Simple rules for good typography

chasteauneuf's picture

Here are some basic rules to improve your typography across either web or print. Of course, these rules are only to start with, and rules are meant to be broken. But if you want something to look neat, clean and generally well designed they are a good set to follow.

1. Don’t use too many type faces
Consistency throughout a document or website is helpful. It brings unity and one identity. It also makes it clean, tidy and jus basically not messy. A good rule to follow then is to not use more than 3 different fonts in any one document.

2. Hierarchy
It is always important in typography to pay close attention to the hierarchy of the page. The most basic thing is to keep the headline at the top of the page in a larger font. But more than this its just a case of looking at the page and asking other people what they read first. As a designer we should be thinking about communication constantly. This is our primary focus.

3. Type size
Use no more than 4 text sizes in a document or website. Preferably 3. Again this is a case of consistency. Too many copy sizes make a document disjointed. 3 also allows enough variation to emphasise certain text and categorise text together. For example, you have one size for a heading, one for an introduction, one for body text and one for a pullout quote or something else. This will be consistent across the whole

4. 8-12pt for body copy
Always keep body point between between these sizes. It looks neat and tidy and allows headings. Definitely do not go over 12pt.

5. A typeface not legible is not a typeface
There is a place for all kinds of artistic fonts, but for good standard copy lets keep things simple people. It must be legible. This is certainly the case for body copy. Keep experimental fonts for posters or at best headlines. They are never well received in large quantities. Can you read this easily?

6. Leading
Leading is essentially the vertical space between the text lines. Leading is something that so many designers forget about, its easy just to stick with the auto settings. But trust me, this can make or break a document. Pay close attention to your kerning. I personally like to keep my kerning tight, but without ever overlapping. Usually I will go for a little above the font size, slightly below the auto setting. This works especially well with helvetica like fonts. Either way, there should not be too much space, and the fonts should not overlap at all!

7. Kerning
Kerning is the spacing between letters. Again, like leading this seems like an obvious one, but still needs careful attention. Consider if your font generally needs spacing out more, or if it looks better with tighter kerning. I always prefer helvetica and futura manually tightened as they have quite a bit of space between letters on the normal setting. Also it is worth taking special care with specific characters. Again, no characters should overlap. An example of this is for helvetica r and t characters together. Be worth kerning manually in this case.

8. Accent or emphasise

This can help bring out key words and also break up large sections of text. Large chunks of copy tend to be quite scary, and idealy people like to skim. A subtle emphasis can bring out key words. A different colour, slightly darker perhaps or a slightly bolder version of the font are nice techniques.

9. Do not over emphasise
Emphasis in a body of text should be kept simple and elegant. I either use bold, italic or underlined. Too much, just makes a page look messy.

10. No caps in body text
This one is simple enough. Never use capitals in body copy, it is just not as legible. Enough said.

11. Always align to a baseline
Keep text in simple horizontal lines. This is another body text rule and again seems pretty obvious. Ideally you use a baseline grid throughout. More details of how to that here.

12. Flush left ragged right
Always keep the text left aligned and don’t justify. This is legible and does not look messy. Justifying text across a smaller column especially creates massive gaps or ‘rivers’ in the type. Don't do it.

13. Lines not too long or short
Line length is also important. It helps legibility and prevents your eye from slipping up or down a line in a large body of text. My rule is do not have less than 6 words or more than 12 in a single line. Use columns in a page to make this structured and easy. Your page will be neater and more legible.

14. Punctuation and Bullet points
Punctuation marks and bullet points are something which is easily forgotten in typography. Modern design software does not make it easy for us to handle this correctly. Bullet points, should ideally be in the page margin. Not indented. Likewise, punctuation marks should be in the margin as well. The image below from Mark Boultons site illustrates this perfectly. You can see a tutorial for bullet points here, and punctuation marks here.

15. The fibonnaci sequence
the first two Fibonacci numbers are 0 and 1 and each other number is a combination of the previous 2. These numbers are meant to have a natural visual elegance to each other. Since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the ‘golden ratio’. Therefore in typography it is a good suggestion to consider using only these numbers to structure your chosen point sizes to. It will give your whole document a natural elegance.

0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144...

Typography is a massive subject and I am sure many will disagree with the suggestions I have made. Remember these rules are always made to be broken. With knowlege and experience comes the decision if it is appropriate to stick to or break these rules. These rules are kind of beginners guide to typography. Stick to them and I think you can’t go far wrong.

Hope you have found useful. Do you disagree?
If you have any to add, please do.

the original article is at would be great if you lefty a comment.

Syndicate content Syndicate content