Typography: Part 1


By Kevin Richardson

Creative Director | Overit Media

In the fast paced world of agency life, I find myself turning over job after job without even having a chance to breathe in between. Each project being worked on is worthy of the critical thought and effort that is required to create a unique and effective piece. However, with the combination of starting a project on a drained battery and a budget that won’t allow time to recharge, it is sometimes hard to give each design element the true attention it deserves. Within an average week, I could possibly find myself working on a company’s new identity, laying out an annual report, designing a Website, etc… One thing that these (and 90% of every other project I work on) have in common is the need for textual arrangement.

Whether you’re a print or web designer, textual content will play a major role in communicating your message. This is why good typographic solutions are so important. Good typography will allow the end user to view the product, (regardless of the medium) and get a full understanding of what it is, or what it’s trying to achieve without any distraction. More often than not, I notice that typography is one of the first elements of design to be overlooked when dealing with a tight budget or timeline. It’s common for a designer to spend most of his/her time establishing a “look and feel” for the piece, and when hours start to run out, the treatment of text will turn into an afterthought. Being guilty of this myself, I’ve decided to get back to the basics and organize some typographic guidelines that will not only help ensure better results, but a quicker and more efficient turn around (regardless of your mental state during the start or completion of a project).


In my experience, I’ve found two major considerations that must be acknowledged while designing with type; Aesthetics and organization. The aesthetic consideration refers to how well your typeface compliments your message, while the organizational consideration reflects the emphasis at which the content is reaching your viewer. In other words, are you using a typeface well suited for Halloween while your designing for Christmas (aesthetic), and is your viewer reading the body text before they are reading the headline (organization)? Though some situations may require one consideration to be more prominent over the other, each should remain equally relevant through the start of any project.


The first step in every design process should be to grasp a good understanding of the subject you are working with. If you haven’t read the text or don’t understand the content you are working with, then how can you accurately represent it? It would be like an actor trying to portray a famous character without fully researching the role. However, understanding content goes far beyond just reading the document that you are designing. It must be studied, then abstracted. What will the content consist of: Headings, Subheads, Body, Footer, Captions, etc…? How long will the content be, and will it’s length vary from section to section? These are some of the many questions that must be answered before design takes place. The amount of content in association with the text breakdown may dictate what typeface will be appropriate for the project.

Designers shouldn’t be held fully responsible though. Finding good typographic solutions should be a collaboration between the designer and the copywriter. The quality of the content will certainly be a factor in how effective the end product is. Content and typography must play hand in hand. One without the other will surely fail. Good content accompanied by bad typography is rendered completely ineffective simply because no one will be attracted to read the content. Similarly, bad content accompanied by good typography will also prove to be useless; although people may become engaged, they aren’t learning or getting anything from it. These two elements must work cohesively in order to be successful.


Before any legitimate designer begins to design, they go through a planning phase. Sometimes this consists of research or experimenting, but it almost always consists of wireframing (or at least sketching) out a potential hierarchy of content placement. In this phase you should be determining which parts of the content should be the most highly visible versus what’s not so important.

While your organizing this content, consider how your typographic solutions will play into the mix. Will they be overlooked and placed as an after thought, or will they be strategically orchestrated to work cohesively with the content arrangement? If the most prominent element of the product is treated poorly, then your not doing justice to your overall purpose, and your main message will lose the impact that you were relying on.


Each typeface was created with a specific intent. Some are more multifaceted than others, but if you really breakdown every typeface, you’ll be sure to find the meaning in which the face was originally intended. The Halloween/Christmas example I used above is a good generic example of this. It would be foolish to use a type face that so blatantly contradicts it’s subject. It’s not always so obvious though. A good place to start looking, while searching for the intent of a typeface would be the origin in which the face was created. What year and era was the typeface created? What cultural movement was taking place during it’s creation? What was the original message that was being communicated when the face was born?

Another aspect to consider is the surrounding graphics of the piece. Sometimes, design elements can help alter the intent of the chosen typeface, but this must be done selectively and in good taste. Poor execution will result in an even more disconnected message.


There are in-fact many ‘rules’ associated with typography but in some cases, these rules are meant to be tastefully broken. I like to think that if you understand the rule, you are free to break it. However, these rules are in place for a reason. While common typographic mediums have elaborately changed over the past few decades, the rules have not. Weather you’re a print or web designer; you can rely on the same set of rules as a guideline to your textual arrangement.

Though I did not review any technical rules that are associated with typography, I have provided a handful of guidelines that should certainly be considered for any project involving text. Without carefully orchestrating the content throughout your product, you risk having viewers overlook essential elements while focusing on something that may be irrelevant. Likewise, you may also be contradicting the initial message entirely simply by choosing the wrong typeface.

Much like balance, composition, color & contrast; Typography is an essential element to good design and should be held in the highest regard. Consider planning your typographic solution in the early stages of design rather than waiting until you’ve run out of hours, or steam. The difference will be obvious and the results will be much more successful.

Our Kevin Richardson maintains his own site with more insightful blog posts relating to design. Read more in his design blog.