The goal of this post is to help designers and clients understand the importance of good type skills, while avoiding some of the common mistakes. Please keep in mind that most of these mistakes are subjective and can be changed varying on the project, goals or circumstances.
Below is a list of 10 common mistakes used in type design/layout that can make a large impact in the effectiveness and appearance of your designs, in addition to saving you time and money when dealing with printers.
1. Not enough leading
Leading/linespacing can improve the overall readability of large blocks of text on a page, making it easier on readers to follow lines of text without losing their place. Too little can cause a cramped feeling. It’s important to remember that different fonts need different linespacing. Varying heights in letterforms may demand more or less.
2. Not enough tracking
Tracking/letterspacing is applied to a group of letters. It prevents letters from running into each other, especially during print. It’s similar to leading in which it can improve or hinder readability, flow of text and the density/weight of a block of text.
3. Getting tracking confused with kerning
While tracking is applied to a group of characters, kerning is the adjustment of space between two letter pairs. Effective for use with headlines, text with ALL CAPS and logo treatments (it helps with readability at various sizes). Don’t fall into the trap of letting your design software set this by default; it’s character specific. Same applies to the above, #1 & 2.
4. Lengthy lines of text
Reading many long lines of type causes eye fatigue. Readers are forced to moves their heads and eyes more often from one line to the next. Various sources I’ve researched state to keep lines of text under 50 – 60 characters long.
5. Mixing too many typefaces and weights
Too many typefaces on one page can become distracting and disconnecting (lacking unity). Try keeping your fonts choices to three or less per project. Too many weights can cause a reader to be unclear where important elements are on a page. This creates the possibility of the reader missing something important.
6. Not using serifs for lengthy-text material
Serifs are known to make reading lengthy material, such as books and magazines, more sustainable for longer periods of time. It also helps with eye strain/fatigue, and we all know that we need our eyes! Although this can be argued, serifs seem to sit better on the baseline.
7. Printing similar values of color on top of each other
For example, try printing a medium blue text on top of a medium brown box. Not only is it unappealing, but it makes it hard on the eyes. Also creates a muddy effect.
8. Reversed out text on less than 50% tints
Much like the above, this also increases eye strain and hinders readability. The words get lost in the background and typically prints less visible than seen on screen. This will save you time, money and Asprin for your printing headaches.
9. Overusing centered text
Using centered text creates a jagged and broken appearance to text — very disconnecting! Can be viewed as amateurish in most instances. Save it for those wedding invitations.
10. Large body copy
Normally, designers and non-designers (and yes, I did it too!) will immediately use a 12 point font for body copy. Smaller (even slightly smaller) fonts sizes creates a more professional, modern look. Large body copy can be clunky — think about the font size of a children’s book. Clunky right?… unless it’s the look your going for.
It’s also important to note that viewing text on a computer monitor is much different than printing it. In most instances, type on a screen appears smaller and less crisp. Also, most printers will advise you not to use font sizes under 7 points. May result in readability issues.
11. Not knowing what the Grid System is
Being a typography enthusiast, understanding the grid has become one of the best things I’ve learned in design to date. It’s the basis for creating clarity and making your type and layouts more cohesive. Check out the new site, The Grid System, for links and resources pertaining to grid systems.
Remember this list was composed to spread awareness and create discussion, not discourage anyone from trying new things and breaking the “rules”. I fully encourage all of you to go out and experiment with new ideas and concepts to become better typographers and designers.