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Jun 20

Crimes of Typography: The Worst Things You Can Do

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What's a typography crime?

Well, typography crimes are basically the worst mistakes we see in typography design and almost any designer is capable of committing them. To save you some time, aggravation, and embarrassment, we rounded up the best (worst?) examples for ya:

(cue the Law and Order theme)

Crime #1: Using a Bad Font

What makes a bad font bad? Lots of things! Some are difficult to read, others can be distracting or just plain overused.

What to do instead:

With an abundance of fonts to choose from, you can find plenty of beautiful, legible, and fresh options for your design. Here are some of our favorites:

Crime #2: Using Too Many Typefaces or Font Styles

How many typefaces are too many? In general, especially if you’re new to typography design, more than two typefaces or font styles are unnecessary and unadvisable.

(Psst! Remember that a typeface is a family of fonts.)

What to do instead:

This one’s easy! Just… keep it simple! Stick to one or two choices and you should be just fine.

Crime #3: Poor Font Pairings

Getting down to two fonts is great, but it’s only half the battle!

Using fonts that are too similar can lead to confusion for the reader. It takes away from the hierarchy you’re trying to establish or dampens the statement you’re trying to make.

What to do instead:

Pairing fonts together is a skill a lot like pairing wine with food. You could throw any two options together, but if you want a delicious design, it’s gotta be a perfect pair. There are so many combinations available- here are some good Google Font pairings:

Crime #4: Tragic Tracking

Quick reminder: ‘tracking’ is the uniform spacing between all of the characters in a block of text.

When letters are too close together they can overlap and become difficult to read. Too far apart and the individual words become difficult to parse out.

What to do instead:

To avoid committing that crime of “tragic tracking,” keep the following in mind as you make your adjustments.

Readability - Can you read the text easily?

Relationship - Can you tell what letters belong to which words?

As long as both of those things are true, you should be golden!

Crime #5: Stretching

Distorting your text can make it harder to read, pixelated, or just plain ugly.

So, please, no stretching, scrunching/squishing, slanting, or anything else that might destroy the beautiful shapes of the letters you’re working with.

What to do instead:

If you’re distorting to change the shape or weight of the letters, use a different style of that same font. Depending on the font you’re using and the effect you’re after,  that might be as simple as highlighting the text and clicking a button! Yep, that simple!

If you just want characters to be spaced differently, remember tracking. Tracking is a great choice if you want the spaces between all of the characters in your block of text to be adjusted together.

Now meet tracking’s cool cousin: kerning. When everything is perfect except for just one pesky letter that’s hanging out too closely with its neighbor, kerning has got your back.

Crime #6: Inappropriate Use of Hatch Marks (or Prime Marks)

Hatch marks (or prime marks when we’re talkin’ ‘bout measurement), also called ‘dumb quotes’ are used for noting measurements, though so many of us accidentally use them in the place of apostrophes and quotation marks. This can get confusing, but mostly it’s just… wrong. (shudders)

What to do instead:

Study up! Recognize the differences between the “dumb quotes” and “smart quotes”. Dumb quotes are usually stick-like, the markings are just plain straight lines. Smart quotes are those lovely little curved characters we use to contract and quote.

Crime #7: Rorschach Rag

(Quick reminder: the ‘rag’ is the side of the paragraph that isn’t justified—i.e. in perfect alignment. In the western world the ‘rag’ is typically the right side.)

Unless you’re working on a concrete poem or doing some snazzy experimental or expressive typography, don’t let the rag make your paragraph into discernible and distracting shapes.

What to do instead:

If you notice that the rag is lining up perfectly square, all over the place, or lookin’ like the state of Maine, simply take control of the shapes. Manually adjust the lengths of the lines and the breaks so that the rag is a nice, organic… nothing!

Crime #8: Leaving Behind ‘Orphans’ and ‘Widows’

An ‘orphan’ is a paragraph-opening line, separated from the rest of the paragraph by a page break or column. This leaves it all by itself. So sad. So lonely.

A ‘widow’ is similar to an orphan– it’s a paragraph-closing line, and is either uncomfortably short, leaving it “dangling” by itself at the bottom of the line or it’s isolated at the top of the next section or page.

What to do instead:

Keep those lines in one big happy paragraph family! This has just about the same fix as a bad rag. You can manually adjust the lengths of the lines by adding breaks and pushing words into the next line.

Basically, to keep all the orphans and the widows with their paragraph families, you just have to “return” them. Get it? Return? Hah! Classic.

Crime #9: SO Many Signals!!!

Did it hurt when you read that absolutely criminal heading? It sure hurt us to write it.

Why? We like it to be clear what we should be paying the most attention to, and so do most readers! When you use too many emphasizing signals, like caps, bold, italic, underline, etc. the message gets muddied and the emphasis is lost.

What to do instead:

Like so many typography crimes, the fix here is to just keep it simple. Come up with one, uniform, way to emphasize your text and leave it at that. It’s seriously that easy.

Crime #10: Doubling Down on Serifs

Didn’t we already talk about the crime of pairing fonts badly? Yes, yes we did. This specific font pairing faux pas is so criminal that it needs its own law.

You know how “birds of a feather flock together”? Well, fonts of a feather…

uh, seriously do not belong together. We’re still working on the phrase, but

the sentiment remains true! Two serif fonts together look like a messy mistake.

What to do instead:

Another easy crime to avoid– trying to pair a serif typeface and a sans-serif typeface (a typeface without serifs)!

Crime #11: All Jammed Up

Cramming as much as you possibly can into a design doesn’t make the design better; it just makes it busier, visually overwhelming, and unprofessional-looking.

Sometimes it’s about the spacing more than it is about the amount of content, so remember to back everything off of the corners and edges unless you’re intentionally cutting something off.

What to do instead:

Shift your mindset (and see if you can get your client to shift theirs, too)! When you start viewing negative space as a valuable part of the design and not as wasted space, you’ll find it easier and easier to let your design breathe.

Play with space - there are so many ways to achieve a cleaner look with more negative space. You can scale everything or just some things down, change the font size, or sometimes some crafty rearranging of individual elements will do the trick!

Crime #12: Illegible Text

If this feels like a total “given,” to you… great! We love to hear that! We do think that some folks need a little reminding about this crime every now and then. If the reader can’t read the text they’re supposed to, you’re missing the mark.

What to do instead:

Go for function over “fashion.” When you can, absolutely go for both. We like a pretty (type)face as much as the next designer. But if you can’t achieve both functional and fashionable… choose functional.

Of course, if your text doesn’t need to be readable and you’re experimenting with wacky or weird type, go off, my friend! Go. Off.

Crime #13: Random Rules

If you find yourself explaining why things are aligned a certain way or constantly readjusting and readjusting until it “feels” right, it might be time to let go of that loosey-goosey attitude for a hot second and follow some real rules. Like, “ruler” rules.

What to do instead:

To get yourself back on track and get your type lookin’ fresh and functional, you gotta get that big grid energy. By which we mean, get really excited about using grids. We have ‘em, we use ‘em, and we love ‘em, too!

Crime #14: Snooze Cruise

If you’re not having fun and your design is a snore-fest, then nobody’s winning.

Not you, not your client, and certainly not the other big design nerds who can’t wait to see what you create (that’s us!).

What to do instead:

Have fun with it! Design is driven by passion and curiosity just as much as it’s driven by the rules and guidelines that we’ve talked about today. And hey, part of why we learn the rules is simply to break them in fun, interesting, and new ways.

You're well on your way to crime-free design!

Now that we’ve covered the worst of typography crimes, we’re confident that you’re ready to trade in your life of type-crime for a life of great design.

We’d love to join you on your journey! Check out our blog and YouTube channel and consider taking our typography class online and joining our Pro Group to hang out, support, and learn from our cool community of creatives.

Kristin Lajeunesse