7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate
Okay it’s true; I’m a typography nut. While attending Parson School of Design I had a type teacher, Margie Jones, who was fanatical about everything type — especially when it came to proper design and use of typography.
You could always tell who had Margie because our type in our other classes was always just a little better. Not from the obvious typography elements, but from the more subtle ones. So of course, when I started teaching at Parsons, I was equally crazy with my students about proper type design and use.
As my career progressed, I always found myself teaching not only my young creatives, but also my clients about type and its proper use. Now, I’m sharing with you what I consider the top seven type mistakes. Identifying and correcting these issues can help anyone improve the quality of their marketing materials and improve readability.
1. Double Space After a Period
This is one of my biggest pet peeves and a battle with many of my writer friends. We almost all grew up learning to place two spaces after a period/full-stop, but that practice is now considered outdated and unnecessary, and here’s why:
Back in the old days of typewriters the output was “fixed-width,” meaning every letter took up the same amount of space. The letter “l” took up the same amount of space as the letter “m” even though the “m” was much wider. This required the addition of two spaces after a period to visually make it clear you were at the end of a sentence.
2. Hyphens and Dashes
Hyphens and dashes are one of the most incorrectly used elements in written text. Most of us are not taught their proper use.
- The hyphen ( - )
The hyphen, or dash, is the shortest of the three and is used to combine words (e.g., road-side, well-being and short-term) and to separate numbers that are not inclusive (phone numbers and Social Security numbers, for example) or to hyphenate a word that does not fit on one line. Hyphenation is a topic for another day, and really deserves a post of its own.
- The en dash ( – )
The en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen. It’s actually the width of a typesetter's letter "N" and simply means “through.” This through that.For example, to indicate inclusive dates: May 5 – June 7. Or for numbers: Chapter 16 – 20. Many people aren’t even aware the en dash even exists, as typographers used to set them automatically for us until the advent of word processing.
- The em dash —
The em dash is significantly longer than the hyphen and slightly longer than the en dash. The em dash is used to create a strong break in a sentence usually to emphasize what’s after it. It can also be used in pairs similar to parentheses — to highlight a word or phase — again for emphasis. However, you need to be careful not to overuse the em dash as you take away the importance you are trying to give that part of a sentence or phase.
While you should not use spaces before or after a hyphen, whether you do or don't for en and em dashes is a bit more subjective. For instance, Target Marketing's house style uses spaces before and after, but different publishers, and possibly even your clients, may choose not to. When in doubt, check the house style.
3. Quotes and Apostrophes
Many times when we copy and paste copy from one program to another, quotes and apostrophes will come across as straight marks or prime marks (see sample below).
Prime Marks or Inch and Feet Marks
These marks are actually meant to indicate inches and feet. They’re not proper typographic quote and apostrophe marks — or as some call them “curly quotes.” But remember, you still should use prime or straight marks for indicating measurements of inches and feet.
4. Space Between Lines or Leading
Linespacing or leading can dramatically help improve the readability of large copy blocks. Readers can follow lines of copy more easily without losing their place with the right amount of linespacing. Too little will make it feel cramped, too much can make fall apart.
Font choice can also make big difference here as well. Because of this, there’s no set formula for the “right” spacing — each font will read differently due to varying heights in letterforms and font weights. This means you’ll need to pay attention to the linespacing while keeping readability and look in mind.
5. Letter Spacing or Tracking
Like linespacing, letterspacing or tracking can also make your copy easier or harder to read. We read type not only by its shape, but also by the space around it or its negative space. If this space is too tight or too loose, it’ll make your copy more difficult to read.
6. Line Length
This is an area where many people do not pay enough attention. It happens quite a bit with websites. Long lines of type can cause eye fatigue for your readers because they need to work harder to follow the long line across the page. They’re forced to physically move their head and eyes more going from line to line.
The general rule of thumb: keep lines of text under 50 to 60 characters long. Ever notice how legal copy is always set in very wide line lengths — I wonder if they really don’t want us to read this copy.
7. Orphans and Widows
No I’m not talking about children without parent or wives without husbands. I’m referring to the typographic use of these two words.
Widows are usually one word, part of a hyphenated word, or depending on the line lengths, a couple of words at the end of a paragraph on their own line. A widow leaves too much white space between paragraphs, can interrupt the flow of copy and is considered poor typography.
Orphans are also one word, part of a hyphenated word, or words at the end of a paragraph on their own line except it appears at the beginning of the next column or a page. This creates an awkward white space at the top of a column or page and is also considered poor typography.
Don't Be an "Inferior Type"
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the typographic errors made everyday. With the advent of programs like Quark, InDesign and Word, we started to do our own typesetting and began the slow death of the typographer. Too bad, perhaps. But that doesn’t mean you still can't be the "superior type." Just take the time to review for these simple type mistakes that you can easily fix.
Patrick Fultz is the President/CCO of DM Creative Group, a creative marketing firm producing work across all media. He’s an art-side creative, marketing strategist, designer and lover of all things type. His credentials include a degree from Parsons School of Design with 15 years of teaching at his alma mater, over 40 industry creative awards, and he previously served as President of the John Caples International Awards. Always an innovator, Fultz was credited with creating the first 4-color variable data direct mail piece ever produced. He continues to look for innovative ways to tap the powerful synergy of direct mail, the web, digital and social media.