Jul 30

10 Typography Tips to Bring your Skills to the Next Level

Thu, 07/30/2009 - 22:14 — julie

An often overlooked aspect of web design, by those just starting out, is typography. In fact, web designers that have been around for a couple years even have a tendency to overlook and undervalue the power of typography. Don’t be mistaken though, it’s one of the most powerful tools web designers have.

In this article, we’ll review ten web typography tips that will bring your typographic design skills to the next level.

1. Leading

Leading is the space between lines of text and probably one of the more commonly known elements of typography. Leading will greatly effect the readability of your text content. Leading will need to be changed based on the type face, size, weight and measure (covered next) used.

I generally stick with about 2-5pt’s larger leading than font size depending on the type face, size, etc. and how it feels reading it.

Typography Leading

2. Measure

Measure seems to be overlooked quite often in many of the templates I review. Sometimes I forget about it too though which is why articles like these are always a nice refresher. :-)

Measure is the width of your text. If it’s too wide then it makes it harder for readers to visually travel from one line to the next. If it’s too narrow then it will be too much eye movement from one line to the next.

This will be a little harder to show you at a normal font size so I’ve reduced the font sizes for the example below. I see this issue most commonly with templates that have really wide content columns.

Typography Measure

I’ve heard different ways of approximating the appropriate width for text measure such as multiply the font size by 30 to get pixel width (10px font size X 30 = 300px measure width) or using approximately 80 characters as a max width. I like to read a test paragraph and adjust as necessary until it feels right.

3. Text Alignment

On the web it’s not a good idea to use justified text alignment. It will space out the words awkwardly and make it more difficult to read. Yes, the left and the right sides will be flush but readability is more important.

In the example below you can see it doesn’t look terrible but you’ll notice the first line is much more crammed together than line two and three. The test text and Photoshop didn’t provide an ideal example but when you’re dealing with more real world text in a browser, things can get pretty ugly with justified text alignment.

Typogrpahy Alignment

4. Create a Strong Hierarchy

Creating a strong visual hierarchy is very important for readers to be able to quickly navigate from most important content to least important and gives them a sort of scaffolding to quickly find specific content they’re looking for. It gives a design structure and a logical flow of presented information making it feel more inviting for visitors.

Visual hierarchy using typography largely depends on size, color and spacing. The example below (Pacifica Theme Forest template) uses large, bold headings for primary content (left column) and smaller headings for secondary content (right column). Less important text content uses a lighter color and/or lighter weight.

For more information on visual hierarchy, read “Visual Hierarchy in Web Design“.

Typography Hierarchy

5. Serif and Sans Serif

If you’re less experienced with typography in design, it’s a much safer bet to use serif fonts for headings and sans serif fonts for body text. If you’re not sure what a serif is, see “Serif” via Wikipedia.

Serif fonts at smaller sizes don’t display well and can make body text uncomfortable to read. Using sans serif fonts for headings is fine too, it will just be a little less attention grabbing and will depend on your design. The example below (minimo Theme Forest template) is a great example of custom serif font headings and sans serif font body text.

Serif and Sans Serif Typography

This example (Atlantica Theme Forest template) uses serif fonts for both headings and body text. The body text size is probably a little too small for being a serif font but it still looks nice and can obviously be increased by buyers. This is a great example of using all serif fonts in a template.

Serif Typography

6. Plan For Font Size Increase

Those of us with great vision often forget about those with not-so-great vision. As a result, we forget to ensure our templates will scale properly with font size increases. If you style your typography correctly and create a solid layout, this won’t be an issue.

Example: A List Apart – Default font size.

A List Apart - Default Font Size

Increased font size two levels in Safari.

A List Apart - Increased Font Size

As you can see, it scales nicely without breaking anything and without headings with overlapping line-heights, etc.

7. Start Using Styled Quotation and Apostrophe Marks

Instead of using straight, boring quotation and apostrophe marks like this.

“It’s boring”

Use the prettier, styled quotation marks like this.

“It’s sexy!”

  • Left quotation is
  • Right quotation is
  • Apostrophe is

I have to break myself of this habit as well. ;-)

8. Use a Baseline Grid

Grids aren’t just for structural layouts you know. Establishing consistent typographic vertical spacing helps keep the page balanced and proportional throughout your template. (Image via A List Apart)

Typographic Baseline Grid

For more information on this, read “Setting Type on the Web to a Baseline Grid“.

9. Limit Your Font Faces

Don’t use more than three font faces in your design and preferably stick with two. With two font faces you can create plenty of variations to fill your needs. If three are needed, use the third sparingly so you don’t add confusion to your design.

It’s also a good idea to limit font sizes and colors to minimize reader confusion and keep consistency.

Too Many Fonts

Now that I’ve said that, once you’re experienced enough, you can break this rule. It takes skill and practice to do it right though so if you’re not already a font expert, I’d stick with this rule for your production work.

10. Use “Whitespace” Appropriately

“Whitespace” (aka negative space) is the space between elements like bodies of text, columns, etc. This can be broken down to the smaller elements as well.

I’ve placed red in just some of the areas utilizing whitespace in Theme Forest’s blog design. You’ll notice the whitespace is balanced nicely throughout the page.

Whitespace Example

Giving your website elements enough whitespace is important and very helpful in creating a well balanced design. Be careful that you don’t over do it though because too much whitespace use the wrong way can be just as bad as too little.

For more information on whitespace, read “Whitespace” via A List Apart.


There’s a lot that goes into typography and it can make or break a design. If you’re not that familiar with typography or other ways it is used in web design, it would be very beneficial to take some time to dig deeper and learn more of the ins and outs.

Typography is an art and skill that takes time to master, but as I said at the beginning, it’s one of the most powerful (if no the most) tools designers have.

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