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I haven’t been visited by the Alliance of Designers just yet, so I am happy to present the second installment of my Design Secrets series.
Learning to use effective typography is paramount, whether you are creating a logo, brochure or website. Here are some of my personal tricks that I use every day.
Book Recommendation: The Mac is Not a Typewriter
I highly recommend this book. You can pick up a copy on Ebay for about $4. Some of the tips you’ll learn involve the proper use of quotation marks, en and em dashes, tabs and indents, kerning, leading, white space, widows and orphans, and hanging punctuation. These are the tiny details that make professional designs stand out.
One rule I’ll mention is the use of double spaces. Double spaces are a hold-over from the printing press era, and from the days of typewriters when mono-spaced letters needed a double space after punctuation marks to let the eye rest. These days mono-spaced fonts are rarely used in design programs, so a single space will do just fine every time.
Limit Fonts to One or Two
Limit your fonts to one or two throughout your entire design. Use a tiered system—use the same font for all headlines, then use the second font for smaller text or paragraphs. Remember that fonts typically have regular, bold and italic variations, and many fonts have even more (for example condensed, extended, thin and black). Stick with the choices in a given font rather than bringing in a third or fourth.
Fonts to Avoid
There are fonts you should always avoid if you want your designs to look more professional. This attached graphic from GCFLearnfree.org shows a few. Just pretend they don’t even exist and you’ll be fine.
In headings, avoid using letter spacing with lowercase letters. In paragraph text, letter spacing is fine, but don’t go past 20% in either direction, otherwise you run the risk of the paragraph appearing too tight or too loose compared to others. Using letter spacing on uppercase letters in headings, however, can give a very elegant look, as the “Tech Solutions” portion of the Quantum Tech Solutions logo shows.
Justification & Alignment
Avoid using the “justify” setting when aligning paragraph text. The text becomes illegible and creates rivers of white space throughout your paragraphs. Left alignment is preferred, but avoid any hyphenation or word breaks by turning this feature off in your graphics program.
Avoid Stretching Fonts Horizontally or Vertically
If you want to make some text taller or wider, use a font that is naturally tall or wide. There is one way to break this rule—if you are using a professional graphics program like the Adobe Suite, you can make a font wider or taller by no more than 10% using the horizontal and vertical scale. Anything past 10% ventures into amateur territory.
Italics is meant to convey information as a side note or secondary thought. It can also be used for emphasis only when it is surrounded by other type in paragraphs or headings. This rule can be broken, but break it sparingly—wedding invitations can use fonts that mimic calligraphy, and a hand-written font could be used for an artist’s logo. 99% of the time I avoid using italics in a logo or headline.
In any design, figure out what the most important element is and make it BIG! If you have a catchy tagline or heading, use a bold font and make it the largest visual on the page. Then create your own hierarchy of fonts for the rest of the design—make all paragraphs, lists or menu items the same font and size, have a secondary heading font that is consistent, and use your smallest font for fine print or legal information.
Kerning refers to the space between letters. I typically kern fonts when I am designing a logo. Kerning is an art, and the goal is to make the space between all letters appear consistent to the eye. For The Set Up Kings logo, I reduced the space after the “K” because the default space did not pull in the “i” enough.
When designing anything, always keep legibility in mind. Your first objective is to communicate—break essential rules and you run the risk of making your design illegible. Use these tips and tricks to reduce visual clutter and give your viewer’s eyes places to both rest and explore.
My next Design Secrets article will explore the use of color. Sign up for my newsletter below for updates on new articles.
About Jon Hébert
Every day I help musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, small businesses & other design agencies with their branding, digital marketing, website development, creative writing, social media management & more.