Common Typography Mistakes

Over the years, I’ve seen and made so many mistakes in design that would probably surprise you.  But the ones which draw my attention most often are the typography mistakes. These can have a large impact in the effectiveness and appearance of your designs; it can also save you money and time when dealing with printers.

Always keep in mind that some of these suggestions are subjective and can vary depending on the project, goals or circumstances.

Below I will give some ideas of common typography mistakes often used in graphic design.

Not paying attention to the leading

Leading or line spacing can improve the readability of large blocks of text on a page, making it easier for readers to follow the lines.  It’s very important to remember that different fonts need different line spacing.  Varying heights in letter forms may demand more or less space.

 

Neglecting the tracking

Tracking is applied to a group of letters.  It prevents letters from running into each other, especially during print procedures.  Just as leading, the tracking can improve or hinder readability, flow of text and the density/weight of a block of text.

 

Tracking is not the same as Kerning

Kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters, not group of characters as we saw in the Tracking. Effective for use with headlines, text with ALL CAPS and logo treatments. Don’t fall into the trap of letting your design software set this by default; it’s character specific. Depending on the adjacent letter, the space may be reduced (and occasionally increased) to improve the overall appearance of the text. For example, A and V can be placed closer together so that the top left of the V is directly above the bottom right of the A.

             

Boring long lines

Classically trained designers, and really every professional designer, should know the old adage that long line lengths can have a counterproductive impact on readability.  Reading many long lines of type can cause eye fatigue.  Experts recommend keeping the lines of text under 50 – 60 characters long.

Mismatches

Too many typefaces on one page can become distracting and disconnecting (lacking unity). Try keeping your font choices to three or less per project. Too many weights can cause a reader to be unclear where important elements are on a page. This creates the possibility of the reader missing something important.

 

Serif or Sans Serif?

Serifs are semi-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols.  Serifs are known to make reading lengthy material, such as books and magazines, more sustainable for longer periods of time. It also helps with eye strain/fatigue.

Sans Serif Font
Sans Serif Font
Serif Font

Serif Font

Serif Font - Red area represents serifs

Serif Font - Red area represents serifs

Writing everything on the center

Using centered text creates a jagged and broken appearance to text — very disconnecting! Can be viewed as amateurish in most instances. Save it for those wedding invitations.

Large typography

Normally, designers will immediately use a 12-point font for body copy. Smaller (even slightly smaller) font sizes create a more professional, modern look. Large body copy can be clunky — think about the font size of a children’s book. Clunky right? Unless that is the look you’re going for.

It’s also important to note that viewing text on a computer monitor is much different than viewing the printed piece. In most instances, type on a screen appears smaller and less crisp. Also, most printers will advise you not to use font sizes smaller than 7-points; this may result in readability issues.

Don’t forget this list was composed to spread awareness and create discussion, not to discourage anyone from trying new things and breaking the “rules”. I fully encourage all of you to go out and experiment with new ideas and concepts to become better typographers and designers.

What are some common mistakes you’ve seen in type design?

16 replies
    • Daphne Lenti
      Daphne Lenti says:

      It will always depend on the project, when I’m working on a design that will include a lot of type then definitely I use some “golden rules” that always work for me.
      -letters should not touch each other
      -research information about the font you will be using (almost every font will need different adjustments)
      -always kern the text less than you think it needs, is better less than too much
      -the space between two round letters should be less than the space between a straight character and a round one
      But when I’m working in creative projects like logos, I use my eyes and, of course always have another pair of eyes look at your work from a fresh perspective.
      Thanks for your post, and stay with us for more material to come.

      • Brian W
        Brian W says:

        What my typography tutor taught was that optimum kerning is achieved by looking at the characters in groups of three. When the centre character looks visually in the centre, then the kerning is right. There is, of course, no purely mechanical way to space type. It is purely a matter of judgement requiring an awareness of optical illusion.

  1. Robyn Quinter
    Robyn Quinter says:

    Thanks for some valuable tips! Do you have any suggestions for compatible/attractive matches of serif and sans fonts for headlines and text in print?

  2. John Mindiola III
    John Mindiola III says:

    You mentioned centering. This isn’t only a problem with center-justified text, but with entire layouts that are aligned on a central spine. When this happens, the eye moves quickly down the page and is done. It’s good to give viewers’ eyes reasons to dance through the page in a loop or figure-eight.

    • Daphne Lenti
      Daphne Lenti says:

      Wow! I really like that way of expressing it…dancing through the page. It’s all about putting yourself as the reader and finding the faults. Thanks for your valuable comment.

    • Daphne Lenti
      Daphne Lenti says:

      Yes, is a “forgotten art” that many people don’t even know. Back in the times, you were forced to take several Typography classes and they will be combined with computer and handcrafted typefaces.

  3. Justin L.
    Justin L. says:

    This is a good article, but I strongly believe that a small font-size does not always equal a more professional look, especially concerning UI’s and websites. It is completely dependent on the context, the user and the intention. Just having a blanket “smaller is better” statement is naïve.

    There’s nothing I hate more than reading small text on screen. I abide by a new standard arising from my community — 16px, give or take a pixel, has become the standard among the more experience web designers. We are trying to, at the very least, encourage others to stop using < 14px for screen type. Obviously a size closer to ~16px is considered optimal, depending on the typeface of course.

    • Daphne Lenti
      Daphne Lenti says:

      Thanks Justin for your interesting view. My post was mostly directed to print media and that’s where we usually apply the “small font-size” concept, soon we will be discussing about the different typography needs when designing for web and designing for printed material. Please, subscribe to the blog for more on design and typography.

  4. Stacy Summers
    Stacy Summers says:

    But good typography is more than just fonts and leading. ))) I can add more mistakes: using flashy or illegible free fonts, using too many different fonts in one document and many others…

    • Daphne Lenti
      Daphne Lenti says:

      Very well said Stacy. There’s a lot of Typography mistakes that we are not aware of, specially now that everything is created in computers and some designers have little control or knowledge about typography details.
      Thanks for your comment.

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