November 2010

Top Ten Typography Tips

No matter if you are formatting your resume, designing a website, writing some copy to be handed off to an art director, or just writing a note to grandma, good typography is an art that can help you communicate more effectively to your reader.  Below is a list of 10 typography tips that are a good starting point for laying out your own “Crystal Goblet”.

  1. Widows – Avoid leaving a single word alone at the end of a line. Try to either bring it up to the previous line, or force an extra word down to the last line to keep it company. You can do this either by playing with your character spacing settings or even simply editing the text to fit the canvas. Beware of your paragraph spacing when you are doing this!
  2. Orphans – Second to the widow, the orphan is a single line of a paragraph all alone at the top of a column of text. If at all possible you should try to stop paragraphs from breaking across columns or pages, but if it is absolutely necessary, you should keep at least 2-3 lines of text together on each side of the page/column break.
  3. Consistent Bullets – Check your bullet lists. The general formatting and indenting of a bullet list is debatable and relative to the individual, but always check that either ALL or NONE of them end in a period. Also make sure that they use consistent capitalization (see #5). Consistency is key to a clean and uniform design.
  4. Leading – Make sure that your leading (the space between your lines of type) is not too tight that the text looks like it is on top of itself, but not to loose so that you can drive a truck through it.
  5. Capitalization – When laying out page headlines, subheads, bullet lists, category topics, etc., make sure you have a consistency among your capitalization structure.  Generally, there are 4 ways to go:
    • Sentence Capitalization: Only capitalize the FIRST word. (e.g. “The story of my life”)
    • Title Capitalization: Capitalize the first and the last word; Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions (“as”, “because”, “although”); Lowercase all articles, coordinate conjunctions (“and”, “or”, “nor”), and prepositions regardless of length, when they are other than the first or last word. Lastly, lowercase the “to” in an infinitive. (e.g. “The Story of My Life”)
    • All Lowercase: Capitalize everything. (e.g. “THE STORY OF MY LIFE”)
    • All Uppercase: Capitalize nothing. (e.g. “the story of my life”)
  6. 2 Font Maximum – Try to keep your font usage down to as few as possible.  Quite often using 2 fonts that compliment each other is tastefully acceptable.  For example, newspapers often use a sans serif font like “Univers Ultra Condensed” for headlines and a serif font like “Garamond” for the main text body. It is also a good idea to stick with a font family for all additional variations. For example, use “Arial” for text and “Arial Bold”  for sub-heads.  This will make the typesetting tie itself together nicely since the font-family are related, hence the name, “family.” Too many errant typefaces can make your piece look like a ransom note (If that is the look you are going for, then please ignore this rule).
  7. 3 Color Maximum – If you are working on a piece that is going to be displayed online or printed in color, it is a good idea to stick with 3 colors at a maximum.  You don’t want your page to look like someone dumped a bag of skittles on it. It is often useful to use tints of a color to offer some visual variety without going overboard on the rainbow and pulling in too many colors.
    • Main Text Color: This should be an easily legible color and should offer as much contrast between the text and the background color as possible.
    • Primary Accent Color: The primary accent color is used to compliment the main design theme, graphics and/or company logo. For example, if your company logo is mostly green, use green or a complimentary color for the headlines.
    • Secondary Accent Color: The secondary color should be used minimally. It often becomes useful when working with charts and graphs and you need a third color to separate key data. The secondary color should compliment the primary color and/or the text color.
  8. Spell Check & Proof Read – The first part of this is a no-brainer, but the second part (proof reading) is often forgotten.  Just because your document passed the spell check with zero errors, doesn’t mean you spelled everything correctly. My father always told me “Measure twice, cut once.” In this case, I would say “Read twice (or three or four times), publish once.” Don’t just skim over your piece, REALLY read it. If you want your reader to take you seriously when they read it, you should take it seriously when you write it.
  9. Abbreviations – If at all possible, you should try to avoid these.  In the digital world, you can always make room for the “reet” in “Street” and for all those other letters that we leave off out of habit.
  10. White Space – I couldn’t end a list without circling back to my favorite design element. Make sure you don’t clutter your page with content. Leave plenty of breathing space for the letters. Allow your headlines and visuals to stand out without being crowded. Remember that too little white space can really frustrate your reader, but too much can be bad also.  You must be able to find a harmonious balance.

I have merely scratched the surface of typography with these ten quick tips. I hope, if nothing else, it inspires you to look a little deeper at those funny things we call letters dancing on the page.

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Failure is the path of least diligence

Failure is the path of lease persistence

You are supposed to add " bed" to the end of every fortune.

It is a good thing that I’m not a landlord chasing people for rent payments.  Apparently, these days that is the path to failure. (wah wah wah)

...the road to failure is actually the path of least persistence!

Ziggy figured this one out 15 years ago.

There is the  possibility that this fortune is supposed to say what it says and imply that you will fail if you are always renting a property, I will go out on a limb here and guess that the author of the above fortune meant to write, “Failure is the path of least persistence.”  This fortune was intended to be a play on the old cliche based on the scientific phenomenon of the path of least resistance. The clever play on words was actually used correctly in a Ziggy comic in 1996. 

“The path of least resistance” is an idiom for “the easiest way.” According to, it is the “physical or metaphorical pathway that provides the least resistance to forward motion by a given object or entity, among a set of alternative paths.”

As H.G. Wells said, “The path of least resistance is the path of the loser.” One can also deduce that if you are not persistent, you are also going to fail. Bravo to the person who came up with this clever variation on the theme (I don’t think it was the fortune cookie company), but a big fat “F” (for failure) to the person who didn’t check the final copy.

You can run your copy through the spell checker a million times, but there is no replacement for the human eye.  Not even a grammar checker can do a fool-proof job at making sure you are getting your message across correctly.  Say what you mean and mean what you say. Do your due diligence and read through everything that goes out the door.  At the end of the day, you’ll be glad you did.

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Don’t confuse your sources.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955)

I have heard many people say “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is not true.  The aforementioned quote is primarily attributed to Albert Einstein, but this and other variations of the quote have been attributed to others as well including Benjamin Franklin, an old Chinese proverb, and Rita Mae Brown.” In addition, countless 12 step programs use this as their mantra.

One should always be cautious when quoting or defining a term.  Be sure that you have verified your sources before you carve them in stone.

The Definition of insanity according to Oxford Dictionary is “the state of being seriously mentally ill.” or “Extreme foolishness or irrationality.” One who is mentally ill, may or may not exhibit the behaviors that Einstein mentions.

The devil is in the details.  Watch out!

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For all intents and purposes: Stop. Think, then speak.

Scared or shocked face

For all intensive purposes, you will have this expression on your face.

I often hear people misquote this phrase and say “for all intensive purposes.” Ironically, they are often using the phrase to make themselves sound more educated and articulate, but misquoting a phrase does the exact opposite.

The phrase “For all intents and purposes” means: for all practical purposes, or in every practical sense.

If you say this incorrectly as: “for all intensive purposes” you are actually conveying an almost opposite meaning: for all intense and extreme purposes, or in extreme and intense situations.

For example, you may have guests over for dinner, and when you ask someone if they want a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail, their response may be “For all intents and purposes, I don’t drink alcohol”  This means that in any practical situation they don’t drink alcohol. However, it implies that if some rare or unexpected situation occurs – like they are offered one million dollars to drink a beer – they may actually drink it. If your guest had said, “For all intensive purposes, I don’t drink alcohol.” That would imply that in that rare situation when they are offered a large sum of money to drink it, they would NOT do so, because that would be an intensive purpose. One should also note at this point, that there is a difference in emphasis between intensive and intense although they are similar in meaning. “Intensive” normally relates to objective descriptions like an intensive care unit, where as “intense” relates to subjective responses, or how one feels, like the doctor at the hospital was very intense, but I digress.

Let’s use the phrase in another sentence to see how the meaning changes.

“For all intents and purposes, I drive very carefully.” Another way to say this might be, “99.99% of the time, I drive very carefully”

Now let’s see how the meaning changes when you use the incorrect phrasing.

“For all intensive purposes, I drive very carefully.” Another way to say this might be, “When things get intense and extreme, I drive very carefully.” This is most likely the opposite of what would actually happen.

When my children get really excited they sometimes tend to speak quickly, incoherently, or excitedly and I have trouble understanding them.  When this happens I often will say, “Stop. Think, then speak.” After a brief glare at my facetious response to their apparently urgent matter, they will then think about what they need to tell me, and convey it rather articulately. This advice is great for anyone, at anytime.  If you hear a phrase or cliché that you think sounds useful, by all means please learn it and use it in your vernacular. However, always remember to stop and think about what it means. If need be, look it up in the dictionary. Once you are certain of what it means and how to use it, then you should use it in your conversations.  This is especially true when you are on a first date, at a job interview, writing copy for an advertisement, or making a presentation.

For all intents and purposes, you should know what you are saying before you say it. Stop. Think, then speak.

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