10 Typography Nightmares to Avoid

By on May 2, 2016 in How To
10 Typography Nightmares to Avoid

Good typography is an art form. More than almost any other aspect of design, it has the ability to communicate a message. And depending on the craft involved (like typeface choice, type pairing and so on), typography can drastically alter the tone of a project – from serious and straightforward, to fun and playful. Therefore, it’s crucial as a designer to get your project’s typography on point. And the first part of learning proper type as a craft is learning which mistakes to avoid. Here’s ten common gaffes to steer clear of:

1. Too Many Typefaces.

Less is almost always more, especially when it comes to choosing typefaces. A good designer should be able to execute awesomeness with only a handful of fonts. And simplicity works well for the typeface choice as well. Sprinkle unique fonts throughout your design documents like you would a strong spice – just a little bit at a time.

2. Neglecting Orphans.

And no, we’re not talking about Annie here. Orphans, or widows, are leftover words or parts of sentences that don’t fit in nicely when typesetting a paragraph. They’re one or two-word stragglers left stranded at the top or bottom of a column or page. You can avoid orphans and widows by adjusting your line length or tracking.

3. Using Boring Typefaces.

There’s a surplus of good typefaces out there in the wild. New foundries pop up every other day, and talented designers release new font designs all the time. So there’s no excuse to use the same old choices when it comes to starting a new project. Classics they may be, old favorites like Helvetica or Akzidenz-Grotesk shouldn’t always be the default pick when it comes to opening up the font palette in Photoshop or Illustrator. Try broadening your horizons as a craftsman by choosing a more unique uniform for your letters.

4. The Wrong Typeface For The Wrong Job.

Some typefaces are versatile. They can be deployed equally well on everything from a corporate banking logotype to a bottled water rebrand. But for most typefaces, there’s an appropriate usage to go along with it. A script typeface like Still Shine would look good on the Instagram page of an indie fashion brand. Prohibition would look good on the label an authentic craft lager. Comic Sans never looks good.

5. Running Your Text Ragged.

Aligning your text can be tricky. When you’re done, run your eye down the edge of the paragraph and look out for ragged edges. The line of your text should be uniform and neat, not zig zagging all over the place.

6. All Caps.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, typing with caps lock on is considered a little rude. Apart from headlines, using all caps should be avoided. When seen in line amidst a normal paragraph, ALL CAPS looks shouty and breaks the evenness of your typesetting. If you need to give text emphasis, use a heavier weight of your typeface or underlining instead (but never both).

7. Scaling Words.

Typographers are talented craftspeople. They spend painstaking hours presiding over the strokes and swashes that make up the serifs and sans serifs they end up using. Manually scaling or stretching typefaces in your design program is like doing your own dental work. It’s an area best left to the professionals. If you wish to vary the width or height of the text in your document, try playing with the tracking and kerning, or selecting a different weight.

8. Tight Tracking.

Tracking is the term used to refer to the space between letters when viewed as a whole, whereas kerning is the space between an individual pair of letters. Tracking can be dense or loose, depending on the style you’re going for. But the most common mistake is using too-tight tracking in order to condense words into a tiny space. Tracking that’s too cozy looks cramped and is hard to read. Space out your letters and give them room to breathe.

9. Long Line Lengths.

Newspaper editors and book publishers have spent decades optimizing the length of lines in their publications for readability. Scanning lines that are too long will have the reader moving their head from side to side like they’re watching a tennis match. On the other hand, wrapping your lines too abruptly is just as unreadable. Leaf through your favorite magazine or tablet publication and take a cue from their line lengths.

10. Typos.

While it’s not related to typography per se, an often forgotten area of type design is spelling and punctuation. Your project might have the perfect typeface, leading, tracking and line length, but a single stray ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ can make it all look shoddy. Good typesetting includes a thorough run-through to make sure your message is as clean and clear as the layout it sits in.


There you have it, ten typeface tips to tuck into. Got any other typeface rules you like to follow? Let us know in the comments.

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9 Comments

  1. Good tips. Only, I disagree a little with nr. 9… Research shows that people read faster on a screen when text blocs are set wide. That's why many sites changed their page lay-outs. Like CNN for exemple. Or Vox.com. Classic width: 45-50 char/ modern width: 95 char (or up). That said, I prefer more narrow text columns myself…

  2. No.7 is very common nightmare I found around me, yet people still ignore that and prefer it over 'good typography' works. Such people are underestimates how much work designer put to deliver message in such aestethic way!
    anyway, Comic Sans never looks good. haha

  3. Technically, a widow is a bit of a line all alone at the top of a column and an orphan is left at the bottom (some consider it an orphan if it's the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a column, some only consider it a no-no if it's the end of a paragraph. Personally, I consider widows to be a much worse offense. And about number 7 -- set your body font and keep it the same. Captions and headlines can vary from that (though all captions should be the same size as other captions. If your text doesn't fit, adjusting the tracking is one way to make it fit, but don't change the font size or condense the shape of the letters. Edit the text -- this is where being a writer and a designer comes in handy. Look for paragraphs where the last line is a short one -- you may need to only edit out one unnecessary adjective to get it to be a whole line shorter.

  4. Widows are worse than orphans, totally. I hate turning a page or starting a new column and seeing just a couple words atop the new section- absolutely terrible. I dislike both. I disagree a little with number 5. An edge being too ragged isn't great; but it sounds like you're promoting justified paragraphs by using the word 'uniform'... gross.

  5. Was it purposeful that number 2 happens to have a single word orphan? If so, well done. If not, shame on you and may god have mercy on your soul.

  6. Kinda funny that #2 has an orphan at the end of it. Maybe intentional? Seriously, though, avoiding orphans is substantially more difficult on the web when using responsive design. You can't avoid or foresee them all when the line length of the text is fluid.

  7. HTML text that falls into a one word line is not a terrible offense, because the flow of text is naturally not set in stone. So no foul committed by the author there. Even querying good sizes and controlling lengths of lines, your content will have awkward lengths at times. Can't steal words from preceding lines like in print.

    Another offense regarding tracking is to space out body copy. With a well-built font, that usually breaks up the word shapes and results in cryptic looking text.

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