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Lesson 5: Simple Elegance

Graphic Design for Non-Designers

Table of Contents

Basic Type Principles and Definitions

As I said in Lesson 1, understanding the terminology of your profession is always a top priority. Let's go over typography terms you are going to hear over and over in your life as a designer. Some of them you've seen already in this course:

  • Setting type: Putting type on a page while paying attention to its placement and spacing.
  • Typography: The art and study of setting and designing type.
  • Letterform: A letter (e.g., a, b, c, A, B, C, and so on).
  • Headline: The title or heading of a document or article.
  • Body copy: The main text of a document or article.
  • Serif type: Serif type has a line (called a serif) ending the stroke of a letter (see Figure 5-1). Some letters in a serif typeface touch each other; e.g., "f" and "l." This can look as if those two letters are too close to each other. For how to deal with this, see Kerning.
  • Sans serif type: Sans means "without," so sans serif type does not have a line ending the stroke of a letter (see Figure 5-1).


    Figure 5-1: A serif "E" is on the left; a sans serif "E" is on the right.

  • Kerning: When you kern type, you increase or decrease the space in between two letterforms. Figure 5-2 shows the word "Kern" straight from the computer and after I added space between the "r" and "n."


    Figure 5-2: Shows the word "Kern" before space adjustments and after.

  • Tracking: Tracking type increases or decreases the space evenly between multiple letterforms. Figure 5-3 shows the word "Track" straight from the computer and after I added space between all the letters.


    Figure 5-3: Here's the word "Track" before space adjustments and after.

  • Leading: The amount of space between lines of type (Figure 5-4).


    Figure 5-4:Notice the additional leading in this example.

The following are general terms that apply to any typeface (I have numbered them to correspond with Figure 5-5):

  1. Ascender: The part of the letter that rises above the x-height.
  2. Baseline: The imaginary line on which type sits.
  3. X-height: The height of lowercase letters.
  4. Descender: The part of the letter that extends below the baseline.


Figure 5-5: The numbers in this figure correspond to the numbered general type terms.

You can tell one font from another by looking at these characteristics. Oftentimes the only easily distinguishable characteristic between one font and another is the descender of the "g." How is it shaped? Is it curly or just curved? The attitude of a font can be determined by these little details. Compare one font's x-height to another. Do you see the difference?

Legibility = Readability

Now that you know the basics of type and a few definitions, you are ready to take the next step. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the purpose of design is to convey information, and it is especially important that your type doesn't hinder the message. There are times, of course, when type is set as a graphic element rather than to be read, but we are not concerned with that use of type here.

To start with, let's discuss why it's not a good idea to set more than one or two words in body text in all uppercase (capital) letters. Uppercase is used to emphasize a point, in much the same way that boldface and italics do. If you set a whole paragraph in uppercase letters, it loses importance and can make the reader feel as if he or she is being screamed at. More importantly, such type becomes hard to decipher and is no longer readable. This violates the primary purpose of design.

You are probably saying to yourself, "What does she know? I like uppercase letters!" Well, so do I, but not in body copy. In Figure 5-6, I've set two paragraphs of type side by side -- same words, point size, leading, and alignment. Try timing yourself and see how much longer it takes you to read the uppercase paragraph than the paragraph that is mostly lowercase.


Figure 5-6: The same paragraph set in uppercase and lowercase letters does not take the same time to read.

It took longer than you thought it would, right? There is a reason this happens and it has to do with the white, or negative, space surrounding the letters. When you read, you really read the shape of the word as a whole instead of registering each individual letter. Take the word "Telephone," for instance. Set in lowercase letters (except for the initial captial), there is plenty of white space so your eye can move around the form of the word and take it in (see Figure 5-7).


Figure 5-7: Your eye reads the form of the word rather than each letter individually.

If you set the same word in uppercase letters, the uppercase letters form a rectangle so that you have to read each individual letter in order to read the word (Figure 5-8) -- hence the time difference.


Figure 5-8: When type is set all in uppercase, your eye sees a rectangle.

Also in the context of legibility, let's look at display and script (decorative) fonts like those shown in Figure 5-9. These fonts are meant to decorate a page or to set a mood. When used correctly, display and script fonts can be charming, elegant, and smart without interfering with your message.


Figure 5-9. These fonts are meant to decorate a page or to set a mood.

However, as with uppercase letters and for the same reasons, they should never be used for body copy (Figure 5-10).


Figure 5-10: The same paragraph set in display and script fonts.

Is More Really Merrier?

I have one more type rule for you. Having a lot of fonts on one page doesn't make the page more interesting; it makes it more confusing. Now, that doesn't mean you can't have one font for headlines, one for body copy, and one for picture captions. On the other hand, you don't want to use a different font for every headline, block of text, and caption. :::Adobe+Photoshop:::

Punctuation With Style

This is a relatively short part of the lesson, but it is important. Depending on what program you use, you might have seen a preference called smart quotes or smart punctuation. In a nutshell, the smart quotes feature turns straight quote marks into curly ones. You might think this sounds trivial, but there really is a difference between the two. Technically, the straight marks are marks for units of measurement, such as inches and feet (Figure 5-11).


Figure 5-11: These hash marks, although they look like quotation marks, actually indicate a unit of measurement.

Curly quote marks (smart quotes) indicate that something is being cited from another source (double quotes) and for apostrophes (single quote).


Figure 5-12: Smart quotes are used for punctuation.

Okay, we've covered the bare basics of type. Only one more lesson to go!

Next Lesson

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