Typography is a crucial aspect of design, and the art of using typefaces beautifully goes far beyond avoiding Comic Sans and Papyrus. Learning the basics of typography improves your design. Typefaces are not pretty decorations; they’re an essential part of your design that directly impacts the readability and usability of your final product. If your design is flawless, but the text is distracting or difficult to read, your entire project may be disregarded. Below are some tips for optimizing your typography and using it to help, rather than hurt, your overall design.
1. Make the hierarchy obvious.
You want the reader to see the headline, then the subhead, then the paragraph text. How do you ensure that’s the order they read it? You create a hierarchy. Hierarchy is not good if you’re an anarchist, but it’s very important if you’re a designer. It allows the user to easily understand what text is most important and least important, and it guides the eye throughout the page.
2. Use less than three fonts.
…and sometimes 3 is pushing it. If you’re using a second or third font, you need to have a clearly defined reason for doing it. Oftentimes, you can use different weights of the same font to achieve the look you want, and then using less complicated fonts actually makes the design easier to read. Using fewer will help the faces you do choose stand out. If, for example, you want a more decorative typeface for a headline and a body text that is clear and easy to read, go for it. Just make sure you can justify to yourself and your client why you are using different fonts.
3. No widows and orphans.
A widow is a short line or single word at the end of a paragraph. An orphan is a word or short line at the beginning or end of a column that is separated from the rest of the paragraph. They both look really awkward. Fortunately, it is easy to avoid them. You can either change column widths, find words to add/remove, or slightly change the tracking, which is the distance between letters in a word (not to be confused with kerning, which deals with one space between two specific letters).
4. Kerning is your friend.
Especially if you are designing a logo or large headline, kerning is extremely important. Because some letters (like an uppercase W) leave empty space before the next letter begins, some words can look awkward if you do not manually adjust the spacing between two specific characters. It’s very easy to do this and goes a long way. Plus, you don’t want to your design to end up on one of these lists.
5. Use complementary fonts.
Serif with sans-serif, bold with light, decorative with Roman, etc. Opposites attract, and if you use two fonts that look oddly similar but are not similar, it’s just going to look awkward. You want your fonts to complement each other, not compete for attention.
6. Let your words breathe.
It is okay to use some of your precious white space to allow your fonts to have room to breathe. Putting a bunch of fonts on top of each other is confusing and feels cluttered. Give them space.