Tips for Young Creatives: What’s Your Type?


Have you ever been asked, “What’s your type?” If so, it’s probably been in reference to the type of guy or girl you’re into and not in reference to typography. One of Dough Bartow’s 29 tips for young designers in the latest issue of How magazine was not to fear type but to master it. I decided to add my two cents to this cornerstone in being a good graphic designer.

When people think of graphic design, they usually think of graphics – pictures, colors, composition, images, visual. A major part of being a good graphic designer is having a good grasp on typography. Now, you may be taught some of this in a class but it’s one of those things that you often need to pursue on your own and get a grip on earlier rather than later in your career. Typography can make a break a design piece. If you work with publications, fonts and type will be even more important than the images you may use or create. Think of good graphic design like a burlesque show – you go to a show like this with the intentions of seeing a woman do her thing but everything has to come together for you to actually enjoy the show including her looks, her outfit, her dancing, how well she interacts and connects with the crowd and so on. Graphic design is much like flirting or being a tease in that the images and design have to be alluring enough to get you to examine a piece more closely to get the main message. You can’t go about doing that with bad type as it’ll quickly turn your audience off.

What makes good typography? Too many factors to get into on here. Know the difference between Sans Serif and Serif fonts; one will work well in small, tiny print in a publication while the other will be easier on the eyes for a short online piece. Be wary of using free online fonts. I know, you probably gasped and clutched your pearls at that. There are some good ones out there; there are a ton of really bad ones. The problem with many is usually within the fine details; the lack of a built in bold or italic version of that font, the spacing between the characters being too lax and far off and fonts that are simply too hard to read for both young and older audiences.

Know all the little terms such as kerning, leading and tracking – these little terms help make typography and type heavy pieces easier to read and more professional looking. For example, tracking that goes below -30 would squeeze the characters together too much and make it extremely hard for the reader’s eyes to differentiate between the characters; aim for your leading to be 3 points sizes more than the font size for a large body of text; the usual minimum threshold for readability is 7 points so try your hardest not to make the size of your font smaller than that. Also, learn about the license restrictions of your fonts. This is something they don’t talk about in most classes and yet it’s important to know when, where and how you can use certain fonts because if the creator of that font were to find you used it in a manner that goes beyond the terms of use, they could sue you and win. See, suddenly that question of “What’s your type?” doesn’t seem all that easy to answer, does it?

Typography may not be the funnest or most thrilling part of graphic design or being a creative guru but mastering it will set you apart from those who don’t take their craft as seriously as you do. If you want a good go-to source on typography consider referring to the books The Elements of Typographic Design by Robert Bringhurst, Thinking with Typeby Ellen Lupton or Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Muller-Brockmann.

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