Quick Typography Tips for Non-Designers

Even if you’re not a designer, there are probably times when you have no choice but to do some designing. Presentations and resumes are obvious examples, but pretty much any prepared document could benefit from a little bit of typographic know-how, if not for visual appeal then at least for increased legibility and comprehension. With practice, much of layout design becomes second nature, fueled by a gut feeling when something is “right” or “wrong”; but you can also design a really nice text hierarchy with just a few simple ratios for size and spacing.

Start with body copy and design up from there.

In this example, I set my body copy at 20pt (note: this is for a presentation; for a print document this would be very, very large and you would probably want your body copy somewhere between 9 and 12pt). The size of the body copy sets the base for the following easy ratios:

  • Sub-headlines should be about 150% of the body copy size (20 x 1.5 = 30pt).
  • Headlines should be about 200% or more of the body copy size (I went with 50pt).

Thou shalt not cram.

Repeat after me: It is always better to have more space! Line spacing, paragraph spacing, and letter spacing all make a huge difference when it comes to legibility. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Leading (line spacing) is critical for speed when reading text. Too small and the page is cramped with dense content, too loose and your eye struggles to jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. I tend to lean loose on line spacing, but a good starting place is 160% of the body copy (20 x 1.6 = 32pt).
  • Paragraph spacing is the space between paragraphs, which includes the line spacing PLUS whatever number you set here. A good rule of thumb is to set your paragraph spacing to the same size as the body copy (20pt).
  • Tracking (letter spacing) is also very important. A good typeface shouldn’t need much (if any) letter spacing in body copy, but I recommend adding a bit of tracking to any text that is all caps. All caps is more difficult for the eye to read, and adding some buffer between the letters goes a long way.

Finally, bit of general layout advice:

  • Consistency is important! Design for the page that has the most content so that you aren’t making exceptions as content increases.
  • Allow yourself as much white space as you can with wide margins and generous gutters (space between columns).
  • Use a maximum of two typeface families. It may seem limiting, but tasteful design is often an exercise in self-restraint. Two typefaces can go a long way when you consider all of the variations you can create with weight, size, spacing, case, color, etc.

Give it a whirl, with a little attention to size and spacing, you’ll be creating great layouts in no time (please don’t come take my job).

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