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May 09, 2007



I'd say:

Don't underestimate its importance. The best ideas, the most beautiful imagery, the most harmonious colour combinations will be blighted by inferior typography. So work at it, study it.

Look at all those great names in graphic design history; Tschichold, Schleger, Rand, Fletcher, Aicher, Muller-Brockmann; and look at their beautiful type. They understood the need to understand it.

Start with a good book, like this one:


and/or this:


and/or this:


Read them, then re-read them and keep them with you. After a while, hopefully, the "rules" will start to become instinctive. But read some more. A copy of Hart's Rules will help with the details:


Tschichold said something like, "...the greatest benefit will be gained by the study of good work...", so do a lot of that.

With a bit of luck you'll get really into it and it'll all become fascinating and you'll develop a passion for it. So you'll love doing a bit of kerning and you'll drool over a bit of wood type, and you'll be queuing up to see things like the Kitching talk or the Helvetica film.

Then you'll start a blog about it.


Bloody hell, that's good advice.

Jeff Gill

I would add Elements of Typographic Style by Bringhurst to the list: http://tinyurl.com/29y2gu

Slavishly follow the rules until, as Richard says, they become instinctive. Then you will know how & when to break them.

At the same time, learn how to think and how to see so that you understand why as well as what.

Fernando Lins

I agree with Richard (and Tschichold) about analysing great fonts and typographic works, figuring out what is so important about them, what makes them effective and unique, and doing a lot (a whole lot) of experiments. And, as always, make sure you play with silly ideas on paper too, they get the creative juice flowing.

Alistair Hall

No more than seven words per line? That seems unduly harsh.

We were always taught (by Professor Phil Baines) that a line length of twelve words is the maximum you should go to.

I'd agree with Richard that picking up copy of Type and Typography can be immensely helpful. It's got a particularly useful section about the styling of details within text.


Look hard and long at dutch and swiss design and wonder why their typographic design is so good. And why you are trying to do the same thing and it is totally not as easy as it seems.


1) When you've finished with those, look up Rick Poyner's guide to Typographica.

2) Though the guidelines can seem restrictive, the ISTD guide to clear print designing is an interesting companion to the above.


I had typography drilled into me when I did my degree, as a result, nearly all of my class passed the ISTD student projects. The Phil Baines book is really good, but most designers miss even the simple things, like the difference between a hypen and a dash. One thing students should learn is knowing the basics is more important than doing type like David Carson and if they're not getting taught them, they have to learn themselves.


Yes, I agree with everybody. Look at hostorical design masters, don't dismiss them because they are old or because you have seen it all before. Richard Hollis' book on Swiss Design is great because it covers so many masters and shows you so many examples of work.

I also second the suggestion of getting a boring book about rules. The details is what I look at. If you haven't got them down then they will stand out, but that's just me: a dusty old fogey. If I see an en dash used properly I appreciate it. Bringhurt's book is great for this.




I'm reading Swiss Graphic Design right now!


I agree — the beauty is in the detail. Detail that mostly goes un-noticed, but needs care and attention.


My dad took me to see a slightly eccentric Russian graphic designer for some portfolio advice.

His parting words to me-
"the black space can never be beautiful until the white space is beautiful."

Matthew Aubie

Hope you don't mind that I linked this post from my site! These are all great links and great pieces of advice!


Here's a few concrete ones:

Keep your letterspacing less than your wordspacing and your wordspacing less than your linespacing -- it's all about making units with space.

As stuff gets smaller, more space. Bigger, less space. It's a basic physics of sizing. Look at some typefaces with optical sizes and you'll see what I mean.

Watch your rivers, rags, orphans, and widows.

Converge your similarities and diverge your differences. Contrast = interest and legibility.

A grid is merely a system for organizing relationships. It's like a time signature in music: by having tones sound on beat, it's more obvious when other tones do not. Those beats make a composition music instead of pretty noise. (It's also easier to control a simple rock beat than a syncopated salsa)

Don't be redundant with text and images: think about what each element is contributing to the idea of a composition and have them respond or rhyme instead of repeat. If the image is doing the work, chill it a bit with the type. Vice versa.

Every signifier of emphasis (size, weight, italic, spacing, capitalization, color, etc.) makes the page more complicated. Sometimes complication is necessary to communicate a complex idea and sometimes it just makes things messy. K.I.S.S.


Great advice on Design Observer today:

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