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.

Better Type in Word and PowerPoint for Marketers

For all the marketers who are non-designers, but who also need to make your docs look good, here’s some simple typography tips that will make your Word docs and PowerPoint presentations look better.

If you ask any designer how much they love working in Word and PowerPoint you’ll hear a lot of grumbles. We hate the programs and will try hard to convince you to let us do the project in InDesign. But sometimes it has to be in a Microsoft product.

We begrudgingly sit down and struggle with Word and PowerPoint’s weak and confusing type tools.

So for all the marketers who are non-designers, who need to make your docs look good, here’s some simple typography tips that will make your Word docs and PowerPoint presentations look better.

All these tips are adjusted in the “Paragraph” dialog box found under Format > Paragraph

Paragraph BoxLine/Paragraph Spacing

This is always my first “go to” when teaching non-designers how to make both Word and especially PowerPoint presentations look better. It’s subtle, but makes copy read easier. The trick here is to pay attention to line spacing (leading) and then the space in between paragraphs (space before and after).

Line spacing should be set looser than Word’s normal line spacing. Most people use the default line spacing of “Single” for their documents. That’s ok, but I’ve found if you give the document a little extra line spacing it reads easier.

You can do this two ways under “Line Spacing” in the Paragraph box

  1. Exact: Set your “Line Space” to “Exactly” and it will default to 12pt. Set the line space to three or four points larger than your body text size. For 10pt type I’d set the line spacing to 13pt or 14pt. You’ll need to set this for each font size you use. If you have 14pt type you’ll set the line spacing to 17pt or 18pt. This can be time consuming if you have many text sizes in your document. There’s a more global approach —“Multiple.”
  2. Multiple: Set your “Line Space” to “Multiple” and it will default to 3. That will be 300 percent of the font size — way too big and only something Microsoft could come up with. I’ve found 1.15 will works perfectly giving all your text a similar look to “exact” 10pt type with 13pt line spacing. Think of this as a percentage — 1.15 is equal to 115 percent, or an additional 15 percent of a line space.

Using one of these approaches will improve the look of all your body text. Next we’ll adjust the space between paragraphs.

Paragraph spacing, the space in between paragraphs, can be controlled both before and after a paragraph. Most people simply hit return twice at the end of a paragraph and add a line space to separate paragraphs. This is a simple and heavy-handed method. Here’s the better way to adjust this space.

  1. Space After will allow you to simply hit return once and the space after paragraphs will automatically be created. No need to hit return twice to create the space. In the “Paragraph” box set the “space after” to the space you’d like between your paragraphs. Start by setting it to the size of your type. It’ll be the same as hitting return twice. If your type size is 10pt, set the space after to 10pt. But now you can be subtler and add more or less space to get a better look.
  2. Space Before will allow you to add space before the paragraph. So what’s the difference between space before or after? Nothing really, it’s how you use it. I typically use “space after” for paragraph spacing. I use “space before” for separating headlines and subheads from the paragraph before it. This helps to separate sections apart from each other. An oddity with “space before” is it needs to be larger than the “space after” of the paragraph before it. If the “space after” is 10pt the “space before” of the paragraph below it has to be at least 11pt to have an affect. See the sample below.

The trick with “space before” and “space after” is to always be consistent how you use them. Don’t sometimes use “space before” to get the separation between paragraphs and then other times use “space after.” Otherwise you won’t know which to adjust from paragraph to paragraph. Be consistent.

Line and Paragraph SpacingBulleted Text

Here’s the next area that good typography can make a huge difference in readability. Word and PowerPoint’s standard settings are poorly thought out and actually make bulleted lists very difficult to read.

5 Tips for Choosing and Pairing Fonts

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

I’m asked by many of my non-designer friends to look at the flyer or presentation they’ve created and tell them what I think. I soooo hate when this happens. As a designer, I’m pretty fussy about type selection. Are they appropriate? Are they paired well? Is there enough variation to create a good hierarchy? So when I look at my friends’ work, they’ve almost always made poor selections — mostly from lack of knowledge, and some just have bad taste.

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

First we need to understand the difference between fonts.

Display fonts are designed, and look best at a larger size. They tend to have strong “personalities” meant to make a statement. They often don’t have many variations in weight, and will typically be the dominant font on your page (even if they are used the least).

Text fonts are designed to look good as body text. They work best at small- to medium-sizes but can be used larger with extra attention paid to their letter spacing. Their personality will not be as bold as a display font, but can still have a lot of character. It just tends to be a little more subtle.

So how does one pair fonts? Here are five approaches that will help you look like a top-notch designer.

1. Limit Your Choices

Without the help of a designer, people often make the mistake of choosing too many fonts. So try limiting your font selection to two to three font families. A font family is font and all its variations (i.e., regular, italic, bold, bold italic, etc.). Use fonts with a large family and you’ll be safe using them, knowing that they’ll complement each other.

Garamond Font FamilyLimiting your choices doesn’t mean only use two to three fonts. It means using the right number of fonts for the project you are designing. With that said, the more fonts you use, the harder it is to balance them together and create harmony that enhances the design. As the examples show, one, two or many fonts can work when designed well.

2. Find the Right Characters

Fonts have personality and therefore you need to find the right personality for your project. If it’s a corporate presentation to bankers, you’ll want to consider fonts that are safer and risk-averse like Helvetica and Times Roman. Or you could add a little play with Gill Sans or Palatino. All are corporate in personality and will not make you look risky.

Fonts with a more corporate feelOn the other hand, if you are creating a flyer for employees about the company picnic, you can use fonts with more fun and bold personalities like Boston Traffic or Geometric. Or a personality that feels more picnic-like such as ITC Kabel or Logger.

Fonts with a more playful feelWhen it comes to character of your fonts be careful, you don’t want to look too cute either. Show your work to colleagues and get their feeling about the fonts. They may have a different opinion.

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.