10 rules to help you rule type

Learn how to get better at graphic design by understanding how to use type.

How can you quickly apply typographic rules to regain control of your layouts by following these 10 golden rules of typography? These rules are distilled down from the things that Chris learned during his time attending Art Center College of Design.

Generally speaking, there are two types of typography– expressive typography (type is visual, carries the meaning of the word and sometimes appears as physical shapes) and functional typography (type that is meant to be read). Let’s focus on the latter for this video.

When starting out, it is best to learn the fundamentals of good design: hierarchy (primary, secondary and tertiary reads), flow (how a person “reads” the layout by following the movement of their attention), legibility (in Western culture, type is read top to bottom, left to right, so it’s important to arrange type accordingly), grouping (organizing blocks of type in intelligent and logical groups) and interest, achieved through contrast (scale, texture, color, density, negative space).

Here are some rules of thumb to follow when using functional typography:

1. Justify Left

In Western culture, people read top to bottom, left to right, so justify your text left. This makes it easier for the person reading to navigate through the copy.

2. Use One Font

Certain typefaces can carry different meanings and interpretations. Keep things simple and stick to one font to avoid messing with the complements of the typeface.

3. Skip a Weight

Go from light to bold, or medium to extra bold when skipping weights. This creates a nice contrast to keep your text intriguing.

4. Double Point Size

Double or half the point size you are using. If you’re using 30pt for a headline, complement that with 15pt for the body copy. If you want to amp up the drama, try adding 3x or 4x the point size.

5. Align to One Axis

Build your type along one primary axis, and align elements to the grid line you’ve set.

6. Pick Any Font

Use any typeface you like as long as it’s one of the following: Akzidenz Grotesque, Avenir, Avant Garde, Bell Gothic, Bodoni, Bembo, Caslon, Clarendon, Courier, Din Mittelschrift, Franklin Gothic, Frutiger, Futura, Garamond, Gill Sans, Gotham, Helvetica, Letter Gothic, Memphis, Meta, OCRB, Rockwell, Sabon, Trade Gothic, Trajan and Univers.

7. Group by Using Rules

Use rules or lines to group related pieces of information. This also makes dissimilar objects look more orderly when paired together.

8. Avoid the Corners

Don’t place elements along the edge or corners of a page unless to deliberately cut elements off. Negative space is a good thing. Let your design breathe.

9. Mind the Gap

Typography is all about spacing. Avoid having a single word on the last line of the paragraph, otherwise known as a widow. Don’t allow a new page or column to begin with the final word or line from a previous paragraph.

10. Relax, It’s Just Type

Remember, be bold, or italic. But never regular.