5 More Typography Mistakes You Can Eliminate

This is a continuation of my earlier post “7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate.” That post garnered quite a few reader comments, including some who pointed out “mistakes” I didn’t include. So I’ve decided to share five more

MistakesThis is a continuation of my earlier post “7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate.” That post garnered quite a few reader comments, including some who pointed out “mistakes” I didn’t include. So I’ve decided to share five more:

1. Over Centering

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Many non-designers use centered text way too often. Mind you, I’m not against centering … I like it. But you need to know how to do it in a way that does not make your text unreadable.

Our eyes read from left to right. When we finish a line of text, our eye slides left to the beginning of the next line almost automatically. An edge is formed by the flush left text and helps our eye find the beginning of the next line. Each new line starts in the same place. It’s easy and we don’t think about it.

When you center multiple lines of text, your eye struggles to find the beginning of the next line of copy. The line does not line up with the line before it. The straight edge is not formed and our eye now needs to search for the start of the next line. This searching slows down reading and tires our eyes. Not what you want when trying to communicate a message.

What’s the solution?

First, center only a few lines at a time. Do this to grab attention — to highlight copy.

There are also ways to center text where you don’t actually center every line. Center the block of text instead. This gives the “feel” of centered text without the readability issues.

Centered text example
Everything centered is difficult to read. Use centering sparingly. Center copy blocks instead.

2. Justified Text

This is when all the type lines up on the left and right margins. Although not used as often as centered type, justified text also can make type difficult to read. It’s also very difficult to make it work, even for the best designers. Again, use it sparingly.

Make sure the line length is long enough. Short line lengths have fewer words per line and therefore more space is added between words to justify the text.

Be ready to edit your text to create better word spacing. This way, you can adjust the spacing a word at a time.

My recommendation: Don’t do it. It’s just too difficult to make type look good with the tools available to most non-designers.

Justified text example
Justifies text causes overly large word spacing making text difficult to read.
Plus it just looks bad.

3. Proximity

What is proximity? It’s the grouping together of items that relate to each other, such as a title with descriptive copy or a price with a product description. Grouping them together makes them one visual unit, organizing the information in a logical way that makes it easier for readers to take it in

In the wonderful book “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” (4th Edition) by Robin Williams, there’s a great example depicting how appropriate proximity and group content can improve look and readability.

Typical proximity example
Typical proximity
Better proximity example
Better proximity

Notice how much easier the example on the right is to read. Each block of copy now reads as a unit and has clear separation. The larger image has more visual appeal too.

4. Underlining

Underlining is a holdover from typewriter days when there was no other way to boldface or italicize type as we do now on computers.

Author: Patrick Fultz

Patrick Fultz is the President/CCO of DM Creative Group, a creative marketing firm producing work across all media. He’s an art-side creative, marketing strategist, designer and lover of all things type. His credentials include a degree from Parsons School of Design with 15 years of teaching at his alma mater, over 40 industry creative awards, and he previously served as President of the John Caples International Awards. Always an innovator, Fultz was credited with creating the first 4-color variable data direct mail piece ever produced. He continues to look for innovative ways to tap the powerful synergy of direct mail, the web, digital and social media.

11 thoughts on “5 More Typography Mistakes You Can Eliminate”

  1. Thank you Patrick, for another clear set of great tips. I will point all the designers and non-designers among my clients to this piece. These may seem basic to people who lived through the desktop publishing revolution, but they’re still news to many keyboard jockeys.

    1. Gordon, OMG, I so hated the term “desktop publishing.” Too many non-designers “got an app” and started doing “desktop publishing” with no training. There was so much bad type back then.

      I’m happy you found these posts on typography worthy enough to share with your designers and non-designers you know. I greatly appreciate the compliment.

  2. Just one comment about justified type. Turn on hyphenation. As someone who started in marketing/advertising as a designer/turned typesetter when my bosses knew I could type 80 words a minute and knew proper rules for same, when I see those huge white spaces you could drive a truck through, I cringe. Just make sure you don’t have multiple lines of hyphenations in a row. I think no more than two. With variable word spacing/letterspacing, you can make this happen. I love beautifully set type, justified, rag right, centered. They all have their place.

    1. lol, one of my favorite phrases to use with typography “drive a truck through.” I do believe that is an official typography term.

      I’ll turn on hyphenation to see what it hyphenates and will use hyphens when I have to to fill those “white spaces.”

      And I whole heartily agree: “Just make sure you don’t have multiple lines of hyphenations in a row.”

      I also love beautifully set type, justified, rag right, centered—the trick is to know when and where the right place is.

      P.S. happy to know there’s still typesetters out there…it a lost art sad to say.

  3. Great points! And the summary says it all! Copy is more than persuasive words, it is also visual, providing readers (or listeners) a positive experience. When copy violates human nature and expectations, as you so clearly point out Patrick, you lose readers or listeners attention. And their interest. Thanks for sharing super guidance.

  4. I love to read about and do anything related to design layout and typography. Just looking at different fonts is pleasurable. Right now, I’m in the last stages of building my website and thought I had it all figured out. But noooooo. Patrick has showed me things I never dreamed of. And I will put them to good use, right now. Like that ‘dinosaur’ tip, which reminds me to go and delete that underlining in one of my headings.

    1. JR I also love to look at fonts…in my younger days, my friends and I would go to movies and the first one who correctly named the credits font got a free drink from the rest. Yup, we were type nerds.

      I’m so happy this post will help you improve your website.

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