10 Common Typography Mistakes

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.

What are some common mistakes you’ve seen in type design?

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Thomas says:

    Thanks for this post – some really useful tips in there.

  2. Autismus says:

    Interesting articel, even for german readers, but much more interesting are most of the comments… i can not believe this!

  3. I think at least with this list of mistakes I could little by little learn to get through issues on designing such stuff. Thank you.

  4. John says:

    Veri nice article!

  5. Pranburi says:

    Thanks for good collection of mistakes

  6. Upstack.com says:

    Very nice post and it is truly some of the most common mistakes.

  7. Thanks for share this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely useful for me.

  8. I am currently producing my own newspaper as part of my studies at the Korean university. Never realised how power typography can be. Wont be using Serifs in a hurry – thanks

  9. Thanks for sharing this guide. Add to my Bookmark!

  10. britvaokkama says:

    Cool article! Thanks!

  11. Everyone at my school should read this. It’s sad that we’re all about to get our associates degree and nearly half my class still breaks all these rules!

  12. This is a very good list of common mistakes. A couple more you may want to add are:
    • Failure to use hanging punctuation
    • Not including the space or character proceeding a word that will be italicized

  13. atamosk says:

    lol i learned all this in school. im a vc major. I used to do all that stuff, now i just get to call people and other bad type out :)

  14. sneha says:

    Thanks for this useful information!
    Most of the times we knows this things, but after reading it will recalling that standards.. Thanks again!

  15. Cadretta says:

    I love this blogsite design. Great work ! (I think)

  16. Great Blog! Will visit again

  17. wow nice typography, i really like typography it’s help to make my site wonder..

  18. tyler says:

    Really good list of mistakes… they effect readers more than most publishers thank they do!

  19. Savioursix says:

    Wonderful, as usual. This is an area where I struggle the most. Thanks.

  20. brendon123 says:

    Seems rather pointless since this is all common sense.

  21. Jonas says:

    Absolute standard knowledge. More marketing “gurus” should know about it!

  22. Dan says:

    Very interesting articel. Really good list of mistakes.

  23. Naveed says:

    Good post for type enthusiasts and beginners too…

  24. CoolQuotes says:

    Wow. I never realized this problems. I’m doing a redesign tonight.

  25. very great list mistakes what you list here.. I wanna take care for my blog info gadget online.. thanks for this list man.. now I got a new idea to design how will look like my blog in the future..

  26. Note that you shouldn’t make your columns too thin either. The columns you show in item # 4 are too short. The top one which you show as an example of lines that are too long would be fine if you added a teensy bit more leading. Long lines need more leading, short lines need less leading. In general, when typesetting English, it is good to estimate that there should be about 7–10 words per line for the measure (measure is the word for the width of a column of text). For German, estimate less. For Vietnamese estimate more.

  27. Tim says:

    Great tips. Should be “11 Common Typography Mistakes” or was that deliberate?…

  28. Hi Brian, thanks for sharing your tips. I do totally agree with you. Sometimes we make the same mistakes without even realizing it. By listing it out we can see it clearly and so that we can make corrections.

  29. Keith says:

    Good write up Brian.

    However, I have to disagree with using fonts that are smaller than 12px. If anything I think web designers should be encouraged to ‘up’ their font sizes. You are even using a 14px size on this blog and I don’t think that it looks ‘clunky’.

  30. Brian says:

    Thinking you missed the reference to the print aspect :)

  31. steff says:

    thanks Brian, your posts really opened my eyes, i may have done some mistakes in the past on my websites! still even if you avoid all these typography mistakes, if your content is week, visitors will not give a damn about it even if you respect all the above mentioned rules .

  32. Kees says:

    I have been very concerned with the number of websites that now use 6pt or 8pt text in light grey colour for long passages of text. For us older people, or people who cannot distinguish different colours, reading becomes very difficult. I do not bother to read anything that I cannot see clearly.

  33. ama says:

    How about hyphenation??

  34. Kees says:

    You make one of the biggest mistakes in web design that almost all websites are doing these days, and that is using light grey colour text which for many people with visual difficulties,is difficult to read. Personally if its not crystal clear and easy to read, I don’t bother reading it.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: