7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate

Okay it’s true; I’m a typography nut. Now, I’m sharing with you what I consider the top seven type mistakes. Identifying and correcting these issues can help anyone improve the quality of their marketing materials and improve readability.

4. Space Between Lines or Leading
Linespacing or leading can dramatically help improve the readability of large copy blocks. Readers can follow lines of copy more easily without losing their place with the right amount of linespacing. Too little will make it feel cramped, too much can make fall apart.

Examples of good and bad leadingFont choice can also make big difference here as well. Because of this, there’s no set formula for the “right” spacing — each font will read differently due to varying heights in letterforms and font weights. This means you’ll need to pay attention to the linespacing while keeping readability and look in mind.

5. Letter Spacing or Tracking
Like linespacing, letterspacing or tracking can also make your copy easier or harder to read. We read type not only by its shape, but also by the space around it or its negative space. If this space is too tight or too loose, it’ll make your copy more difficult to read.

Examples of good and bad trackingMany times people will tighten the tracking to be able to fit more copy in a smaller area. Just be careful that you or your designer don’t overdo it.

6. Line Length
This is an area where many people do not pay enough attention. It happens quite a bit with websites. Long lines of type can cause eye fatigue for your readers because they need to work harder to follow the long line across the page. They’re forced to physically move their head and eyes more going from line to line.

Examples of good and bad line lengthThe general rule of thumb: keep lines of text under 50 to 60 characters long. Ever notice how legal copy is always set in very wide line lengths — I wonder if they really don’t want us to read this copy.

7. Orphans and Widows
No I’m not talking about children without parent or wives without husbands. I’m referring to the typographic use of these two words.

Examples of orphans and widowsWidows are usually one word, part of a hyphenated word, or depending on the line lengths, a couple of words at the end of a paragraph on their own line. A widow leaves too much white space between paragraphs, can interrupt the flow of copy and is considered poor typography.

Orphans are also one word, part of a hyphenated word, or words at the end of a paragraph on their own line except it appears at the beginning of the next column or a page. This creates an awkward white space at the top of a column or page and is also considered poor typography.

Don’t Be an “Inferior Type”
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the typographic errors made everyday. With the advent of programs like Quark, InDesign and Word, we started to do our own typesetting and began the slow death of the typographer. Too bad, perhaps. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t be the “superior type.” Just take the time to review for these simple type mistakes that you can easily fix.

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.

16 thoughts on “7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate”

    1. boobly, thanks for your kind words. Many writers I work with tell me they really appreciate this knowledge. I tell them, the better I design my type, the more I honor their words.

  1. All great points. Unfortunately, most people, who know little or nothing about typography, may not appreciate the value of what is being communicated. Even worse…I am now paranoid about typing this reply. (Insert smile icon here.)

    1. Oh no, now you’ve got me worried about my reply. (insert smile icon here too)

      You’re right many may not appreciate these 7 typographic tidbits, but if just a few do—I’m happy.

  2. I’ve been a graphic designer for more than thirty years. Before computers, we were able to make our text areas and headlines appear as actual design elements. That has definite limitations now that this is done on a computer. Quark, as you mentioned, had several methods for making this work on a computer. albeit, it is time consuming if one is a stickler like me.

    The quality of fonts available on computers is is of such low quality that the serifs and corners of the letters are not sharp, but rather they are rounded off. One can purchase larger fonts that do pretty well when reduced to smaller sizes such as anything less than 24 points.

    When we worked with galleys of hot type printed onto fine quality paper on a flatbed press, we had serifs that would cut your finger.

    I was taught to never make a line length more than 30 picas wide for the best readability, but nowadays no one knows what a pica is.

    Leading was alway 2 points in almost all body text unless a special effect was called for such as 4 points or so between lines just for the design effect.

    Em dashes and en dashes were simply noted for the typesetter and we didn’t have to work with some forms of computer type that make two hyphens for a dash. That looks awful. Some word processing programs will automatically convert two hyphens into an en dash, but it’s nearly impossible to derive an em dash.

    Whether I use a single space or a double space between the period and the first letter of the following sentence is based on my own judgement of which looks best for the typeface or font I’m using. Obviously using a condensed typeface there is a need for a double space, while a font such as Georgia, or especially Garamond, needs only a single space. I break some rules, but the result is a better in my opinion.

    The computer makes things much faster, but one look at most websites shows that too few people have a clue about type, fonts, spacing, leading or points. And the number of spelling and grammatical errors on websites is appalling. Apparently one does not need to know anything about anything to produce text on a website. This is a good thing for me since I write websites for a living, so the competition is not great.

    I appreciate your article. I hope some people read it and take it to heart. But I’m concerned that the ignorance of type and readability is too pervasive to have any effect.

    1. Douglas, ahhh you bring back some of the good old days and some of the bad too. Remember stripping in a single word from a rally because the client made a type change at the last minute. Don’t miss that at all.

      I agree most websites have a lot a bad type, some from the creators and others due to the medium—html, CSS and the need for responsive design. The old days of hand breaking every line to get the perfect rag are gone. On webpages the rag changes from system to system, browser to browser and font to font.

      But change is inevitable and all we can do is carry the best practices, that still work, forward to days technology.

      I will say I’m happy not to need to use a ruling pen or “Rapidograph” or need to paste up a mechanical. I went computer in 1987 and never looked back. But I do make adjustments to the setting in my apps to get the closest look to typesetting as possible given the new technology.

      I’m happy you appreciate the post. As I said in another comment, if only a few read this and start making the changes, then I’ve done a good thing.

      1. Ah yes, the good old Rapidograph pens. I used 0000 sometimes for very fine lines and the darn things were always clogging up.

        And I remember without any fondness, stripping in a single word on a mechanical.

        All in all, I don’t really miss it too much. I just become weary of the people who have no appreciation for type as a design element. And the apparent lack of understanding of what good to great type can do for piece.

        Thanks for comment and a trip down memory lane. Ha ha.

  3. Spot on, have addressed almost every one of these on magazine layouts. Glad to see you put them in one concise list. 100% agree!

      1. I have already shared with staff, and plan to share with 24 other partnerships, and pass along to one of our Cooperative Communicators Association’ group for suggestion as a back page “interesting read links”, so hopefully you will like. Will have that monthly e-newsletter editor contact you for permission to share link, and so you will know when it will air.

  4. As an editorial and production coordinator at a small Christian publisher, I appreciated this article. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent converting feet and inch marks into quotes and apostrophes on manuscripts. And can I vent a second about the misuse of the apostrophe in words such as ’til, ’em. It drives me nuts to see it represented as a single quote.

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