No matter if you are formatting your resume, designing a website, writing some copy to be handed off to an art director, or just writing a note to grandma, good typography is an art that can help you communicate more effectively to your reader. Below is a list of 10 typography tips that are a good starting point for laying out your own “Crystal Goblet”.
- Widows – Avoid leaving a single word alone at the end of a line. Try to either bring it up to the previous line, or force an extra word down to the last line to keep it company. You can do this either by playing with your character spacing settings or even simply editing the text to fit the canvas. Beware of your paragraph spacing when you are doing this!
- Orphans – Second to the widow, the orphan is a single line of a paragraph all alone at the top of a column of text. If at all possible you should try to stop paragraphs from breaking across columns or pages, but if it is absolutely necessary, you should keep at least 2-3 lines of text together on each side of the page/column break.
- Consistent Bullets – Check your bullet lists. The general formatting and indenting of a bullet list is debatable and relative to the individual, but always check that either ALL or NONE of them end in a period. Also make sure that they use consistent capitalization (see #5). Consistency is key to a clean and uniform design.
- Leading – Make sure that your leading (the space between your lines of type) is not too tight that the text looks like it is on top of itself, but not to loose so that you can drive a truck through it.
- Capitalization – When laying out page headlines, subheads, bullet lists, category topics, etc., make sure you have a consistency among your capitalization structure. Generally, there are 4 ways to go:
- Sentence Capitalization: Only capitalize the FIRST word. (e.g. “The story of my life”)
- Title Capitalization: Capitalize the first and the last word; Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions (“as”, “because”, “although”); Lowercase all articles, coordinate conjunctions (“and”, “or”, “nor”), and prepositions regardless of length, when they are other than the first or last word. Lastly, lowercase the “to” in an infinitive. (e.g. “The Story of My Life”)
- All Lowercase: Capitalize everything. (e.g. “THE STORY OF MY LIFE”)
- All Uppercase: Capitalize nothing. (e.g. “the story of my life”)
- 2 Font Maximum – Try to keep your font usage down to as few as possible. Quite often using 2 fonts that compliment each other is tastefully acceptable. For example, newspapers often use a sans serif font like “Univers Ultra Condensed” for headlines and a serif font like “Garamond” for the main text body. It is also a good idea to stick with a font family for all additional variations. For example, use “Arial” for text and “Arial Bold” for sub-heads. This will make the typesetting tie itself together nicely since the font-family are related, hence the name, “family.” Too many errant typefaces can make your piece look like a ransom note (If that is the look you are going for, then please ignore this rule).
- 3 Color Maximum – If you are working on a piece that is going to be displayed online or printed in color, it is a good idea to stick with 3 colors at a maximum. You don’t want your page to look like someone dumped a bag of skittles on it. It is often useful to use tints of a color to offer some visual variety without going overboard on the rainbow and pulling in too many colors.
- Main Text Color: This should be an easily legible color and should offer as much contrast between the text and the background color as possible.
- Primary Accent Color: The primary accent color is used to compliment the main design theme, graphics and/or company logo. For example, if your company logo is mostly green, use green or a complimentary color for the headlines.
- Secondary Accent Color: The secondary color should be used minimally. It often becomes useful when working with charts and graphs and you need a third color to separate key data. The secondary color should compliment the primary color and/or the text color.
- Spell Check & Proof Read – The first part of this is a no-brainer, but the second part (proof reading) is often forgotten. Just because your document passed the spell check with zero errors, doesn’t mean you spelled everything correctly. My father always told me “Measure twice, cut once.” In this case, I would say “Read twice (or three or four times), publish once.” Don’t just skim over your piece, REALLY read it. If you want your reader to take you seriously when they read it, you should take it seriously when you write it.
- Abbreviations – If at all possible, you should try to avoid these. In the digital world, you can always make room for the “reet” in “Street” and for all those other letters that we leave off out of habit.
- White Space – I couldn’t end a list without circling back to my favorite design element. Make sure you don’t clutter your page with content. Leave plenty of breathing space for the letters. Allow your headlines and visuals to stand out without being crowded. Remember that too little white space can really frustrate your reader, but too much can be bad also. You must be able to find a harmonious balance.
I have merely scratched the surface of typography with these ten quick tips. I hope, if nothing else, it inspires you to look a little deeper at those funny things we call letters dancing on the page.