typography ‘rules’

There are many ‘rules’ to clear typography, these rules may be stretched, but before you make it your mission to bend as many as possible, be sure you can demonstrate an understanding of how to use and combine the various do’s and dont’s. Here are a few that spring to mind.

  1. Try to use less than three different font families, and less than four different font sizes [Title, section heading, body 10 – 12pts, meta ~ 9pts]
  2. Do not stretch or squash fonts, it’s disrespectful to the many hours of consideration font designers have put into character proportions, and nearly always looks terrible
  3. Line spacing ideally more than 1.15 and less than 1.8
  4. Paragraphs should aim for around 12 – 17 words per line, more than this starts to make reading tedious. You can use this rule to help decide when you need to have more than one column on a page
  5. Try not to end a paragraph with a line with only one word on it. This is called an ‘orphan’ and can be fixed by adjusting the ‘tracking’ of the paragraph – but be careful not to let the paragraph become too dense or loose compared to its neighbours
  6. Try not to let a page start with only one line carried over from a previous page’s paragraph. This is called a ‘widow’ and can be fixed by adjusting the layout
  7. A page of just text should have at least two paragraphs
  8. When planning out margins think of a comfortable width required for your readers thumbs, and think about the space needed for the center curve of the page as it dips into to the spine at the center. It is not always nice to read text that keeps disappearing into this space
  9. Allow a comfortable amount of margin at the top to frame the layout (white space is not empty space!) and allow even more at the bottom, also to accommodate footnotes or page numbers
  10. Allow a clear margin around all drawings and images to create a minimum breathing space between image and text
  11. Try to use a white space GRID as a guide to establish a pattern or rhythm through the layout of your book. Use the grid to align all images and text, try to keep within a controlled range of grid based layouts if you vary arrangements from one page to another. This will put you on the path towards a professional looking layout
  12. Prioritise readability. Your layout games should aim to improve legibility and make it easier for a reader to appreciate the content of your writing
  13. If using InDesign deactivate the automatic paragraph hyphenation because too many split words makes for a less pleasant read
  14. Appreciate that different media have differing rules: Web typography, Posters, Print typography. What you like on one might not necessarily work as well on another
  15. Take an active interest in book binding options and methods
  16. Practice (and develop)

For an effective method to improve, look through your favourite publications and dissect: margin proportions, number and style of fonts used, average number of words per line, layout of metadata (footnotes, page numbers, image captions), use of colour, use of images (max number per page, space allowed around each), and even the types of paper used. Refer to one of the many variations of ‘typography rules’ on the web and other guides such as Vignelli’s Canon online see how many of these your subject publication breaks.

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