August 6, 2009 | Design Basics
Most of use type day in and day out as we run our business. We type letters, we send out marketing materials, we write proposals and make presentations. Here some easy things you can do to make the typography in any of these materials more professional looking.
- Use only one space after the period. Or any punctuation. Many of us were taught to put two spaces between sentences when we learned to type, but this is not necessary. When you include that extra space you end with little gaps. Using just one space creates a more even look to a paragraph of type.
- Don’t indent your paragraphs if you have a line break. The point of indenting the beginning of a paragraph is to mark the start and to make the organization of the content more visible. The point of a line space after a paragraph is the same thing. Therefore you need one or the other, but not both.
- Use shorter paragraphs online compared to in print. When we are reading online—whether on a web site, blog or email—fewer, shorter paragraphs is better. In print, your reader can more easily digest a longer paragraph. If you use the same content both places you may find it’s best to add extra paragraph returns to split up long copy when it’s presented online.
- Watch out for justified type. Justified, or “block” type is when the type gets forced to line up on both the left and right sides of a column. The alternative is flush left/rag right (how this is typeset) which means that it aligns on the left and then the right side ends differently on each line. If you choose justified type when there are not many words per line you’ll end up with gaps in your type and/or too many hyphens. Another interesting note: Programs such as Word do not have the capability to set justified type in a sophisticated way. Professional layout programs such as InDesign or Quark use complex mathematical formulas to balance the words to avoid gaps and minimize hyphens. That is why setting type as justified in a program like Word, or online using HTML/CSS look particularly poor.
- Use quotation and hash marks correctly. Quotation marks are rounded, hash marks are straight. Quotation marks surround text and indicate that someone said something. Hash marks indicate measurements, usually feet and inches, but also measurements of time.
- Pick your font(s) carefully. Use high-quality fonts and only use a two or three in any given layout. Read more about working with fonts.
- Use typeface-level font styling, not software styling for bold and italics. Depending on the software you are using and the typeface, there can be a real difference between just clicking on “bold” from the font styling menu compared to choosing Arial Bold from the font menu. The software styling is usually a mathematical formula: add x% of extra thickness to make a bold; or skew the type x% to make it look italic. When you choose from the actual font menu, those particular styles have been tweaked by the font designer and are much more readable.
- Don’t let your bullets hang out too far. It seems like the default in Word is to have the bullets or numbers on lists sit very far away from the text they are aligned with. Pull those closer in so there is less of a gap between the bullet and its corresponding text.
Final Bonus Tip!
If you are using a program like Word, make these adjustment once and then save them as your master style settings. This should get you started. Open up a document that you frequently use such as a proposal or letter. You may already have a “master” and then there are various re-uses and re-saves on it. Go through and adjust everything so it looks great. Then look under format/styles and put the updated information into the style sheet. Save that as your new master.