Typography Design: Rules and Terms Every Designer Should Know

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1. Bowl; 2. Stem; 3. Counter; 4. Arm; 5. Ligature; 6. Terminal; 7. spine; 8. Ascender; 9. Summit; 10. Serif; 11. Ear; 12. Descending; 13. Cross bar; 14. Fleuron; 15. Height of the ascender; 16. Height of the cap; 17. height X; 18. Reference; 19. Descending line

Typography design is a key part of a designer’s skills. The typeface you choose and how it works with your layout, grid, color scheme, and more can make or break a design.

The art and technique of typeface arrangement involves much more than just making words readable, but the field of typography design is full of jargon which can make it seem rather obscure to outsiders at times. There is terminology for everything from correct names for the different parts of letter shapes to terms related to their arrangement in a drawing. To help make things clearer for those new to the field – and even more seasoned designers who might want a refresher – here is our full glossary of typography design terms and concepts.

This first page covers some of the basic concepts that every typography designer should understand. You can skip to page 2 to view our full glossary of typography design terms. For more tips, check out our list of great typography tutorials, or explore these perfect font pairs and check out these free wallpapers for typography lovers.

Key concepts for typography design

01. Font selection

Typography design: font selection

There is a huge selection of fonts to choose from

Font design is a long and detailed process. Fonts are created by artisans over a long period of time, using skill honed by years of experience. The best professionally designed fonts come with different weights and styles to form a complete family, along with carefully researched kerning pairs, multilingual support for international characters, and expressive alternate glyphs to add character and variety. to the composition.

So while there is an amazing array of free fonts to choose from online, you will need to check that the one you choose includes all the variations you need for your design. Even within paid policies, the choice can be overwhelming – and it can be tempting to stick with the classics. If you want to expand your repertoire a bit and need it, check out our selection of inspired alternatives to Helvetica.

02. Size

Not all fonts are created equal. Some are big and wide; others thin and narrow. This means that words defined in different fonts can occupy very different space on the page.

The height of each character is known as “x height” (simply because it is based on the “x” character). When combining different fonts, it’s usually a good idea to combine those that share a similar x height. The width of each character is known as the “defined width”. This spans the body of the letter plus the space that acts as a buffer between one letter shape and the next.

The most common method used to measure type is the point system, which dates back to the 18th century. One point is 1/72 of an inch and 12 points make up a pica, a unit used to measure the width of columns. Character sizes can also be measured in inches, millimeters, or pixels.

03. Lead

typography design: typography

(Image credit: Alys Tomlinson via Getty)

Leading describes the vertical space between each line of characters. It got its name from the practice of using lead bands to separate lines of characters during the days of metal composition. For a body of text that is readable and comfortable to read, a general rule of thumb is that your initial value should be between 1.25 and 1.5 times the font size.

04. Tracking and kerning

typography design: kerning

(Image credit: Bortonia via Getty)

Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between characters to create a harmonious pairing. For example, when an uppercase “A” meets an uppercase “V”, their diagonal lines are usually kerned so that the upper left corner of the “V” sits above the lower right corner of the “A”.

Kerning is similar to tracking, but it is not the same. Tracking is applied evenly to adjust the spacing of all characters in a word.

05. Measure

The term “measure” describes the width of a block of text. If you’re looking to get the best reading experience, this is clearly an important consideration. If your lines are too long, your reader can easily get lost, while too short a measurement unnecessarily interrupts the reading experience.

There are a number of theories to help you define the ideal measurement for your typography. A rule of thumb is that your lines should be 2 to 3 alphabets (so 52 to 78 characters including spaces) in length.

06. Hierarchy and scale

If all the characters in a layout look the same, it can be difficult to know what is the most important information or what to read first. Size is a key way that typographers create hierarchy and guide their readers. The titles are generally large, the subtitles are smaller, and the body type is even smaller. But size is not the only way to define hierarchy; it can also be achieved with color, spacing and weight.

Next page: Glossary of typographical terms

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