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The written word is an undeniably powerful tool, as newspaper headlines have toppled governments, inspired war and assuaged people during times of national crisis. While the substance of the words on the page is important, it’s equally crucial to present the information in a visually impactful manner that helps convey the entire message to the reader. When designing pages for publication, you have your choice of many different options, some better than others. Here are 15 typography mistakes you should avoid when creating professional content.
1. Ignoring the content
It’s Typography 101: You must know the contents of your document. Many designers ignore this crucial rule, even though the copy carries equal weight in a design. When laying out a document of business proposals, you wouldn’t use the same stylistic elements as you would on a travel magazine article. If you have the time, be sure to thoroughly read through the text to get a feeling for the piece, or speak with the writer to learn more about the message he or she is trying to convey.
2. Sacrificing readability
The main goal of any typographer is to create content that’s easy to read, but it’s easy to accidentally compromise this sensibility. If you’re going to put something behind your text, make sure it doesn’t distract your audience’s attention. Think back to amateur website design during the early days of the internet, and try not to repeat the mistakes of those cyber pioneers, such as thin white letters on a black page or busy background images. When you have larger blocks of content, you should also take care to use cleaner serif or sans-serif typefaces to keep the reader’s eyes moving along smoothly.
3. Overlooking hierarchy
Hierarchy is a fancy term for the practice of distinguishing the importance of various elements on the page. Take newspaper design, for instance, where you’ll see visual hierarchy in action throughout each section. A headline states the gist of the story loud and clear, while clearly differentiated subheads provide additional information before moving on to the article’s main body. There are a few different ways to accomplish this, but take care to maintain consistency in text across your design.
4. Abusing capital letters
There are probably things in the body of your text that are more important than others, but try to resist the temptation to write those lines in capital letters. While you won’t generally see this practice in print other than headlines, it’s quite pervasive in interpersonal communication such as email or social media. You might think of this technique as a way to emphasize a certain point, but the reader might mistake your emphasis for yelling or anger. Pick a different way to stress the importance of your content.
There are other ways to emphasize important passages, but be sure to use them sparingly. If you use too many italic fonts, boldfaces, underlines, quotation marks and other stylistic choices, you can confuse your reader while also creating an unattractive piece of copy. It is acceptable to use different styles to create emphasis, but stick to two to three fonts try to maintain these styles throughout the piece.
6. Using too many fonts
When creating professional documents, you’ll want to establish a style and stick to it across the entire publication. One of the most distracting typography mistakes is choosing a jumble of different typefaces and fonts for a design. This creates a visual discord for the reader. While you can use a few different typefaces to establish headlines, subheads and asides, try to limit it to two to three total choices. If you use several different fonts in a single paragraph, your document could end up looking like a ransom note.
7. Mixing typefaces haphazardly
While you can implement different fonts in the application of hierarchy, you should take care that the different typefaces don’t conflict with each other. This can be more of an art than a skill, but when it’s not done properly, you end up with distracting clashes in your document. A good rule of thumb is to use one serif and one sans-serif that complement each other. Take a look at some of your favorite websites and publications to see the choices made by other typographers and try to emulate those decisions. It takes practice to get this right, so never be afraid to experiment.
8. Double-spacing after sentences
If you learned to type on a typewriter or early word processor, you were probably taught to use two spaces after every period. While this was commonplace in the past, it’s now viewed as an obsolete and unnecessary typographic practice. It can take a while to break this tendency, so use your word processing software to find and eliminate the extra spaces.
9. Stray words and lines
Once you’ve defined the lengths and widths of your columns, the word processor will automatically kick over to the next page or column when you’ve exhausted your space. While this is a handy feature, it can result in unsightly paragraph fragments at the beginning or end of a block of text. If you find this happening too often in your document, you might want to consider adjusting your margins or playing around with font sizes to get rid of these errors, which are sometimes referred to as “orphans” or “widows.”
10. Inconsistent alignment
When a reader scans your piece, you want to have an even appearance for each paragraph, but it also needs to be consistent throughout the manuscript. There are some exceptions to the rule, as a block indentation is a good way to indicate a “document within a document” such as character describing the contents of a sign in the context of a story. If you do make this stylistic choice, be certain to go back to your original alignment to maintain consistency.
11. Forgetting the task at hand
There’s a whole world of beautiful typefaces out there, but it’s important to know when to rein in the creativity. Don’t get distracted by the artistic nature of your fonts at the expense of the professional appearance of your document. If you’re having trouble deciding whether a particular section is difficult to read, it can sometimes help to have a second set of eyes take an unbiased look and provide constructive criticism. While your typeface is part of the message, you don’t want it to do all of the talking.
12. Getting too gimmicky
Your word processing program likely came with plenty of bells and whistles preinstalled, but that doesn’t mean you should use them all of the time. It might be possible to warp your text, emboss the letters or use drop shadows to create interesting designs, but you should only make these choices in appropriate circumstances. You probably don’t want to utilize them in professional marketing materials, as seasoned typographers will likely perceive it as cheap special effects. When in doubt about using these add-ons, it’s best to play it safe and leave them out.
13. Crowded lines and letters
When you were in high school, you might have played around with spacing to meet a page requirement for a term paper, but that doesn’t fly in the professional world. While you don’t want to have too much space between lines, you also need to create enough horizontal and vertical breaks to make your document easy to read. Without enough spacing amid letters and lines, you could create an imposing block of text that some people will simply scan over without reading.
14. Uneven edges
If your document looks like a sideways bar graph, you’re suffering from ragged edges in your text. While these uneven line lengths are unsightly, you shouldn’t turn to the quick fix of justified alignment to fix it, as the software will create unwanted spaces between words to achieve the desired effect. The best way to eliminate this complication is to go through and manually insert line breaks in appropriate places. You won’t get it absolutely perfect, but it’s much better than the alternative.
15. Forgetting to proofread
Many typography mistakes involve fonts and spacing, but don’t forget the basic concept of proofreading. You can have visually stunning typefaces and other elements, but you lose all credibility with typos and grammatical errors. Even if you normally cut and paste content from a client, you’ll be providing an additional service by giving it a once-over. Before you submit your finished product to your editor, take the time to read the entire piece out loud to yourself in an attempt to catch any mistakes. When dealing with a longer manuscript such as a book, make a point of doing this after every chapter break.
Produce professional content
The worst thing you can do as a creative professional is to get so set in your ways that you don’t feel the need to check for common mistakes. Don’t get discouraged if you find a few missteps, as they can even happen to the most seasoned professionals.
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Top Image by Alix Kreil