In this blog we will discuss the following:
- A Quick History of Typography
- What Is Typography?
- Classifications of Typography
- Typography Best Practices
A Quick Dive Into The History Of Typography
The story of typography and its origin is anything but quick. For the sake of time, we’ll give you a brief overview on how it came about. The first use of typography can be dated back all the way to 8500 BC in ancient Mesopotamia with their system of graphic symbols that depicted things/objects called cuneiform which eventually became the famous ancient Egyptian alphabet called hieroglyphics. Fast forward to the year 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press forever transforming the way the masses interact with written text.
As written text became more and more familiar to the common person, type designers took the opportunity to leave their mark in the history of typography. New typefaces (a family of varying sizes, weights, and styles of a typographic style, or what we call today, fonts) were being created left and right. Today there are an overwhelming number of different fonts to choose from. But before we get into the different types of fonts, let’s take a look at why typography is so important in the first place.
Typography Is More Than Choosing Beautiful Fonts
First and foremost, the most important aspect of all writing is that it can be easily understood. Written text is no longer only for the nobles and a handful of “important” people. It is for the masses, which means the design and style of the text should be legible and consistent. Typography has a major influence over the visual impact of a message and sets the tone and mood for the reader.
Good typography establishes a strong visual hierarchy, provides balance, and sets the product’s overall tone. It should guide and inform your users, optimize readability and accessibility, and ensure an excellent user experience. Now we’ll get into all of those aspects later, but the three main reasons why typography is so important are:
- Typography builds brand recognition
- Typography influences decision making
- Typography holds the attention of the readers
Classifications of Typography
There are many different classifications of typography, but for this blog we will go over what are considered to be the four main classifications: serif, sans serif, script, and decorative.
Serifs are strokes or slight projections that finish off the ends of letterforms. Serif typefaces evoke feelings of history, tradition, authority, honesty, and integrity. Some classic serif typefaces to use (recommended by the legendary designer Massimo Vignelli) are Garamond, Caslon, Bodoni, Baskerville, and Times New Roman.
Sans-serif typefaces, you guessed it, do not have serifs. They are more modern, minimalist, and bold. Since sans-serif typefaces lack additional flourishes, they have a more clean and legible appearance. Bold san-serifs are great to use for headlines as they can grab the reader’s attention more than a serif typeface would. Some classic san-serif typefaces (again recommended by Massimo Vignelli) are Helvetica, Futura, Optima, and Univers.
Script typefaces are made up of fluid strokes that resemble natural handwriting. They can be formal or casual. Script typefaces are more visually appealing and legible when they are used in a higher point size making them the most suitable for titles, headers, or signatures. When using a script typeface, never put the words in all capital letters, because this will make it extremely difficult to distinguish each character.
Decorative fonts are packed with personality. These fonts are highly decorated versions of sans serif, serif, and script typefaces. Decorative typefaces are used to quickly grab the reader’s attention with a really unique look. However, just like script typefaces, remember to use them sparingly and only for titles and headers.
Typography Best Practices
Think about the font’s personality.
Choosing a font should never be a random process. Make sure to take into consideration the psychology behind different fonts so that they truly connect with your target audience.
Focus on legibility.
If the font you choose is beautiful but illegible, you need to rethink your decision. If you have found a decorative font you would like to use for titles or headers, be sure it is still legible. This also applies when choosing the weight of a font. If the weight of the font used for the body copy is very light or very bold, this can make it extremely difficult to read.
Less is more.
Ever heard of this phrase? Keep it in mind when choosing fonts for your project. A rookie mistake is to choose a bunch of fonts and then proceed to use them all in the same project. You only need a handful of different fonts (typically one or two, with a maximum of three) to get your point across. Too many fonts can cause unintended confusion and make the design look chaotic. In short, keep it simple!
Consider the white space.
White space is the area between design elements. Many clients and managers consider white space wasted space and think it could be used to fit in more information. However, the use of white space actually brings elegance to the design and aids in providing a quality user experience. If properly used, white space can improve focus and comprehension, create balance, communicate distinctions and relationships, establish a visual hierarchy, and promote rhythm in your design. White space is not just the empty area between design elements like a paragraph and a photograph, it is also the space between paragraph lines and typographic characters (letters, numbers, and symbols). The technical term for those types of spaces are leading and kerning. Leading is the space between lines of text while kerning is the spacing between characters. Understanding how to adjust these effectively will bring a more polished and professional look to your design.
Establish a strong hierarchy.
Hierarchy is one of the most important principles of typography. It is the prioritization of which text should be noticed and read first. Hierarchy can be created using sizing, color, contrast, and alignment. The most typical example of typographical hierarchy is size. The three most typical sizes are headers, sub-headers, and body text. Since attention spans have only decreased in this age of technology, it’s important for your reader to be able to determine which information is the most important in a quick and effortless manner.
Left, right, center, or justified?
Alignment is how text flows in relation to all other elements in a design. It is good practice to use left alignment because the human eye naturally reads from left to right. While center alignment is also common, it should only be used for headers, sub-headers, and small blocks of text consisting of a maxim of 4-6 lines. Center alignment applied to large blocks of text can create a disorderly appearance and additional confusion for the reader.
Design with flying colors.
Color is an exciting component in typography. It’s where you can really get creative and elevate your design to the next level. However, color is not to be taken lightly because it can directly impact the legibility of your text. A strong contrast between your text and the background is critical. There are many helpful online tools that you can use to check this level of contrast and ensure your design will be easily consumed for all types of readers. Check out this great contrast checker tool.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency.
In our brand consistency checklist, we mention that typography is one of the key design components to keep consistent. Using consistent typefaces is key to avoiding confusing and messy designs. Remember our friend hierarchy from tip number 5? It’s good practice to establish a consistent hierarchy of typefaces. For example, if you use one size for a sub-header, stick with that size throughout your design, same for all other headers and body copy.
Typography has been around for a large part of human civilization and is an integral part of the way we communicate and interact with each other. Understanding the importance of using effective typography will help you build brand recognition, gain influence over the decision making of your audience, and keep your readers engaged. While this was a quick deep dive into the world of typography, there is a plethora of knowledge to be found on the topic. Stay tuned for our next brand focused blog on design hierarchy!