Jump To Section
What Is Typography in Graphic Design?
Typography is the art of arranging and manipulating type to convey a message and make written communication legible. A typographer is a professional whose primary skill set is typography, but designing type is a core component of the work of graphic designers and illustrators as well.
A typographer can make their own typeface or adjust existing typefaces and fonts (specific styles within a typeface) by manipulating design elements such as point size, line spacing, and kerning. They might also manipulate the typeface itself by adjusting aspects of the letterforms. Good typography is mindful of the text's legibility and readability and makes good use of white space.
Why Is Typography Important?
Typography design serves many purposes, from making words legible to evoking emotion to creating a consistent brand identity. A brand logo that incorporates good typographic elements can result in consumers viewing the brand positively, and visually pleasing font pairings can make presentations more dynamic. Effective typography should hold viewers’ attention without becoming a distraction.
7 Elements of Typography
Typography has an extensive glossary of terms that help explain the various elements involved in arranging type.
- Typeface: A typeface is a specific style of letter work and punctuation marks, also known as glyphs, that share a common design. Within any typeface, there is a family of fonts that can be altered to different sizes, thicknesses (known as weights), or styles. The core design of the letter work, however, is called the typeface. Typefaces were born with the invention of the printing press, and come standard in digital word processing programs used today.
- Font: A font is a subset of a typeface that is created by altering the original typeface. For example, Arial Narrow, characterized by thinner lines, and Arial Black, characterized by heavier lines, are two different fonts created from the same Arial typeface.
- Type size: The height of a single character revolves around the x-height, or the spacing between the baseline and the median line for lower case text. Parts of the letter that extend above the x-height are ascenders, while parts of the letter that dip below the baseline are descenders. The full height of a typeface is measured as point size, a byproduct of the days when all type was set in metal pieces measured by points, or fractions of an inch.
- Alignment: Alignment refers to the process of arranging the edges of a body of text to the edge of a page or text box. Types of alignment include left alignment, centered, right alignment, and justified. Left alignment is the most common alignment, as most modern languages flow in a left-to-right direction. Justified alignment creates a block of text by making each row of text fill the entire length of the text box. When aligning body text, be mindful of line length. You may need to adjust the spacing between words or letters to create a balanced line that is easy to read.
- Tracking: The process of spacing out all the letters in a word or line of text is called letter spacing, or tracking. Most word processing programs will use a default tracking setting for various fonts. Increasing the tracking will add more space between letters. This can make words feel airy and easier on the eye, but too much tracking will make words difficult to read. In general, uppercase letters can tolerate increased tracking more than lowercase letters.
- Kerning: Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between individual letters. This allows for more fine-tuning than is possible with tracking, which affects full words and lines. Use tracking to design a consistent body of similarly shaped text and kerning to make letterforms with flourishes more visually appealing.
- Leading: This term gets its name from the days of manual typesetting when lead strips were used to separate lines of text. Today, leading refers to the process of adjusting the vertical spacing between lines of text. Leading is often employed to convey a certain mood with a body of text. It can also come in handy when a font's ascenders or descenders go beyond the line-height. In this case, adjusting the leading will help keep the words legible.
3 Types of Fonts in Typography
Fonts are the bedrock of typography and can be broken down into three main categories.
- Serif: Serif fonts include typefaces whose characters have slight projections finishing off the end of a stroke. For example, Times New Roman is a serif font.
- Sans-serif: Sans-serif fonts have clean, uniform characters without the distinguishing marks of a serif font. For example, Arial and Helvetica are sans-serif fonts.
- Calligraphy: Gothic or Blackletter fonts have traditional calligraphic elements and are designed to look as though they're written with a pen.
Want to Learn More About Tapping Into Your Graphic Design Genius?
Get a MasterClass Annual Membership and let David Carson be your personal tutor. The prolific and decorated designer—who’s been lauded as the “art director of the era”—reveals his processes for going off the (design) grid, implementing typography in new and interesting ways, innovative uses of photography and collage, and so much more.