Five common typography mistakes

Five common typography mistakes

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 27/06/12

Typography is one of the cornerstones of design. It can be beautiful, arresting, game-changing and the product of obsession. It can also go more wrong than a dog in a washing machine. So, here are five common typography mistakes and how to avoid them…

1. S P A C I N G E V E R Y T H I N G O U T S O I T B E C O M E S I L L E G I B L E

Seriously. This is text, not Madonna’s teeth. Don’t be so afraid of letting your letters get cosy. Galleries and arts spaces are particularly guilty of this typographical mistake, often twinning it with that weird habit of splitting words over several lines – turning your flyer, exhibition title or sign into little more than an eye chart for the pretentious. By all means, give your text room to breathe (never underestimate the power of white space to make impact) but don’t lose sight of the whole point of the exercise – to communicate.


2. Using too many different fonts in one document

Now, I love tapas as much as the next man. And the next man is Signor Patatas Bravas. But, really, too may little bits of different and often uncomplimentary fonts on one document can end up looking like a dog’s dinner, not a platter of tasty typography. Feel free to use, say, a serif font as a sub-title and a sans-serif font for the body (IdeasTap uses Georgia and then Arial on IdeasMag). But too many fonts, with a heck-load of bolding, italics and various sized type, is way tiring on the eye.



Imma let you finish, but really: shout everything and people will notice nothing. Whacking on the caps may cover up the fact that you don’t know if a word like monday should, in fact, be Monday, but it has the effect of making the reader feel like they’re trapped on a train, having a stranger shout in their face. If you REALLY want to make an impact, then use it sparingly.


4. Using flashy or illegible free fonts

 Everyone likes a freebie. Everyone likes to play around with odd and arresting fonts. Not everyone wants to have the experience of one friend, who got the proof back for her wedding invite, only to discover that the poem on the back titled “Love is a lot like knots” looked like it said “Love is a lot like knobs”. 

Check your font is legible and not eye-wateringly hideous before you go to print, yeah?


5. Letting colours turn your text unreadable 

I know that orange and red look great together. And red and green. And blue and yellow. Hell, if used well, you can put pretty much any colour next to another and I’ll like it. But put red text on a green background, or yellow text on a white background and you will render your well-chosen words illegible. Red and green will make your text jump like Busta Rhymes, which is fun in a magic eye way, but not great if you’re giving out the address of your club night. 


In Focus: Typography tips from graphic designer Nick Scott

Don’t forget what you are working with are words. It’s easy to get obsessed with the flow and grace of the shapes of the letters – and this isn’t a bad thing – but take a few moments every now and then to read what you’re looking at, otherwise you’ll make something beautiful that is full of typos, missing letters and God knows what else. This is how packaging ends up on the supermarket shelves with CLEAR PANEL HERE emblazoned across the front.

Don’t forget that a human eye has to process it. It’s easy with modern design programs to zoom in and out, checking detail and overall composition while laying out type, but in its final incarnation the viewer won’t have this luxury. If you set your body of text just a touch too widely, your readers' eyes are so lazy they’ll forget what they were doing by the time they get back to the start of the next line.

Don’t become a type fundamentalist. Yes, Helvetica has its moments but what did Comic Sans ever do to you? There is nothing more tedious than hearing someone prattle on about the right and wrong approach to type when it should be a creative fluid environment.

Don’t treat your type as an afterthought. There’s nothing worse than a poster with a great illustration but terrible type just plonked on with all the grace of a kick in the plums. If it needs to be on there, then you need to think about it.

Don’t become a rod for your own back. Designers often rely on tried and trusted approaches to laying out type, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Remember the first time you used your favourite font? How exciting and new it was? Why not try some new ones? Have a one night stand with something exotic.


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Alphabet Street by drinksmachine via Flickr under a (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

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