The Top 10 Typography Sins You'll Want to Avoid
You've probably heard me say this a hundred times but typography is super important in design land. Bad typography can make you come across as an amateur and leave your designs suffering.
And trust me, you don't want that.
Check out my 10 typography sins below so you can avoid making these mistakes in your next design project.
01. The TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
You know that feeling when you are in line somewhere and the person behind you is standing WAY too close? Just like you, your type wants some space. When your type is too close together it becomes very hard to read and puts a strain on your reader's eyes.
The technical term for adjusting the space between your lines is leading.
In the Character panel in Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop you can find the leading settings next to the font point size. A good rule of thumb is to keep it 3-4 point sizes higher than your font size. So if your font size is 29 setting your leading to 34 will make sure your copy will have enough breathing room.
The stretched look
Stretching a font will send you first class to typography hell.
If you feel the urge to stretch your font, stop, take a breather and look for a font that is designed wide, tall, or condensed. Stretching your font is bad for the following reasons...
- It distorts the original font
- It looks amateurish
- It makes you look lazy
- It can affect readability
The use of 100 different fonts
Ok maybe you won't use a hundred different fonts but it's important to be mindful when deciding how many fonts you will use.
A safe bet is to pick 2-3. The primary font will be the one that grabs your reader's attention, such as headers and big blocks of text. Your secondary font will be used for body copy and smaller blocks of text. And if you need it your third font will be used for other sections of type that you want to stand out.
The NO CONTRAST CLUB
No one likes being boring and neither does your typography. Spice up your type with some interesting contrast to stand out and make your readers think, "dang that looks nice!"
A good way to add some contrast is to pick a few fonts that pair well together. A sans-serif and a serif is usually a good option since they add that nice contrast. A few other font options are:
- Bold and regular
- Italic and bold
- Bold and light
- Slab serif and a sans-serif
- Tall and short
- Script and sans-serif
When it comes down to it avoid using fonts that look too similar. In the example below the fonts I used in the "wrong" section are 3 different fonts yet they look very similar which looks more confusing and off than anything.
The lonely orphan
In the land of typography, an orphan sits alone at the end of a paragraph. The reason this is a sin is it visually doesn't look good. The last line of a paragraph should reach at least half way of the width of the paragraph otherwise, you should consider adjusting your paragraph so everything sits nicely. You can do this by changing the width of your paragraph or by adding in or taking out unnecessary words.
The poor use of hierarchy
Let's say you're designing a poster for an event. The first thing you should do is write down all the info that will be on the poster and then decide what is most to least important.
If you are designing a poster you probably have a catchy title that you will want your readers to see first, that will be the top priority. Once the title reels them in you will then direct their eyes to what you want them to see next. Maybe it's a small caption describing the event. After they see that info you will direct their eyes to the third thing on your list such as a time and place for the event.
In the example below, you can see the hierarchy doesn't make sense on the left. In this case, your header should be in big bold letters, not your body copy.
The unreadable TYPE
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing fonts:
- Avoid using decorative fonts for body copy
- If you are using a decorative font for a header make sure it's still readable from a distance
- Make sure the size of the font is readable. You should avoid going below 8pts with printed body copy. Web copy needs to be a bit bigger so your reader's are squinting at the screen.
When in doubt ask for feedback. Sticking with clean fonts at a readable point size is a safe bet.
The bad kerning
In case you aren't familiar with kerning it's the process of adjusting the space between letters in headers or small blocks of text to make it look visually appealing.
To kern on a Mac hold down ALT and use the left and right arrows to adjust as needed in Adobe. Kerning takes practice but with time you'll be a pro and you'll be able to spot when kerning is necessary.
In the example below the text on left has awkward spacing between a few of the letters that make it a little difficult to read and not visually appealing.
Pro-tip: avoid kerning your body copy. Save it for your headers.
The wrong font at the wrong time
When choosing fonts for your project be mindful of the tone you want to convey. Fonts are able to express strong emotions so make sure you do some research and get it right.
In the example below, you would most likely want to go with the font on the right. But maybe your Grandma is hip and grungy then, by all means, go with the font on the left.
If you are feeling stuck on deciding what font to use then write out a list of words that relate to the event and see what kind of theme pops up. If it's a classy event maybe you'll decide to go with a serif font, if it's a modern party maybe you'll go with a sans-serif, if it's a child's birthday maybe you'll go with a slab serif or swirly font.
The Uppercase SCript
This is a personal pet peeve but let's be honest it looks terrible and you should avoid it like the plague.
Script fonts aren't meant to be displayed in uppercase. Unfortunately, that's not even the worst part, script fonts also aren't meant to be tracked out (space between the letters.)
If you are going to use a script font capitalize the first letter and don't track the letters.
And there you have it, my top 10 typography sins. If you have any you would like to add to the list drop them in the comment section below.