When choosing and combining typefaces decisions are made according to the demands the text and media makes on the typeface. For instance, text type or headline? business card or billboard? printing: letterpress, digital, offset or online, app, or film?
Typographers read their content for concept as well as for typesetting details; for instance content with excessive acronyms (like our first exercise) requires a typeface with “true” small caps or an annual report with financials requires tabular figures.
Butterick has an excellent online book, Practical Typography: Typography in Ten Minutes.
The typographic quality of your document is determined largely by how the body text looks. Why? Because there’s more body text than anything else. So start every project by making the body text look good, then worry about the rest.
In turn, the appearance of the body text is determined primarily by these four typographic choices:
point size is the size of the letters. In print, the most comfortable range for body text is 10–12 point. On the web, the range is 15–25 pixels. Not every font appears equally large at a given point size, so be prepared to adjust as necessary.
line spacing is the vertical distance between lines. It should be 120–145% of the point size. In word processors, use the “Exact” line-spacing option to achieve this. The default single-line option is too tight; the 1½-line option is too loose. In CSS, use
line length is the horizontal width of the text block. Line length should be an average of 45–90 characters per line (use your word-count function) or 2–3 lowercase alphabets, like so:
In a printed document, this usually means page margins larger than the traditional one inch. On a web page, it usually means not allowing the text to flow to the edges of the browserwindow.
And finally, font choice. The fastest, easiest, and most visible improvement you can make to your typography is to ignore the fonts that came free with your computer (known as system fonts) and buy a professional font (like my fonts equityand concourse, or others found in font recommendations). A professional font gives you the benefit of a professional designer’s skills without having to hire one.
If that’s impossible, you can still make good typography with system fonts. But choose wisely. And never choose times new roman or Arial, as those fonts are favored only by the apathetic and sloppy. Not by typographers. Not by you.
In addition all advanced typography students should read Jessica Hische’s writing on typography: Upping Your Type Game. Especially: Choosing The Right Type where she explains how to choose a text face. Read it! The following set of black slides are a taste of Jessica shares. Her “Talking Type” writings offering sage advice like choose a text typeface with a variety of weights:
Choose a text typeface with a true italic (JH):
Choose a text typeface that is spaced well.
Above: “Avenir’s more open spacing make it a better text face than Helvetica.” (JH)
Below, “choose a text typeface with eveness of wieght.” (JH)
Above: “Notice how the stem on the n is less wide at the top to compensate for the weight at the join.”
“Choose a typeface with similar characteristics.” (JH) Learn from Jessica about “skeleton, meat, and clothes” of a typeface.