You’re just typing out a quick flyer, email blast or internal memo, so why would you want to improve your type? Better type formatting increases readability, legibility and… well, seduction. Beautiful typography encourages people to stop and read. Better type may mean increased web traffic, sales or just may finally encourage co-workers to put those damn cover sheets on their TPS reports.
So do you want to communicate clearly? If so, here’s five quick tips to achieve good typography.
1. Give ’em good measures. The measure refers to the width of a block or column of text from the left margin to the right margin. The measure of a text influences legibility. Ever notice that small novels and handbooks are set in one column, but large textbooks have many columns of type? To the reader’s eye, lines that are too long or too short can be tiring and distracting. Between 45 and 75 characters and spaces per line are regarded as the ideal range for the measure. For pages with more than one column, aim between 40 to 50 characters per column. Setting your measure at 65 characters is considered ideal for single-column setups.
2. Lead them with leading. Good leading allows for comfortable reading. Leading refers to the vertical distance between the baselines of lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the forms to increase the vertical distance between lines of type.
Correctly spaced lines make it easier to follow the type and improves the overall typographic color, which is the density or tone of a composition. Many considerations affect leading: typeface, type size, weight, case, measure, wordspacing, etc. The longer the measure, the more leading is needed. Also, the larger the type size, the less leading is required. A good rule is to set the leading 2 to 5pt larger than the type size, depending on the typeface. Always keep your leading relevant to the divisible number of the type size. For example, 10pt type would use 15pt or 20pt leading. Using a 9pt type size would render a 12pt or 15pt or 18pt leading—divisible by 3.
3. Emphasize economically. When talking, subtle emphasis works best, not shouting out specific words. Same with typography. Giving subtle emphasis to a word without interrupting the reader works best. Using italics is considered to be the ideal form of emphasis. Some other common forms of emphasis are: bold, caps, type size, color or a different typeface. Exercise a little restraint and only use one. The more things are emphasized, the less effective the emphasis.
4. Make sure your rags are clean. When setting a block of unjustified text, the rag refers to the irregular right margin of a block of copy set flush left. Keep the rag vertically balanced, without ‘holes’ or awkward shapes. What’s important about a rag is that the changes in line length are minor. Bad rags can affect readability in a big way. If the rag is not balanced, it can be very distracting on the eye, as you read down a column. Usually it can easily be fixed by reworking the line breaks, or by editing the copy. The best rags aren’t noticed.
5. Establish hierarchy. Formatting your content will guide your reader to the information much quicker through visual cues. A typographic hierarchy expresses an organizational system for content, emphasizing some data and diminishing others. Each level of the hierarchy should be signaled by one or more cues, applied consistently across a body of text and throughout a document. A cue can be spatial (indent, line spacing, placement on page) or graphic (size, style, color of typeface). Although infinite variations are possible, it’s best to use two typefaces with larger families to apply hierarchies with a wide variety of content. Establish a hierarchy system that works.