Typography Tips for Non-Designers

Learn about the dark side of script font and never orphan your words


I've studied typography in great depth, both in and outside of school. It's one of my favourite things - right up there with red wine, wiener dogs and pens with good flow. The shape of letters, the minuscule flourishes that define a font and the voice each font evokes. I've studied calligraphy over the past few years and adore building each letter with thoughtful artistry. Whether it be creating letters by hand or on the screen, I could talk about fonts for hours (not even joking) but today I wanted to stick to the basics.


When I'm designing for a client, I'll often tackle the bigger projects such as brochures, large scale displays, marketing pieces etc. I know they won't come to me for every form letter they write or memo they distribute and I get that. I hate to see a brand throw their professionalism out the window by distributing something that displays some really easy-to-fix design mistakes though. For that reason, I like to arm them with some basic tips to elevate their font game. Below are some simple ideas that everyone can use:


1. Get a Second Opinion when using a Script Font

This one has even gotten me before! Script is beautiful and elegant and really sets you apart as a fancy person, right? Maybe - but the dark side of script: it can often hide other words in the twists and curves of its letters. Words you had no intention of placing in your document. Other times, it's just downright hard to read. You know what you've typed so of course you can see it clearly. Make sure you get another set (or 2) of eyes on your work before pushing send. I've had people immediately point out things on first glance that I would have never seen.


2. Don't Distort Letters

Sometimes you want to fill a space completely so you click on your letters and just drag the cursor over.... stop! Fonts are expertly and very carefully designed. By stretching or smooshing your words, you're not only reducing legibility but you're ignoring and negating the reason the font was created in the first place. If you're looking for something thicker or thinner, look at the options for the typeface you're using. Often there will be a bold or condensed version that will already be properly condensed or expanded.


3. Limit the Number of Fonts

There are exceptions to every rule of course, but for simplicity sake I would recommend never going over 3 different fonts in one document. That allows a different font/size for the (1) header (2) sub header and (3) body. Don't be scared to mix fonts from different families. On the flip side, don't use fonts that are too similar because it may look like a mistake as opposed to a design choice.


4. Left Aligned with No Orphans

Alignment of your words is so important in legibility. Many non-designers gravitate towards center aligned or justified (every line being exactly the same width). To be honest, justified is often a nightmare for even me to handle! My recommendation is to play it safe and keep your documents left aligned. It's the most commonly used alignment and is super easy to read. One hot tip when aligning left: look at the last line. Make sure you always have more than one word in that last line so you're not orphaning a word. This is just a general good practice.


Are you more excited about fonts now?! I know not everyone has the same strange passion for fonts as me but now you've got some tips that will make your future documents legible and stylish. Thanks for reading!

- Laurel

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