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.

Setting typeOkay it’s true; I’m a typography nut. While attending Parson School of Design I had a type teacher, Margie Jones, who was fanatical about everything type — especially when it came to proper design and use of typography.

You could always tell who had Margie because our type in our other classes was always just a little better. Not from the obvious typography elements, but from the more subtle ones. So of course, when I started teaching at Parsons, I was equally crazy with my students about proper type design and use.

As my career progressed, I always found myself teaching not only my young creatives, but also my clients about type and its proper use. 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.

1. Double Space After a Period
This is one of my biggest pet peeves and a battle with many of my writer friends. We almost all grew up learning to place two spaces after a period/full-stop, but that practice is now considered outdated and unnecessary, and here’s why:

Back in the old days of typewriters the output was “fixed-width,” meaning every letter took up the same amount of space. The letter “l” took up the same amount of space as the letter “m” even though the “m” was much wider. This required the addition of two spaces after a period to visually make it clear you were at the end of a sentence.

Use one space after a period, not twoToday, almost all fonts are proportional. Each letter only takes as much space as it needs, thus, there’s no need to add the extra space as fonts are designed to have enough space.

2. Hyphens and Dashes
Hyphens and dashes are one of the most incorrectly used elements in written text. Most of us are not taught their proper use.

  • The hyphen ( – )
    The hyphen, or dash, is the shortest of the three and is used to combine words (e.g., road-side, well-being and short-term) and to separate numbers that are not inclusive (phone numbers and Social Security numbers, for example) or to hyphenate a word that does not fit on one line. Hyphenation is a topic for another day, and really deserves a post of its own.
  • The en dash ( – )
    The en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen. It’s actually the width of a typesetter’s letter “N” and simply means “through.” This through that.For example, to indicate inclusive dates: May 5 – June 7. Or for numbers: Chapter 16 – 20. Many people aren’t even aware the en dash even exists, as typographers used to set them automatically for us until the advent of word processing.
  • The em dash —
    The em dash is significantly longer than the hyphen and slightly longer than the en dash. The em dash is used to create a strong break in a sentence usually to emphasize what’s after it. It can also be used in pairs similar to parentheses — to highlight a word or phase — again for emphasis. However, you need to be careful not to overuse the em dash as you take away the importance you are trying to give that part of a sentence or phase.

While you should not use spaces before or after a hyphen, whether you do or don’t for en and em dashes is a bit more subjective. For instance, Target Marketing’s house style uses spaces before and after, but different publishers, and possibly even your clients, may choose not to. When in doubt, check the house style.

3. Quotes and Apostrophes
Many times when we copy and paste copy from one program to another, quotes and apostrophes will come across as straight marks or prime marks (see sample below).

Prime Marks or Inch and Feet Marks

Misuse of measurement marks instead of quote marksProper Typographic Quote and Apostrophe Marks

Proper use of quote marksThese marks are actually meant to indicate inches and feet. They’re not proper typographic quote and apostrophe marks — or as some call them “curly quotes.” But remember, you still should use prime or straight marks for indicating measurements of inches and feet.

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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