3 Type Facts You Don’t Know, But Should

Back in 1979, we were taught the old-fashioned way, and everything was done by hand. You had to understand all aspects of typeface design and letterforms. You learned how each letter was created and how they fit together perfectly. So here are three facts about type that you don’t know.

Margie Jones. That name had many a Parsons’ student, me included, cursing under our breaths and panicked at the same time. She was our Typography I & II professor. To say she was tough would be an understatement. But she was good, really good. She held us to a high standard and never let us off the hook.

And you could spot Margie Jones’ students a mile away. All you needed to do was simply look at their work compared to other students who didn’t have her. It always rose above.

Back in 1979, we were taught the old-fashioned way — with rapidograph pens, Letraset rubdown type, Lucy machines and a strong lupe. Everything was done by hand. You had to understand all aspects of typeface design and letterforms. You learned how each letter was created and how they fit together perfectly.

There were no computers. No InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop. You had to not only have great creative skills; you needed excellent hand skills too. It was hard, but you learned how and why you did things.

Thank you Margie Jones!

Here are three facts about type that you don’t know and, sadly, many young designers also might not know.

1. Round Letters Go Above and Below the Line

This is one of my favorite tests of young designers to see their knowledge of type; to let me know if they paid attention in class or how good their professor was.

Round Letter Above Below

Look at the example above. Notice how the round letter will rise above or below the base, ascender and x-height lines. Why?

If the round letters did not go above and below, the round letters would appear to look smaller than the rest of the straight letters. See the example below:

Round Letters Smaller

The reason for this: When the round part of the letters just touch the base, ascender and x-height lines, there’s less surface area as compared to the straight letters. To make the letter optically correct, you must have the round letter actually go above and below the base, ascender and x-height lines. This is just one of the many optical fixes that typography uses.

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.