Typography and Type Design Principles - dummies

Typography is the art of arranging text to make it readable and good to look at when it’s displayed either on paper or a computer screen. Here are some terms that are helpful to understand when you work with text:

  • Font: The combination of size, weight, and style of each character (letter or number).
  • Proportional font: This type of font has characters that take up only as much space as they need. This means that the letter n takes up a little less space than an m because an m is wider. Most fonts are proportional.
  • Serif: A type of proportional font that has decorative marks at the ends of characters, like Times New Roman.
    A sans serif font is a proportional font but the characters do not have features or decorative marks at the end of their strokes. Arial is an example (see the following figure).
    The word sans is a French word that means without. Sans serif means without serifs.
  • Monotype (also called monospaced): A fixed-width font. All the letters that make up a word are the same distance apart. This is useful for both writing and displaying computer code, like Courier New.
  • Bold type: Bold type makes characters stand out in the text making them darker and thicker (known as font weight). It attracts the human eye and grabs the reader’s attention while quickly looking over text.
  • Italic type: This type also makes characters stand out by tilting the font slightly forward. Italics do not stand out as much as bold type, therefore is used to make people notice text as it is being read rather than just scanned.
  • Typeface: A set of fonts, often referred to as a “font family.” For example, Times is a serif typeface that defines the shape of each letter, and within the Times family, there are many different fonts, such as Times Roman, Times New Roman, and Times Bold, to name a few.
  • Headlines: Used to start an article. You place headlines at the top of a page and usually make them with large, bold fonts. You can also use headlines between paragraphs to help make a point or start talking about something new on the same page.
  • Paragraph: Of course you know what a paragraph is, but it’s included here to note that the font is usually smaller and not bold.

As with colors, there is an entire theory behind good typography. This practice is called type design, and people who design and work with typography are called type designers.

Type designers follow more than a dozen rules to make documents look good. Web pages follow the rules as well. Here are the big three” of those rules that you should follow:

  • Limit your design to only two fonts on a single page. These two should be paired, which means they go together well.
  • Limit your design to three colors. These three should harmonize, or go well together.
  • Limit your use of bold, italics, and headlines you use in your text. If you use too much of any of these things, people lose interest in reading your web page.

To learn more about type design, go to the Typography listing on Wikipedia.