of fonts to choose from, but as with anything else in this world, this universal advice still applies; Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. There’s something magical about painting your canvas with a limited and intentional palette. We’ve gathered a list of some excellent free fonts, but always consider investing in a paid typeface. Most are crafted by talented and experienced artists over an extended period of time.

 

The Basics

 

Serif

 

A short line or stroke attached to or extending from the open ends of a letter. Fonts designed with this character are called serif fonts.

 

Sans-Serif

 

This literally means “without line”, and refers to fonts designed without a serif.

 

Italic

 

A sloping version of a typeface which is uniquely designed as a tilted (from left to right) version of the upright typeface. It is used for emphasis or distinction and in foreign words.

 

Size (x-height)

 

The height of a typeface’s lowercase letters (disregarding ascenders and descenders). It’s called the x-height’ simply because it is based on the letter ‘x’.

When pairing different typefaces, for example when using a different fonts to denote an area of attention – it’s generally wise to use those that share a similar x-height.

 

Line Spacing (Leading)

 

Leading is the vertical spacing between lines of text (from baseline to baseline). Curious fact: it’s called leading because strips of lead were used in the past to separate lines of type in the days of typesetting. The key to leading is making your text comfortable to read. To accomplish this, a general rule is to keep your line space between 1.25 to 1.5 times greater than your font size.

 

Letter Spacing (Tracking)

 

Tracking or letter spacing is the space between your letters. Yeah, that one was hard to figure out. More specifically, though, it’s the uniform amount of between each character in section text.

 

Kerning

 

The horizontal spacing between two consecutive characters; adjusting the kerning creates the appearance of uniformity and reduces gaps of white space between certain letter combinations. An example of this would be where an uppercase ‘A’ meets an uppercase ‘V’, their diagonal strokes are usually kerned so that the top left of the ‘V’ sits above the bottom right of the ‘A’.

 

Measure

 

The term ‘measure’ describes the width of a block of text. Anything from 45 to 75 characters is generally regarded as a comfortable length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. Keeping your measure too small requires the eye to constantly move to next line. Keep to too long and your reader’s eye is extended beyond comfortable range. The 66-character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal. When using multiple columns, a better average is 40 to 50 characters.

 

Hierarchy and scale

 

It would be difficult to know which was the most important information on the page if all fonts were the same size. Hierarchy and scale are important elements in any design project. It gives readers a sense of how to actually read material from start to finish with visual cues and flow. headings should generally be large, sub-headings smaller, and body type even smaller still. This isn’t a rule, just a suggestion. Sometimes a header isn’t the most important thing on a page or the first thing you want the reader to read.