What Is Typography? (Plus Its Purpose, Rules and Elements)

Updated July 4, 2023

A person sits on the ground and looks thoughtfully at their laptop screen.

Typography is the art of arranging type to make the written word more legible and aesthetically appealing. It has a variety of design applications, and it can be a useful tool for businesses that regularly use writing and typeface in their processes. Learning more about typography and its design uses can help you use it to improve the quality of your writing and your marketing materials. 

In this article, we explain what typography is, discuss its purpose and list the rules and elements that encompass it.

What is typography?

Typography is a visual representation of words and phrases. It combines the principles of visual design, font, lettering, color and several other aspects of print writing to create aesthetically pleasing banners, billboards, signs, magazine articles, website content, letters and letterheads and other types of printed publications and applications. Many consider typography to be an art form, similar to photography, but it can also be a useful tool for different business applications. While typography can encompass different artistic elements and techniques, it can also require computer knowledge and technical skills.

Related: What Is Typography? (Plus Techniques and Examples)

What is the purpose of typography?

Typography functions as a way to highlight or enhance the quality of printed words. Early newspapers and journals often used typography to emphasize certain words or phrases and create varied font and letter designs to attract readers' attention and showcase specific articles or stories. As typography increased in popularity and became a widely used medium, businesses began using it in many other applications, such as web design and graphic design, and they started spending more time combining colors and fonts to improve marketing materials. Here are some reasons why you might want to use typography:

Enhances online text and other writing

Typography can enhance the text displayed on websites and other online spaces where organizations publish content and different types of writing. Typography uses fonts, letter spacing, layout styles and other design elements to highlight messages, articles, headlines and other content. For example, you can use typography to separate different parts of text blocks from the main content. Businesses that use content marketing strategies regularly might use the elements of typography to appeal to their target audiences.

Related: Learning Typography: An Introduction to the Fundamentals

Makes writing more artistic and interesting

In many of its applications, typography stylizes and uses design elements to add artistic elegance to writing and print content. In the case of advertising and using writing to market brand messages, typography can showcase different styles and enhance the overall aesthetic of the writing displayed online and in print materials. A brand logo that includes the application of typography can make it more unique and stylish.

Related: 5 Persuasive Techniques To Improve Your Writing

Creates brand messages without the need for images

Typography can have a variety of purposes in branding, and it allows companies to make their logos more recognizable. When a business creates online and printed content for content marketing, social media posting or blog writing, in addition to printed magazines, brochures or newsletters, it can use typography to convey its message or mission with a simple statement or phrase without needing additional images, graphics or pictures. Typography can be an influential tool in branding because of its ability to create an attractive and persuasive print that can make brand messages memorable while still retaining a degree of simplicity. 

Related: What Branding Is and Why It's Important

Emphasizes messages and text

In large blocks of text, such as blog posts, online articles and magazine issues, you can use typography to emphasize certain words, phrases or smaller blocks of meaningful text. This can help you direct your readers' attention to the main idea of the text more quickly. For example, a blog site about nature and environmental conservation might use bolded or underlined text with a large font to direct readers' attention to a call to action that encourages them to donate to a wildlife conservation fund. Typography can help businesses emphasize important pieces of information right away. 

Related: How To Write a Product Review To Get Readers' Attention

Rules of typography

Typography can have a wide range of uses and applications, but there are some common rules and principles or best practices for implementing typographic elements. You can use the following rules and design principles as a guideline for employing typography in content design: 

Follow proper grammar rules

When using the design elements of typography, it's important to follow proper grammar rules to avoid confusion and showcase your professionalism. Correct spelling, punctuation and proper grammar are necessary for written communication, especially in a professional setting. Proper grammar and punctuation can help your intended audience comprehend the brand's message and perceive it more positively. 

Related: How To Successfully Find a Blogging Style For Your Brand

Keep fonts limited

One important rule of typography when using it for graphic design is to limit the number of fonts you use within a single page. Many professional fonts, like serif fonts, are in a similar style family, and using related font styles can further increase reading comprehension and keep you from distracting the reader. You can use two fonts to create an attractive and cohesive font pair. It's also possible to use up to three different fonts as long as the fonts are easy to read and pair well with each other, and some software programs can help you decide which fonts to pair together.

Related: Top 23 Professional Fonts (And How To Choose the Right One)

Use fonts appropriate to the audience

When applying typography principles to creative work, using fonts that are appropriate to the audience allows you to relate to them more easily. For example, a graphic designer who creates informational brochures for a medical supply company would likely use fonts, colors and styles that are more formal. A designer who works for an event planning company may use fonts that are more colorful, animated and informal. It's helpful to perform an inventory of the fonts that competitors use to determine what's aesthetically appealing to different audiences in your niche. 

Learn the basics of kerning

Kerning refers to the proper spacing of lines, words and letters, and you can use it to create a more attractive typeface. Kerning requires designers to measure out and format every letter in a word according to specific criteria, along with the loops, lines and curves that constitute the letter. Learning the application of kerning can help you ensure that your content is well-aligned, centered or otherwise balanced in relation to the other pieces of content on-screen. Consider taking online classes to learn the basics of kerning and its importance in typography. 

Related: Kerning vs. Tracking vs. Leading: What's the Difference?

Apply proper alignment

Alignment refers to line spacing and the placement of paragraphs, margins, headers and footers and other blocks of text that are in print or on a web page. Typography follows different alignment rules for different projects, so make sure you apply the appropriate alignments at the beginning of a project. Typically, you can use center alignment for headings, quotes or small blocks of text and left alignment for large blocks of text. Right alignment might be useful for a navigation page. 

Implement print hierarchy

Print hierarchy refers to the method and order that you can use to present text or content. For example, an online magazine or news journal might use print hierarchy to distinguish important snippets, captions, headings and subheadings from the main text of an article it publishes. Implementing print hierarchy can also help make the text more organized in a piece of print.

Work with design grids

A design grid can make it easier for multiple designers to work on the same project without varying the overall design too much. Design grids allow graphic designers to create text and content that's proportionate, straight, or in-line and balanced. Design grids can also be effective tools for projects that require different fonts, placements or graphics within the text.

Related: 12 Principles of Visual Design

Pair fonts appropriately

Having a strong font pair can make it easier to increase the visual appeal of your content and showcase the brand's personality. When designers and writers create font pairs, they may consider font family, style, such as italic or bold type, size and other aesthetic elements to ensure the fonts they choose are cohesive and read well together. For example, a bold, all-capital font may not work well with a flowing script-type font. Different typefaces can also convey different tones, and sans-serif typefaces may be more useful when there's little space for additional text.

Consider using focus groups to test different fonts. Focus groups can help you determine which is likely to be the most beneficial to include in your marketing materials. Try showcasing three to four different font styles at a time and ask your audience questions about them. You can use the insights you gain to plan your graphic design and marketing budgets. 

Related: 28 Web-Safe Fonts To Use on Your Site (Plus Definition)

Measure the letters and ensure proportionality

Graphic designers, copywriters and design specialists who use typography may not only assess the margin and line spacing measurements, but they may also ensure that the letter spacing, letter height and letter width are proportionate. These measurements can affect the overall design of the text, so it's important to make sure that letters, spacing, lines and margins are all proportionately measured. Letters or blocks of text that are too large or too small may affect the overall perception readers have of the text. 

Address readability

It can also be critical to address the overall readability of the text design, including the font and style. Elements like color palette, size, spacing and alignment can affect the legibility of the typography of a web page or print text, make sure to consider readability when creating these elements. Review the text carefully and consider it from the average reader's perspective. For example, a lighter style font is likely to be readable when the background color is a pale or light tone like white or yellow.

Choose appealing font colors 

The color palette is also an important consideration when designing text and content, as certain colors may increase aesthetic appeal and help you maintain a higher degree of consistency. For example, a graphic designer who creates a blue web page background at the client's request may use color and design principles to select font colors that pair well with that background, like black, white or a darker blue. Contrasting colors like orange or yellow might make the background more difficult to read and affect the overall design. 

Related: How To Design a Logo in 12 Steps

Ensure the type is undistorted 

Text can sometimes be too large or small in a content space, but it's important to avoid distorting it by enlarging, widening or manipulating the font. Many word processing programs have specific tools for resizing and enlarging letter spacing to ensure the text fits the design requirements without making it overly large or small. This ensures your text is readable and you include all the necessary components. 

Retain some white space

White space is the blank space on a website or page that's between the content and text. This space can enhance the content design and make the text more organized and aligned. Retaining white space can also help increase readability and ensure that you have plenty of space to insert other design components if necessary. 

Take advantage of typography tools

Using typography tools can help streamline design projects. Some software, like Adobe, can allow graphic designers to create streamlined text and content, follow predefined style formats or templates and insert a variety of creative design elements. Typography tools can help you differentiate print and online content from other types of content. They can also help you improve your overall messaging and the way you organize words. 

Make an effort to save your fonts in a document with a white background or a location where they're readily available to the marketing team using word processing software. Review the guidelines on the specific sizes that are available and how to best use each font. This can prevent you from using the fonts in a misleading way while also ensuring consistency. It's important to make sure the brand image aligns with the overall typography, and certain software tools can help you do so more easily while also providing you with recommendations or tips for improvement.

Elements of typography

There are six primary elements or components of typography. These include:

  1. Typeface: This represents the overall visual design of electronic letters and symbols, and it can include Garamond, Times or Arial, along with a wide range of other styles.

  2. Font: Font refers to the specific style of typeface, along with a particular size, width and height.

  3. Hierarchy: This is the overall structure of a written design piece, and it represents the relationship between the varying components in the text.

  4. Alignment: Alignment simply refers to the direction of the text in a design, and it usually includes left alignment, center alignment and right alignment.

  5. Style: Style or consistency refers to the additional formatting of the characters in a text, and it might include italics, bolding or strikethroughs.

  6. Color: This refers to the color of the text, in addition to the color of the background that contains it.

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