More Than Meets the Eye

by Dionne Aiken

According to Wikipedia, typography is the arrangement of type through the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing), adjusting the spaces between groups of letters (tracking) and adjusting the space between pairs of letters (kerning).

Whether for print or Web, typography plays a critical role in strengthening a design and supporting the communication of a message, but there is so much more to typography than first glance.

For example, what makes a good typeface, and how do we select the best typeface for the job? What visual cues are there in type that make our eyes stop and start reading as we follow a line of text? Or what makes something easier or more difficult to read? Why is OpenType one of the most widely used font formats?

A few weeks ago I attended a Typography Workshop conducted by Ilene Strizver of The Type Studio, wherein she answered all of these questions and more. In a segment called “Kerning Demystified,” Ilene took us through a series of exercises and examples using the following tips as a guide to problem-solve and troubleshoot type issues:

  1. Sand in Hourglass Principle – visually and conceptually there should be the same amount of negative space between/amidst characters
  2. Like Letterforms Have Like Spacing – theoretically, there should be the same visual amount of space between related character shapes: straight-to-straight characters have one distance or relationship, straight-to-round (or vice versa) have slightly less, and round-to-round slightly less than that
  3. Three Letter Rule – look at letters in groups of three to better recognize kerning issues
  4.  No Touching EXCEPT Diagonals – some exceptions, i.e., custom ligatures, etc.
  5. Consistency is Critical! – there should be a consistent look to type overall

This last segment was very powerful; not only did we walk away with a ton of valuable information, but we also left equipped with tools for identifying and resolving type issues. Ilene encouraged all participants to continue practicing these exercises beyond the workshop in an effort to strengthen typography skills and to make better type choices.

I encourage you to take a closer look at type next time you’re out and about. You’ll begin to notice there’s more than meets the eye.

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