designer diary: let's talk about type!

It has been said that 90% of design is typography. Have you heard this before? This means that no matter how balanced and beautiful a layout is and how perfect the color choices turn out, a design can still be completely defiled with inferior typography. As a photographer, you may find yourself from time to time in need of laying out a branding piece or two. Luckily, Design Aglow offers professionally designed templates for most needs, but if you find yourself wanting to re-purpose the layouts for a new promotional piece or client product, etc., it can be helpful to have a few typography tricks up your sleeve. I am a LOVER of typography! Although I do not claim to have mastered the complete depths of typography perfection, I have devoted a considerable amount of my time to trying and thus, have picked up some very good tips along the way. Here are some of what I consider to be the most useful tips for laying out good typography. 

1) Use tracking and kerning to give your type a more unique look. Tracking refers to the letter-spacing between a range of characters. You can adjust tracking to increase or decrease the overall spacing between all the letters in a word or group of words.  An overall adjustment made to the letter-spacing will do the trick for most good typefaces, but at times you may want to adjust the spacing specifically between two characters. This more specific adjustment is called kerning. Below is an example of type before and after kerning/tracking. 

To adjust the kerning or tracking in a program like Photoshop or InDesign, use the character palette as shown below. Make sure you are on the type layer or have highlighted the word or words you wish to adjust. 

This skill is often helpful for adding visual separation for larger type, headlines or subtext that you would like to call out out from the rest and often looks best in all-caps. Try playing around with this next time you are working with type and see how you like it. It can be a quick and easy way to make your layouts look more professional. (I should mention that it's not wise to do this with script fonts, they look better when the letters are connected.) 

2) Take care to adjust the leading for better readability. Have you ever noticed how nice the text looks when you are reading a book? Have you ever typed out a paragraph and thought it looked cramped or made your eyes go cross-eyed when you had to read more than two lines of it?  Enter leading to the rescue! Leading is the vertical distance between lines of type. A typography teacher of mine once told me that a good rule of thumb is to set your leading four points higher than your font size. I have used this rule pretty religiously ever since and have noticed that it gives blocks of text that book-like feel and lends itself to better readability.  (I should mention that this four point rule does not work for every font at every size, so use your better judgement and adjust accordingly. A good range for leading is usually anywhere from 2-5 points higher than your font size. Basically if your eyes hurt when you try to read it, go ahead and bump up that leading but don't space it out so much that you get lost finding the next line. Below is an example of a block of text before the leading has been adjusted and after. 

To adjust the leading in a program like Photoshop or InDesign, use the character palette as shown below. Make sure you are on the type layer or have highlighted the word or words you wish to adjust.

3) Using less fonts provides for a more cohesive design. Don't try to mix too many typefaces. A good rule of thumb is one to two (maybe three) fonts per layout is good, especially if you are just starting to play with typography. Most fonts have a variety of weights and styles so one really could do the trick for an entire layout, but if you are feeling daring, go ahead and choose a secondary font that does not have similar characteristics to your first. This way each typeface can maintain their own individual purpose and you can use them to create some sort of hierarchy in your layout. Something that generally works well is to mix a serif and a sans-serif font in a layout. This can add lots of dimension. Below shows an example of how using too many fonts can look cluttered and confusing. It also shows an example of two successfully combined fonts in a layout. 

These tips are not rocket-science and you may already inherently know much of it but just needed a reminder or a better explanation of the why and the how. Either way, I hope this helps you in your future projects. Having good typography skills are something that everyone can use at one point or another. It never hurts to make what you say look good!




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