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Typography for Dummies

What is Typography and Why is it Important?

When it comes to communicating or selling, good content is key but how you present that content can often be just as important. That’s where typography comes in. Typography is defined as “the style, arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter.” Basically, it is how you choose to display a given text using different elements such as font, size and color.

Typography has three main functions: to communicate, get attention and to set a mood. Typography can communicate with an audience before they’ve even read the content. Before a reader can process a text, they will subconsciously notice the style it’s written in. Different styles will evoke different tones, moods and emotions which can either help or hurt your message. Knowing the basics of typography will help you learn to use it to your advantage.

Before we get started on the do’s and don’ts of typography, there are a few terms you should know.

Typography 101: Glossary of Terms

Where the text is positioned. Text can be aligned to the right or left, centered or justified, meaning that it is aligned to both margins
A single element such as a letter, number, space or symbol
A complete alphabet including numbers, letters (lower and uppercase), and punctuation marks all in one style and point size
Sans Serif
Letters with no attachments which are simpler and easier to read (Ex. Arial)
Small decorative lines that attach to the edges of characters as an embellishment (Ex. Times New Roman)
All letters are designed according to “x”
part of letter that goes above x-height in letters such as t, d, f, h, k, l, b
part of letter that goes below x-height in letters such as q, y, p, g, j 
the process of letter spacing, kerning usually for small areas, tracking usually for large areas of text
The space between lines of text which is always greater than or equal to point size (auto leading is always point size + 20% of point size)
Font size
Usually measured in points, but can also be measured in inches or picas
-72 pts = 1 in
-6 picas = 1 in
-12 pts = 1 pica
Point size
Point size is always measured from the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender

Type Families

  • Light – decreased stroke
  • Medium/regular
  • Bold – increased stroke
  • Extra Bold – increased stroke
  • Condensed – decreased space in between letter spaces
  • Expanded – increased space in between letter spaces
  • Italic – skewed letter

Typography Tips

Font Styles and Size Tips:

  1. Sans serif fonts are easier to read, so you should use them in body copy or small text. Serif fonts should be saved for titles and headlines.
  2. Different styles appeal to different genders. Bold or blocky fonts with sharp straight edges are more masculine, whereas lighter, curvier fonts are more feminine. Take this into consideration based on the gender of your target audience.
  3. Make sure the typeface conveys the right tone. A font like Comic Sans will convey a casual, playful style which may not be appropriate for a business site. A font like Impact may be too heavy and harsh to sell baby items. Consider which style will best communicate your message.
  4. Don’t use too many fonts. A good rule is to keep it between 2 and 3 and vary between serif and sans serif fonts.

Color Tips:

  1. Be aware of how you use colors and how they impact the message. For example, if you’re trying to sell Mexican food, you’ll be more likely to use vibrant, warm colors such as yellow, red or orange. If you’re selling organic foods, you’ll use earthy tones like greens and browns. Also consider color schemes such as complementary (opposite colors on the color wheel) or monochromatic (different shades of the same color).
  2. Use enough contrast between font colors and backgrounds so that the text will be easy to read.

Layout and Design Tips:

  1. Don’t under estimate the power of white space. Too much text can make a page seem cluttered, whereas fewer lines surrounded by white space will bring emphasis to the key points of the message.
  2. Changing spacing between characters or lines of text can help you manipulate how it fits into a layout, but you should always make sure it is still easy to read.
  3. One of typography’s many functions is directing the line of vision. That said, if you want the heading to be the first thing your audience sees, place it at the top of the page with an eye-catching font and color and away from distracting images.
  4. Whether you’re creating a series of ads or designing a website, remember to keep all elements like font and color consistent across all pages.


  1. Dyene Galantini

    Excellent article. Thank you.

Comments are closed.

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