Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (2024)

By Ruth Hamilton

last updated

An A to Z of typography design concepts and terms – in words that anyone can understand.

Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (1)

Typography design: key concepts

  • Typography design: key concepts
  • Glossary of typographic terms

Typography design plays a a key role in a designer's skill set. The typeface you choose and how it works with your layout, grid, colour scheme and more can make or break a design.Typography often carries the weight of a message, and getting it right contributes to the message being communicate successfully.

Legibility is part of that, but there's much more because typography can communicate a mood and personality, it can contribute the character of a brand and it can immediately shape how the audience perceives the company, organisation or individual communicating a message.

Like many areas, the field of typography design is absolutely packed with jargon. There's terminology for everything from the correct names for the different parts of letterforms to terms related to their arrangement within a design. This can sometimes make it seem rather arcane to outsiders, so we've put together this guide to translate things into plain English, both for newcomers and for more experienced designers who might want a refresher.

Below, you'll find our complete glossary of typography design terms and concepts. This first page covers some of the most basic concepts that every typography designer needs to understand. You can jump to page 2 to see our full glossary of typography design terms. For more advice, see our roundup of great typography tutorials. You might also want to make sure you understand font licensing.

Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (2)

Key concepts for typography design

01. Font selection

Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (3)

Font design is a lengthy, detailed process. Typefaces are created by craftspeople over a long period of time, using talent honed through years of experience. The best, professionally designed fonts come with various weights and styles to form a complete family, along with carefully considered kerning pairs, multi-language support for international characters and expressive alternate glyphs to add character and variety to typesetting.

So while there's an astonishing array of free fonts to choose from online, you'll need to check the one you choose includes all the variations you need for your design. Even within paid-for fonts, the amount of choice can be overwhelming – and it can be tempting to stick to the classics. If you're keen to expand your repertoire a little and need some, see our selection of inspired alternatives to Helvetica.

02. Size

Not all typefaces are created equal. Some are fat and wide; others thin and narrow. This means that words set in different typefaces can take up a very different amount of space on the page.

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The height of each character is known as its 'x-height' (quite simply because it's based on the 'x' character). When pairing different typefaces, it's usually wise to pair those that share a similar x-height. The width of each character is known as the 'set width'. This spans the body of the letter, plus the space that acts as a buffer between one letterform 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 inch, and 12 points make one pica, a unit used to measure column widths. Type sizes can also be measured in inches, millimetres, or pixels.

03. Leading

Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (4)

Leading describes the vertical space between each line of type. It takes its name from the practice of using strips of lead to separate lines of type in the days of metal typesetting. For body text that's legible and comfortable to read, a general rule is that your leading value should be between 1.25 and 1.5 times greater than the font size.

04. Tracking and kerning

Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (5)

Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between characters to create a harmonious pairing. For example, where an uppercase 'A' meets an uppercase 'V', their diagonal strokes are usually kerned so that the top left of the 'V' sits above the bottom right of the 'A'.

Kerning is similar to tracking, but they're not the same thing. Tracking is applied evenly to adjusts the spacing of all characters in a word.

05. Measure

The term 'measure' describes the width of a text block. If you're seeking to achieve the best reading experience, this is clearly an important consideration. If your lines are too long, your reader can easily get lost, while a too-short measure breaks up the reading experience unnecessarily.

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

06. Hierarchy and scale

If all the type in a layout looks the same, it can be difficult to know which is the most important information, or what to read first. Size is one key way through which typographers create hierarchy and guide their readers. Headings are usually large, sub-headings are smaller, and body type is smaller still. But size isn't the only way to define hierarchy; it can also be achieved with colour, spacing and weight.

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Ruth Hamilton

Ruth spent a couple of years as Deputy Editor of Creative Bloq, and has also either worked on or written for almost all of the site's former and current print titles, from Computer Arts to ImagineFX. She now spends her days reviewing mattresses and hiking boots as the Outdoors and Wellness editor at T3.com, but continues to write about design on a freelance basis in her spare time.

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Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know (2024)


Typography design: rules and terms every designer needs to know? ›

A good designer will never use more than three fonts—and will keep decorative fonts to a minimum—to keep the interface uncluttered and streamlined. Most UI designers will pair serif fonts with sans-serif fonts, such as using a serif font for the main body text and a sans-serif font for the title or vice versa.

What are the five basic rules of typography? ›

The 5 Most Important Typography Rules
  • Understand Contrast.
  • Use Visual Hierarchy.
  • Understand & Use Grids.
  • Limit Your Font Combinations.
  • Never Distort Your Fonts.

What is the golden rule of typography? ›

When in Doubt, Align Left. Unless you have a specific reason, align type to the left axis. We read left to right. Thus, when we meet new text, regardless of its purpose, we're going to naturally progress through said text from left to right.

What is the 3 font rule? ›

In general, you should only use a maximum of three fonts per design: the title, the subhead, and the body of the text. You get an exception if your design text is long.

What are the fundamentals of typography design? ›

The good news is, there are eight basic, universal typographical design elements: typeface, hierarchy, contrast, consistency, alignment, white space, and color. Even a basic understanding of each of these elements can revolutionize any design project.

What is Rule #1 in typography? ›

Rule #1: Moderation

Generally, use no more than two different typefaces on your site, and limit the number of font weights that you use. A site can quickly appear unprofessional when too many typefaces are being used.

What are the three C's of typography? ›

Layout is the arrangement of text, images and/or graphics. A successful design connects the viewer and the message. Composition, Components and Concepts, known as the Three Cs of Layout, are fundamental to achieving successful designs that result in effective layouts.

What are the 7 rules of design? ›

The fundamental principles of design are: Emphasis, Balance and Alignment, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion, Movement and White Space. Design differs from art in that it has to have a purpose. Visually, this functionality is interpreted by making sure an image has a center of attention, a point of focus.

Which 3 fonts are considered overused and shouldn t be used in your design? ›

The Ten Most Overused Fonts in Graphic Design
  • Overused font #1: Times New Roman. ...
  • Overused font #2: Arial/Helvetica. ...
  • Overused font #3: Impact. ...
  • Overused font #4: Papyrus. ...
  • Overused font #5: Comic Sans. ...
  • Overused font #6: Copperplate. ...
  • Overused font #7: Bank Gothic. ...
  • Overused font #8: Garamond.

What is the most commonly used rule in design? ›

The rule of thirds is a simple guideline that UX designers and other creatives use to align images, text, and components of an image or webpage, in a way that creates balance and is in line with how the viewer's eye naturally scans the field.

What are typographic standards? ›

Speaking of web typography, the number of characters per line should be in the range of 40–70 characters for computers and tablets and 30–40 characters for phones. For website texts, the optimal size is 16–20 px. This means that the approximate width of the text block should not exceed 760 px.

How to practice typography? ›

14 Neat Ways To Boost Your Typography Skills
  1. Never Use Small Caps. Avoid using small caps in a piece. ...
  2. Avoid Stretching and Squashing. Sometimes you're tempted to take a font, press CTRL-T, and squash it down into a more condensed shape. ...
  3. Use Logical Hierarchy. ...
  4. Practice Your Handwriting.
Jan 22, 2019

What is 72 point font? ›

Point Size Started with Printing Presses

In physical terms, a point is 1/72 of an inch, which means that 72-point type is an inch tall, and 12-point type is 1/6 of an inch.

How to master typography? ›

How to learn typography
  1. Review basic rules and elements. ...
  2. Practice customization by combining and modifying typefaces. ...
  3. Experiment with layout design. ...
  4. Practice lettering. ...
  5. Join a workshop or take a course.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the difference between typography and typeface? ›

To summarize, typography is the art of arranging type to create effective communication. Typefaces are the visual designs that give characters their distinct style, while fonts are the digital files that allow typefaces to be displayed on screens and in print.

What is excellence in typography? ›

Good typography is measured by how well it reinforces the meaning of the text, not by some abstract scale of merit. Typographic choices that work for one text won't necessarily work for another. Corollary: good typographers don't rely on rote solutions. One size never fits all.

What is typography and five most important rules of it? ›

It involves choosing the typefaces and fonts that define how each individual letter will be displayed; adjusting the spacing between letters, words, lines, and paragraphs; aligning and arranging the text in harmony with other design elements; and ensuring sufficient colour contrast between the text and the background.

What are five 5 basic text and design elements of document writing? ›

Rather than being optional nice-to-haves, such techniques are crucially important to how well your document is received.
  • 4.6.1: Titles.
  • 4.6.2: Headings and Subheadings.
  • 4.6.3: Font.
  • 4.6.4: Line Spacing.
  • 4.6.5: Lists.
  • 4.6.6: Visual Aids.
  • 4.6.7: Interactive Elements.
  • 4.6.8: Balancing Text and Whitespace.


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