Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content guy, bestselling author

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Type design that should go away and die

I finished reading Designing With Type over the weekend. In addition to providing useful tips, the resource book reminded me of type design techniques that I loath, which include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Double spacing after a period. I don’t care what your fifth-grade teacher taught you: never ever double space after a period. Thanks to improved technology, we don’t have to jerry-rig sentence spacing like typewriters did. One space suffices.
  • Underlining. Another antiquity from the typewriter days, underlining is a manual technique copywriters used to emphasis a word or sentence by returning to a previously typed section and underlining it with the underscore character (_). There’s no longer any use for it, even in web links (because we have color links). Use italics, a quieter, more readable alternative to highlighting. But use them sparingly, please — like once or twice max for any given document.
  • In-line bolding. Using bold as display type — as I’m doing here to separate bullet points — is fine. But you should rarely use it under normal formatting circumstances or text type (between 5-14 points) which is meant to be read. The act disrupts readability. Your copy will speak for itself, provided it has something to say. Use less text to underscore the important parts instead (i.e. don’t block quote an entire section of an article and bold two sentences; paraphrase then quote your favorite two sentences without bolding).
  • Capital letters in headlines. Whenever you write a headline, treat it like you would any sentence without a period — don’t capitalize every word (or even just the important ones). For example, the title of this post is “Type design that should go away and die,” not “Type Design that Should Go Away and Die.” Though well-intentioned, the latter is clunky and not as legible as the former.
  • Tiny text. I’ve said it before: never use tiny text on websites or documents that are meant to be read, which is almost all of them. This makes for uncomfortable reading, and studies cited in the above book show that readers are less likely to read your copy if it’s written in ridiculously small text. Do you want to be read or not?
  • Mixing typefaces. As a general rule, never use more than two different fonts in single document or web page. San serif fonts look good as display type, serif fonts (you know, the kind with little feet) work best for reading lots of text because it’s easier for the human eye to distinguish different letters.
  • Modern typefaces. Never use Bodoni or a similarly classified font, unless your making display type for The New Yorker or designing a brochure to look like a 1920’s ad. Old style, transitional, or san serif types are preferred (by me at least).

BONUS: Some quick type design techniques that I’d like to see more of: drop caps (especially on long web pages), callouts or pull quotes (a more elegant way of calling attention to important text), serif fonts for long pages, and sparing use of strikethroughs.

What other typography techniques should go away and die?