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Type A-Positive

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A typical creative team includes someone in charge of words and someone in charge of pictures. Where the two meet is in the area of typography. Type can be a powerful graphic element. It can also have a tone of voice that does — or does not — complement what's being said.

Way back when (but not quite as far back as Mad Men, thank you very much), art directors would "spec type," working with huge catalogs of typefaces, send manuscript copy out to a "type house" and get back "type galleys." We didn't have email, we didn't have Adobe software, for the longest time we didn't even have fax machines. (We did have bicycle messengers though. Lots and lots of bicycle messengers.) If the galleys weren't correct or what we expected, the whole process started over again.

Today, we all have everything we need, right at our fingertips. (Thank you, Steve Jobs.) So, art directors are often typesetters and photo retouchers and mechanical paste-up artists, all rolled up into one.

Convenient? Yes. Time-saving? No doubt.

But, the ease with which we can now set type and put together a mechanical file shouldn't diminish the importance of those steps.

Type matters.

Type matters because, when you're marketing, words matter. And type can make those words legible and readable or not. The most compelling copy in the world isn't going to persuade anyone to respond to an offer or give up their hard-earned money if they can't or don't want to read it.

Here are some tips that can help even desktop publishing novices make sure type is working for them and not against.

#1. Be selective.
Just because you have access to hundreds of different fonts doesn't mean you should use them. Select just a couple (maybe one for headlines and one for body copy).

#2. Use type style to demonstrate hierarchy.
Is some of the copy more important than the rest? Use a bold, italicized, or underlined version of your font to make the message stand out.

#3. Remember, white space is your friend.
White space around your type or between different elements of copy reassures the reader that the text won't be too tiring or difficult to understand.

#4. Use type consistently.
If you have several different elements to typeset (heads, subheads, bullets, captions, callouts ...) create a master style for the document and stick to it. This will help guide your reader through the piece.

#5. Use color sparingly.
We used to have a joke in the direct marketing world: "If you can't make it big, make it red." And, yes, color (especially a high impact color like red) will make copy stand out. But, again, you want to make it easy on your reader. Too much color can be ... well ... too much.

#6. Watch your leading and letter-spacing.
Leading refers to the space between lines of text, while kerning or letter spacing refers to the space between letters (duh, right?). Both need to be in balance. If copy is too crowded it becomes difficult to read. If there's too much extra space, the message can be disjointed.

#7. Resist reversing out.
White type on a black or colored background may appeal to you visually, but it's notoriously difficult to read. If you feel compelled to go that route, do so sparingly.

#8. To serif or not to serif?
Serif fonts (the ones with little feet at the tips of letter forms, are easier to read in running copy. Sans-serif fonts are typically more attention-grabbing and may work well for headlines.

#9. Yes, sometimes it's all about size.
It all comes back to legibility and readability. It is simply easier to read something when it's the right size. Too small will — literally — give your audience a headache. Too big and they'll lose track of what's being said.

#10. Don't rush things.
Just because you can typeset an entire document in thirty seconds with a few keystrokes, doesn't mean you should. Type is so important and modern technology has maybe made it less so. Look at references, think about what the copy is actually saying (yes, please, read it before you set it), try a few different options. Then, when you've made your choices, take another look and check for inconsistencies, "widows" and "orphans." Squint and see if you can still read the headline and any emphasized bits.

As Max Phillips, proprietor of the Signal Type Foundry and former creative director of FAO Schwartz, once said, "Type is what meaning looks like."

 

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