Have you ever looked at a logo and thought, “hmmm, something just doesn’t seem right about that”? Well it may surprise you to hear that typography just might have been the reason. It’s one of the most important elements of brand design and no matter how amazing your design looks, bad typography will always bring down the overall quality. When typography is done right, it looks natural and ‘makes sense’ for a brand, but often times when typography is misused, it becomes blatantly obvious. Let’s take a look at what makes great typography for branding and logo design.
Know Your Families
Understanding font types and families is essential for good typography. Font families are fonts that have shared design characteristics, such as serif fonts. Serifs are the small overhanging lines on letters.
Serif vs Sans Serif Fonts
Knowing the proper application of serif, sans-serif, slab and script fonts will allow you to create stronger font pairs for the type of project that you are designing. For example, if you want your design to appear more traditional or classic you might use a serif font, while if you are going for more of a modern or trendy look you would use a sans-serif or slab serif font. Fonts can portray more than just a time period, they can also have personalities too. A handwritten script font is fun and youthful while a font like Helvetica is very simple, corporate and trustworthy. Using a typeface that relates to the audience of your design will always prove more effective!
Choose a Few
Most designers will agree that there is a limit to how many fonts should be used in the same design. Traditionally a good rule of thumb is to have no more than two or three different font families, however try to use fonts that are distinctly different. This is especially important when using two sans-serif fonts: if they are not different enough, they will appear the same to the viewer and defeat the purpose of using two different fonts. A great way to get around this rule is to use multiple weights of the same font family. This gives you more variety with your type while keeping the overall feel professional and clean.
Kerning is Key
Kerning, the spacing between letters, is an important side of typography that often goes unnoticed when designers are too focused on font styles. However flashy your font may be, it doesn’t lessen the importance and impact of good kerning. There’s a bit of science to creating good kerning, because it’s not as simple as looking for even spacing. Straight letters such as “I” and “T” often need more space in between them when sitting next to other letters that contain straight lines such as “D” or “E,” while letters like “O” and “C” need the least space in between them and other letters. Good kerning creates the best legibility for the viewer.
Hitting The Hierarchy
One of the biggest errors people make on social media is thinking that one post will work across all platforms. Controlling what elements a viewer’s eye goes to can be largely dependant on typography. Establishing a strong hierarchy is crucial to how your design is digested. If the least important information is what stands out the most on the page, then the viewer may be overlooking what you REALLY want them to focus on. A great way to create good hierarchy is with contrast. Pair a large bold heading with a lighter weight font for a subtitle. This will ensure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to what you want to highlight. Another important element to hierarchy is grouping specific elements together. Try to keep related information in one area so the viewer doesn’t need to “go looking” for what they want to know.
Space it Out
Your goal with typography is to communicate a message. If your message is crammed into a small area then it quickly becomes a chaotic mess of text that a viewer will pass up without reading. By giving your headings, sub headings and body text proper room to breathe, you provide the viewer with an “easy to skim” layout which will entice them to read through. It’s also important to pay attention to the leading or spacing between the text rows. A good rule of thumb is to always have your leading at least two or three points larger than your font size for strong legibility. However, be careful not to add too much space, as this will make your text appear oddly spacious.
A Reason to Justify
Another good tool in your typography handbook is justification or alignment. There are a number of different justifications that work well and a few that are forgotten (with good reason). Typically a design can be left justified, right justified or centre justified. These alignments with proper application all create very strong typography in designs. However, it’s seen as a big error to fully justify your text in any fashion. This type of justification is typically seen in newspapers, and often creates very large spaces, or “rivers” in between words in order to stretch the lines to the full width. Rivers are seen as bad typography and since full justification almost ALWAYS creates rivers, it’s best to avoid it entirely. It’s also a good rule of thumb to not switch alignment in a design for no reason, as it quickly looks sloppy and slapped together.
Body Size is Important
Font size is always important for good typography. Font size supports good hierarchy when used properly, but when overlooked can be disastrous. Page headings and graphic elements are more free when it comes to the sizing of your fonts, but when working with body copy there is more of a theory behind sizes. For most print designs, a good rule is to go no smaller than 10pt or larger than 12pt. If you are designing for a web based project then I would recommend no smaller than 14pt.
Support with Imagery
Typography can be strong on it’s own but as we know, humans are very visual creatures. Often having strong typography is not the only thing that can make your designs stand out. Pair your beautifully crafted type with images that further enhance the message you are trying to convey. Using typography and imagery effectively together will create the strongest designs with the most professionalism possible (like in this beautiful blog post)!
Avoid Common Mistakes
Let’s face it, not everyone is a designer with in-depth knowledge on the in’s and out’s of typography. However, knowing a few common mistakes and how to avoid them will help your designs appear more professional.
Don’t Stretch or Squeeze Fonts to Fit Spaces
If you are trying to make a word take up more space it looks much more professional to adjust the spacing with kerning and tracking. If you want to condense a font, always use a condensed font face. Stretching fonts distorts the look of the letters themselves and destroys the integrity of the font face.
Be Smart, not Dumb
Never use dumb quotes. These are the typical slash type of quotation marks, like the type on your keyboard and are often substituted for proper typographers quotes or smart quotes. Most design and word processing programs will have an option to enable smart quotes. Good typography will always include the use of smart quotation marks when needed.
Don’t use Clashing Colours or Low Contrast
If you want maximum legibility for font faces, a good rule is to maintain at least a 20% contrast ratio. This means that if you are using a font in a colour or shade, the background should be at least 20% lighter or darker than the text itself. The higher the contrast, the better the readability. No one wants viewers to have to squint to read their text, as it wouldn’t hold their attention for very long. It’s also a good idea to limit the number of colours that you are using while making sure to keep them complementary and not clashing.
No Full Width Paragraphs
Have you ever been reading a novel and accidentally re-read the line you just finished? This often happens because most novels use full width paragraphs. When your eye has to track all the way back across a page to find the next line, it becomes easy for you to lose your place. Using shorter paragraph widths allows the reader to easily move their eyes from one line to the next without the risk of getting lost. A good benchmark is to aim for a character count of around 40-60 per line.
Avoid Hyphens Wherever Possible
Hyphenation in body paragraphs often creates what is called an awkward break in text. This happens when a word is split with a hyphen and the result looks weird. In the end, it’s best to just drop the word onto another line rather than splitting it with a hyphen.
Avoid Widows and Orphans
While you may sound a little weird talking about widows and orphans in typography, it’s actually a really simple way to make your type appear more professional. A “widow” is a single word or a pair of very short words that are left at the bottom of a paragraph. An “orphan” is a single line of a paragraph that has been bumped to the next column. Both of these mistakes are much more common than you might expect and most people can pick up any newspaper and find a couple of these mistakes. Considering this is a very visual element of typography, it is often very quick and easy to spot widows and orphans in your copy. A great way to fix these issues is to adjust the font size, tracking or creating a manual line break where necessary.
Keeping your typography balanced and legible is an important aspect to designing engaging and attention-grabbing marketing collateral. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by our list of “Dos and Don’ts,” don’t hesitate to contact us for a helping hand. We have a full design team ready to transform your print and digital marketing materials. Contact us today to discuss your options.