Typography matters

Written by Mark Collard

What is typography?

Typography is the art of arranging type and type design. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, line spacing, and the adjustment of spaces between groups of letters (tracking) and between pairs of letters (kerning). Typography comes from the Greek words typos, which means “mark, figure” and grapho, which means “I write.” It is basically the discipline of shaping written information; thus it can be applied to anything which has to do with text, including web design.

Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic designers, art directors, comic book artists, graffiti artists, and clerical workers. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and users.

Why typography is important

The viewer needs to be able to understand what message you’re trying to send. If your text is too small to read or all cramped together, your project won’t get a second glance. Beyond legibility, however, typography is important because it can be used to convey a specific mood or feeling, or make people respond in a certain way. Which of the posters below carries more authority?

Keep calm and carry on poster

Good typography comes from paying attention to tiny details as this can make the difference between graphic design work that is just acceptable or really good.

Typeface design

Up until recently, when computers in the home became ubiquitous, most people would’t have realised that the job of font designer even existed. But did you know, we’re still using fonts that were designed hundreds of years ago? Garamond, Baskerville and Caslon were all type designers from a long way back in history. Their designs have endured because they’re extremely legible in print. These days fonts are being designed specifically for reading on screen, like Verdana and Calibri. There is more to typography than choosing fonts though.

Elements of Good Typography

The four key elements of good typography are repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment.


Repetition is consistency taken to the next level. In any typographical work, elements such as bullets, lines, colors, and typefaces should be consistent throughout. However, experienced designers know it’s helpful to highlight one of these elements. You can make an element stronger by repeating it as a key feature in your design.


Contrast refers to techniques that are used to draw attention to certain elements on a page. This may include the contrast of black text on a white background versus white text on a black background. Other examples of type contrast may include varying the size, weight, structure, form, direction, or color of the fonts you choose for a particular piece. When choosing contrasting elements, however, it’s important to make it obvious that the two elements aren’t the same. You don’t want your design to look as though you weren’t aware that you’d made one line heavier than the other or that you’d accidentally used two slightly different versions of the same typeface.


Proximity refers to grouping related elements together. This might include a heading and a subheading, or an author name and a date. Elements that are related should be grouped closely together, while elements that aren’t related should be separated to ensure the viewer understands the two elements aren’t connected.


Alignment helps keep the look of a piece unified. A flush left or flush right alignment gives the piece a stronger edge line for the viewer’s eye to follow. It also tends to give a more sophisticated look than a centered alignment, which is often the choice of typography novices. If you honestly prefer the centered alignment, try placing the centered block of text on one side of the page and use a line or other graphical element on the opposite side to make your design more interesting.