What Is Typography? Terms, Rules and Why It's Important

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 9, 2021

Typography is an application to the written word that can be considered an art form. However, it can also serve a variety of utilitarian purposes. It can be used in a variety of different design applications and can be a highly useful tool for businesses that focus on using writing and print in their processes. In this article, we explore what typography is, its many different purposes and the rules and elements typography can encompass.

What is typography?

Typography is the visual representation of words and phrases. It works to combine the principles of visual design, font, lettering, color and several other aspects of print writing to create banners, billboards, signs, magazine articles, website content, letters and letterheads and many other print and writing applications. Oftentimes, typography can be considered an art form, much like photography. However, typography can be a useful tool or function for many different business applications.

While typography can encompass different elements and techniques that make it artistic, it can also require computer knowledge and technical skills.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

What is the purpose of typography?

Typography was created as a way to highlight or make writing and print stand out. For instance, early newspapers and journals used typography to place visual emphasis on certain words or phrases, used fonts and letter designs to turn readers' attention to specific articles or stories and explored different aspects of using typography for different writing, design and printing purposes.

As typography grew as a medium and skilled job industry, it became a tool commonly used in many other applications, such as web design and graphic design. Below are some other uses for typography:

Enhances online text and other writing

Typography can enhance the text displayed on websites and other online spaces where content and writing are seen. This is because typography uses fonts, letter spacing, layout styles and other design elements to bring attention to messages, articles, headlines and other content. As an example, typography can be used to make different parts of text blocks stand out with the main content. So businesses who use content marketing strategies might implement the elements of typography to appeal to their target audiences.

Makes writing appear more artistic

In many of its applications, typography stylizes and uses design elements to give artistic elegance to writing and print content. In the case of advertising and using writing to market brand messages, typography can be used to give different styles and aesthetics to the writing displayed online and in print materials. A brand logo can be entirely words with the appropriate application of typography.

Creates brand messages without images

Typography can serve a variety of purposes in branding. When a business creates online and printed content — like content marketing, social media posting, blog writing, printed magazines, brochures or newsletters — for building its brand, it can use typography to convey its message or mission with a statement or phrase that has an impact without images, graphics or pictures. Typography can be a powerful tool in branding because of its ability to create an attractive and impactful print that can make brand messages memorable.

Places emphasis on messages and text

In large blocks of text, such as blog posts, online articles and magazine issues, typography can be used to emphasize certain words, phrases or smaller blocks of meaningful text. This can affect readers by gaining their attention to the overall meaning or purpose of the main writing.

For example, a blog site devoted to nature and environmental conservation might use bolded or underlined text with a large font to direct readers' attention to a call to action or snippet of important information. Typography in this sense can help businesses emphasize important pieces of information that they want readers to look at right away.

Read more: 15 Marketing Jobs That Pay Well

Rules of typography

Typography can be unlimited in its uses and applications, however, there are some common rules and principles that can be related to best practices of implementing typographic elements. The following rules and designing principles may commonly be used as a guideline when using typography in content design.

Read more: 10 Jobs That Require Creative Thinking Skills

Follow proper grammar rules

This is one of the most important rules for designers using design elements of typography. Correct spelling, punctuation and proper grammar are required for written communication, especially in a professional setting. Proper grammar can mean the difference between a brand's message being taken seriously and appearing professional or being regarded as unintelligent and careless.

Keep fonts limited

One important rule of typography when using it for graphic design is to keep a limit on how many fonts are used within a single page. Typically, fonts are grouped according to a style family, and using unrelated font families or using too many different fonts can end up taking away from the content. Generally, two fonts can be used to create an attractive and cohesive font pair. Sometimes, up to three different fonts can be acceptable, as long as the fonts used are balanced, appealing and easy to read.

Use fonts appropriate to the audience

Graphic designers who apply typography principles may generally follow this rule to ensure the style and appearance of content is matched to the audience it's written for. For instance, a graphic designer who creates brochures for a medical supply company would use fonts, colors and styles that are more formal than fonts that are colorful, animated or appear too informal for designing informational content.

Learn the basics of kerning

Kerning refers to the proper spacing of lines, words and letters. Using kerning means designers measure out and format every single letter and the loops, lines and curves that make up the letter according to specific criteria. Learning the application of kerning can ensure that content on-screen appears aligned, centered or otherwise balanced in relation to other pieces of content on-screen.

Apply proper alignment

Alignment refers to line spacing, paragraphs, margins, headers and footers and other blocks of text that appear in print or on-screen on a webpage. Typography follows different alignment rules for different projects, so it can be more effective to apply appropriate alignments at the onset of a graphic design project.

Implement print hierarchy

Print hierarchy refers to the method and order that is used for presenting 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 text appear more organized in a piece of print.

Work with design grids

Working with design grids can be an especially important rule of typography. Design grids allow graphic designers to create text and content that is proportionate, straight or in-line and balanced. Design grids are also effective tools for projects that require different fonts, placements or graphics in line with text.

Pair fonts appropriately

This rule can also be an important principle of typography. When graphic designers create font pairs, they may consider font family, size, style (like italic or bold type) and other aesthetic elements to ensure the fonts they choose appear cohesive and harmonious together. For instance, a bold, all-capital font may not fit well with a flowing script-type font.

Apply proportion and measure

Graphic designers and other professionals who use typography may not only focus on margin and line spacing measurements, they may also focus on letter spacing, letter height and letter width. All these separate measurements can affect the overall look of the text, so it can be important to make sure that letters, spacing, lines and margins are all proportionately measured so the type appears in-line with other elements of a page.

Focus on readability

It can also be critical to focus on the overall readability of the text design, font and style. Other elements like color palette, size, spacing and alignment can affect the legibility of the typography of a webpage or print text, so it can be important to ensure that these aspects are created in a way that enhances readability rather than takes away from it. For example, a lighter style font might not appear readable when the color is a pale or light tone like white or yellow.

Choose font colors that work well

Color palette is also an element of typography that go into best practices for designing text and content. To illustrate this rule, let's say a graphic designer creates a background for a client's webpage. The designer makes the background sky blue at the client's request. Using color and design principles, the graphic artist might choose colors that mesh well with the background like black, white or even a darker blue. Contrasting colors like orange or yellow might clash with the background and take away from the effect the designer is looking to achieve.

Avoid distorting type

Sometimes text may be too large or small for a space that needs to be filled with content. However, it can be crucial to avoid distorting text by enlarging, widening or manipulating the font in a way that distorts the look of it. There are specific tools for resizing and enlarging letter spacing to make the text fit the way the design requires without having to stretch or shrink it.

Keep the white space

Graphic designers may also follow the rule of keeping the white space. White space is the blank space on a website or page that can be found between content and text. While it can appear like wasted space, white space can actually enhance the content design and make text look more crisp, organized and aligned.

Use typography tools

Using typography tools can help streamline design projects. Some software, like Adobe's, can allow graphic designers to create text and content that flows, follows predefined style formats or templates and otherwise supports the artistic creativity that typography can demand.

Typography is a versatile way of making print, content and other text stand out online and offline. Used in businesses, typography can make a difference in a brand's message standing out or appearing disorganized.

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