Additional Typography Mistakes You Might Be Making

In a follow up to one of TDC’s past most popular articles, 10 Common Typography Mistakes (part 1), I’ve decided to take the post a bit further and introduce some NEW mistakes and misuses in typography.

Again, 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, circumstances, or for a specific cause.

Single word space after a period

Remember when your grade school teachers told you to add a double space after a period? Well forget it. Double spacing is derived from the Victorian and typewriter days. It’s best to stay single.

Letterspace capitals and small caps

Adding additional letterspace between capitals and small caps adds much needed breathing room between letters, thus making it easier to read. A good rule of thumb is to add 5–10% of the size of the type.

Don’t add letterspace to lowercase

Contrary to the above, adding letterspace to lowercase text creates readability problems, or too much ‘windowing’ between characters. If you are using a typeface for body copy in which the letterforms read too tightly you are most likely using the wrong typeface for the job.

Do not distort typefaces

Quality typefaces have been carefully crafted and strategically designed so why distort them by stretching, squashing, etc? Doing so without purpose, not only takes away from legibility but also eliminates the reasoning of why the typeface was designed the way it was. Typefaces are typically designed with a purpose. Whether its for headlines, body copy, or very small print, know your types intended purpose.

Carefully hyphenate

When dealing with hyphenated text leave at least two characters behind and take at least three to the proceeding line. This means you should never break up a word with 4 or less characters.

Have a reason for choosing a typeface

Too often we see improper use of typefaces. As a perfect example I will call upon our friend, Comic Sans. How many times do you see Comic Sans being used for “suit-and-tie” corporate literature?

When choosing a typeface a few things to consider are:

  • History and intended use of the typeface
  • Printed (or web) conditions; such as the size it will be printed, paper it will be printed on or intended audience (you don’t want to print a newsletter in 7 point type for an elderly facility).

Bombarded with too many typefaces

With all the free fonts out there we as designers are bombarded with so many “less than quality” typefaces. Try purchasing a few high quality fonts from quality font foundries and master them. You’d be surprised of how far a short stack of high-grade fonts can take you.

Helvetica is known for being widely versatile because of the quality of the typeface. It can be used in many of ways and under various conditions.

Watch those rags

When aligning type on the right or left, the uneven or the ragged side of the text block should have good rhythm and consistency. Make adjustments for the text to read properly and become more balanced.

Know your dashes

A common typographic error I often notice is the misuse of the dash, especially between numbers (ie: 1-99; should be: 1–99). Below are three main types of dashes and how/when to properly use them.

  • En dash – (keyboard shortcut: option -)
  • Em dash — (shift, option -)
  • Hyphen – (-)

Here’s a great article on when to use each one.

Allow pages to breathe

While type can be a beautiful thing too much of it can be the opposite and suffocate a page. According to the book, The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst:

“If you want more than 500 words to a page, it is time to consider multiple columns.”

Carefully and strategically laying out a page before starting to type is essential. A good layout and hierarchy can help with readability allowing readers to carefully navigate the page and allow breaks from lengthy, tiresome pages of text.

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.

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Ivan Nikolic says:

    Nice article, Brian.
    About typographic mistakes: using three dots instead of ellipsis is one I see often, although not so much since there are some plugins/mods for various CMS’ which improve typography on that system.

  2. Mike Wedick says:

    Solid article, Brian. Still working on my habit of double spacing after a sentence, but I definitely liked the article on proper use of the em dash and en dash. Guess I’ll finally learn that one.

  3. k says:

    thank you thank you thank you. I do quite a bit of proofreading and can’t tell you how often I see the double space after periods, and the interchanging of hyphens and en dashes. It’s the closest I ever get to road rage when I see a date on a billboard that has a hyphen when it should be an en dash. the size makes it so garish.

    great article. lots for us to learn as writers and proofreaders as well.

  4. [...] 10 additional typography mistakes, part 2 [...]

  5. Preston Lee says:

    Thanks for the great post, Brian. It’s a great follow up to one of the best articles I have read here on TDC. Loved the tip about the ragged edges. This is a great asset to all designers.

  6. Joann Sondy says:

    Nice article, Brian… but stop giving away our trade secrets. Flag this “for designers only” I don’t want my clients knowing what I know!

    (All written with a good heart… love your blog and creativity.)


  7. CJ Cipriano says:

    Always useful, thank you :)
    I am told by many people that i pick the worst fonts haha.

  8. Ben says:

    thankyou for the great tips!

  9. Mike Oliver says:

    Great article… good link about dash definitions too. One you can add onto the next list is the rule on when to spell out numbers (i.e. 1 and one).

  10. David Trang says:

    Just checked out part 1 too, great read to pass around the office. The double spacing after a period drives me nuts.

  11. All good tips. I’m also trying to break the habit of putting two spaces after sentences (after reading Lupton’s guide to type), I’d highly recommend it to anyone who ever uses typography for anything. (Which I believe is a majority of the population.)

  12. Tricia says:

    “It’s best to stay single.” Hehehe…I think this post has some double meanings. ;)
    But seriously, this was very useful, thank you!

  13. Will says:

    Just because you have all the options (size, typeface, kerning) doesn’t mean you should use them all!

  14. Lorraine says:

    Great tips! Thank you.

  15. Logo Design says:

    Do you really think you should double space after a period on the web? Noone does it – it seems an outdated print standard.

  16. Ella says:

    Well, I must disagree with you, at least on one point.
    I do distort fonts and with a reason: I get limited space, I am asked to use “this” or “that” kind of font and I need to fit everything in. Added to that, I still want everything to look clean, not cluttered, and text to be readable. I admit, I look at that as a last resort, but I do use it :)
    Thanks for the article :)

  17. [...] 10 More Typography Mistakes You Might Be Making [...]

  18. Eric Roberts says:

    While I agree that double spacing in typography is not necessary (when dealing with logos or other graphical mediums), it is STILL 100% grammatically correct (and proper) to do so. HTML text strips white space from sentences, so you shouldn’t need to care about doing it when writing blog posts or comments such as these. And you should definitely continue doing it if you intend on writing for a living.

    So don’t break those habits, guys. Just know when and where to use it. :)

  19. Madeline Ong says:

    Is adding two spaces after a period still common? I haven’t seen the practice in a while, although I must admit it bewildered me when I first came across it.

    Anyway, thank you for this post. I had a laugh when I read about distorting typefaces. It seems like common sense, but there’s no denying that some people like their letters stretched vertically, for some absurd reason. :)

  20. [...] 10 More Typography Mistakes You Might Be Making [...]

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  22. Good post, will make sure to keep these mistakes in mind.
    I dont think 2 spaces after fullstop is a common mistake, that should have been listed last.

  23. Pamela says:

    Hi, great article…as a 14 year typography instructor at a well-respected graduate-level design school, just one correction:

    Under “Watch those rags” the improved rag is actually too close to a justified appearance. One wants to avoid too much extreme long-short and too subtle.

    Thank you for sharing your passion for typography.

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: