Friday, December 20, 2013

Simple Tips In Choosing Typography

The problem with a list of simple tips is that they usually sound TOO simple.  Anyone with common sense would know these already.  But common sense is one thing we don't always have in common.  Choosing a font for your project's text is important enough to use your common sense, and also to set aside your pride and redo the things you think you already did in planning and implementing your project.  

Use this (not overly) simple set of tips to choose an effective and beautiful typography for your book, poster, brochure, or web page.  (And thanks Lifehacker Australia for reminding us about FontSquirrel, an excellently-chosen repository of fonts that are 100% free for personal and commercial use.)

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Lifehacker Australia

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Effective typography is notoriously difficult to teach and learn. As a student I stared anxiously at my poorly designed pages, without instinctively knowing how to improve them. I recognise that same frustration in my students’ faces now. There is no quick fix. Typography is a painstakingly slow craft to master.

Which brings us to a problem. In an 'age of distraction', designing for long form reading requires thoughtfulness and skill. Yet putting typographic tools at the fingertips of untrained designers can lead to unreadable texts.

An illegible text is one that literally cannot be read — doctor’s handwriting, a book dropped in the bath. Unreadable texts are ones that you don’t want to read.

My aim here is to offer basic tips for designing long form texts in a way that encourages people to read them. More than making texts look good, my concern is making them readable.

For brevity’s sake, I’m writing about print design, but most of the points are transferable to screen design.

1. The Crystal Goblet approach

Designing a document with the reader in mind is an act of humbleness. It is not an opportunity for showmanship, experimentation or typographic trickery. There should be little evidence of the hand of the designer on the page.

Beatrice Warde famously uses the metaphor of a crystal goblet to explain that typography should be elegant but subtle, arguing the connoisseur of wine would choose to drink from a simple but elegant crystal glass over an exquisitely wrought gold goblet because 'everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain'.

Sadly for those of us who appreciate a pat on the back, an effectively designed text often goes unnoticed. That’s the point. The reader should be paying attention to the author’s work, not the designer’s.

2. Set appropriate margins

Always start by considering the page size of the final document. Find a page or existing book at that size and hold it. You need to get a sense of the size and shape in your hands. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard a student say “it looked different on screen”. Yes. It does.

Considering the final page size, set margins for comfortable reading. For a book, the inside margin should be wide enough that words don’t fall into the gutter; if you have to crack the spine to read, it’s annoying. The outer margin should comfortably welcome the reader’s thumbs without obscuring the text; it’s distracting to have to move your hands while reading.

Set the bottom margin larger than the top. The optical centre of a page (where our eye hits first) is different than the mathematical centre.

If there is a running head or foot, the upper and lower margins should be adjusted accordingly so the flow of reading is not interrupted when you turn the page — you don’t want to accidentally read the book title as the next line of text.

3. Choose a (sensible) typeface (quickly)

Choose a typeface designed for long form reading, not a party invite. Don’t worry that a common typeface is boring. Familiarity is a bonus — the reader shouldn’t notice the typeface, the eye should move without distraction across the page.

You can lose hours of your life choosing typefaces. Ultimately, few people notice or care whether it’s Garamond or Jensen. After 10 years fussing, I now nominate a typeface a year (2013 was Fairfield, I’m currently shopping for 2014) which I use for almost everything, unless a task requires a particular look or special treatment. Two other typefaces I regularly use are Caslon — another classic typeface, with extra ligatures and ornaments and many different weights; and Scala and Scala Sans. Choosing a typeface with a serif and sans serif version allows for more diversity, while being sure the two faces match each other, as they were designed to.

I strongly suggest selecting a typeface from the menu in your software program, or buying one from a site such as MyFonts or Font Spring. Designers spend years developing new typefaces, don’t steal them.

That said, thousands of free font sites clutter the Internet. Many of them are either stolen or badly designed. I use Font Squirrel, the available typefaces have been selected by graphic designers and are free for commercial use, though you still need to read the individual licences.

Choose a typeface with a family — roman (sometimes called regular), bold, italic, at the minimum. This allows you to add emphasis to words or italicise titles without having to change typefaces.

Small caps are helpful for running heads, chapter titles and other emphasis. Some software allows you to 'force' italics, bold and small caps. Don’t do this. It can cause problems printing — these 'forced' elements can fail to print, or cause unexpected spacing issues that distract the eye of the reader.

If you’re using multiple typefaces (remembering the Bauhaus adage: less is more), make sure they sit well together. Either choose a face such as Scala (above) with a sans serif and a serif, or choose two faces that are compatible. Test this by looking at two things — x-height and the shape of bowls."

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