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What is typography?

Maryam Taheri May 2, 2023 · 9 min read

First, we’ll start with the definition: typography is the visual art of creating written words. Before the digital age, typography was a rather specialized craft that was confined to the worlds of book and magazine design and a range of advertising and public works. Road signs, billboards, and product packaging are some examples of where typography is used in the physical world.

Once the internet became a graphic medium, however, the art of typography exploded in a thousand different directions. Never before in history has the printed word shown up in such abundant visual diversity. Web designers now have countless fonts to choose from, as font creators sell and share their work online.


Unfortunately, an unlimited choice of fonts does not automatically mean the web designer has the ability to know which one is best. Choosing a font is a matter of being versed in some basic rules of typography and having a bit of an artistic eye as well. The rules are learnable, and perhaps the artistic eye develops over time. Is typography important? Absolutely! Good typography can enhance brand recognition and make your content more engaging and eye-catching on social media platforms.

Check out this infographic below to discover the right typeface for your project:


Fonts are chosen partly with a sense of the aesthetic tone they convey, and partly for their “legibility.” This term describes the ease with which individual letters can be identified. Some fonts, like Helvetica, Arial, and Times New Roman, have been polished for centuries, and they’ve become common for a good reason. There are numerous descriptive terms to separate fonts into general categories, such as “serif,” “sans-serif,” “monospaced” and “cursive.” These definitions are relevant to the traditional types of text fonts but have no meaning when applied to an artist’s creation such as this rather unsettling alphabet.

Another word, “readability,” applies to the relationship of the letters to each other, as well as to the interaction of colors between the text and the background. You can have a beautiful font, but if you’ve got grey letters on a yellow background, no one will be able to read it. The “leading,” or space between lines of text, also influences readability. This space should be between 1.25 and 1.5 times the font size. A good font will also usually have “kerning,” which means that the space between letters will be adjusted to fit the shape of individual letter pairs.

How the text relates to the page

Further typographical design choices center on how the lines and blocks of text are set on the page. Lines that are too long tend to lose the reader’s interest, and a page that’s too crammed with text will feel like a crowded room and make the user want to click away. The practice of making headings larger than the text helps to guide the reader’s attention and gives clues about the structure and meaning of the page. Also, the interaction between images and words can feel natural or awkward, due to the structural way the text flows around the image.

Art vs. function

These are the two factors that typographers are always balancing. A web designer might purchase a display font such as “Charcuterie Engraved” for a banner or a logo, but a news article written in such a font would be exhausting to read through. Even while more and more artists offer their unique font creations, legibility research is providing specific information to support the use of classic-type fonts for blocks of text.

For inspiration in choosing and positioning the fonts that will best express your personal brand, spend some time exploring different fonts, including serif and sans-serif typefaces, Gothic and Old Style designs, and even calligraphy. Don’t forget to pay attention to design elements like letter spacing, line spacing, and the use of white space. Consider the history of typography, from Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type to the more modern templates and digital tools available for beginners.

For those looking to dive even deeper, seek out tutorials and resources to help you understand the finer points of typography, such as x-height, baseline, ascenders, descenders, cap height, and small caps. Keep in mind the importance of headers, subheadings, body text, and centered alignment when creating content for websites and social media.


To get started with hand lettering, download free lettering worksheets and practice with simple instructions and tracing exercises. By investing time in learning about typography and experimenting with various font styles and kinds of typefaces, you can create eye-catching designs that improve your creative workflow and make a lasting impression on your audience.

Typography: The Visual Art of Written Words Expanded

As we dive deeper into the world of typography, we’ll explore various aspects of graphic design, showcasing examples and techniques that will help you better understand this fascinating art form. With a focus on concepts like italic, blackletter, lowercase, line length, sans serif fonts, typesetting, capital letters, and lowercase letters, you’ll gain new insights and inspiration to enhance your design skills.

Italic Typography

Italic type is a distinct style that slants the characters to the right. It is commonly used for emphasis within a block of text, setting apart quotes, or to indicate titles of books and other works. For example, in the sentence “She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the italicized word,” the term “italicized” stands out as it is set in italic type. Experimenting with italic styles can add visual interest and hierarchy to your designs.

Blackletter Typography

Blackletter, also known as Gothic script, is a typeface characterized by its ornate and intricate letterforms. It was widely used in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance period. Blackletter typefaces have a striking appearance, often featuring diamond-shaped serifs, dense strokes, and elaborate flourishes. This style is commonly associated with newspaper mastheads, certificates, and traditional German signage. A well-known example of blackletter typography is the masthead of The New York Times. While blackletter may not be ideal for body text due to readability concerns, it can be a powerful design element when used sparingly and with purpose.

Lowercase Typography

Lowercase letters, also known as minuscules, are the smaller forms of alphabetic characters. They were first introduced during the Carolingian period to increase the speed of writing and improve legibility. Today, lowercase letters are essential in everyday communication and design. They are generally more readable than their uppercase counterparts, especially when used in lengthy paragraphs. By contrast, using all capital letters can be perceived as shouting or aggressive, making lowercase typography crucial for maintaining a balanced and approachable design.

Line Length and Readability

In typography, line length refers to the horizontal width of a block of text, measured by the number of characters or words per line. An ideal line length enhances readability by allowing the reader’s eye to move comfortably from one line to the next. A common recommendation for line length is between 45 and 75 characters per line, including spaces. However, this can vary depending on the typeface, font size, and the target audience. When designing content, it’s essential to consider line length to ensure your text is easily digestible and visually appealing.

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans serif fonts are typefaces without serifs – the small decorative strokes at the ends of characters found in serif fonts. They are often considered modern and minimalistic, making them a popular choice in contemporary design. Some well-known sans serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, and Futura. These typefaces are particularly suited for digital platforms, where their clean and simple forms can improve legibility on screens. However, sans serif fonts can also be used effectively in print, branding, and various other design applications.

Typesetting and Design

Typesetting is the process of arranging and formatting text for print or digital publication. In the digital age, typesetting has evolved to include a wide range of design applications, from ebooks and websites to social media and advertising. Designers must consider various factors when typesetting, such as font choice, font size, line spacing, letter spacing, and alignment. By mastering typesetting techniques, you can create visually compelling and engaging designs that effectively communicate your message.

Capital Letters in Typography

Capital letters, also known as uppercase or majuscules, are larger and often more ornate versions of their lowercase counterparts. They play a crucial role in typography by providing emphasis, denoting proper nouns, and marking the beginning of sentences. Capital letters are also used in acronyms, headings, and logos, where they can create a strong and bold visual impact. However, it’s essential to strike a balance in your designs, as overusing capital letters can reduce readability and make your content appear overwhelming or aggressive.

Lowercase Letters in Design

As mentioned earlier, lowercase letters are essential in creating an approachable and reader-friendly design. By understanding how to effectively combine lowercase and capital letters, you can establish a clear hierarchy and guide your audience through your content. For example, using a mix of lowercase and capital letters in headings, subheadings, and body text can make it easier for readers to navigate your design and absorb your message.

Putting It All Together

With a solid understanding of typography concepts like italic, blackletter, lowercase, line length, sans serif fonts, typesetting, capital letters, and lowercase letters, you can elevate your designs to new heights. By considering the subtle nuances of different typefaces and mastering the art of typesetting, you can create visually captivating and accessible designs that resonate with your target audience.

As you continue to explore the world of typography, remember to experiment with various styles and techniques, always keeping the principles of good design in mind. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to creating powerful, engaging, and memorable designs that truly stand out in today’s competitive landscape.

Remember, good typography is not only about choosing the right font but also about understanding the elements of typography and how they contribute to a cohesive, engaging, and accessible design. So, embrace the art of typography and elevate your design skills to new heights!

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About the Author
Maryam Taheri

I'm a recent graduate of the University of San Francisco with a degree in Biology and a passion for the creative arts. I love building websites, trying new things, and I have a passion for social media.

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