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Sunday, March 28, 2004

What's Normal
Karen Moyer gave another one of her infamous lectures: What's Normal. It's a response to when people say, "I just want to type up a term paper or something and isn't there just a little recipe you can give me to make the paper look normal?" So this is how to make general typography look normal.

You should always start with body copy and then base the titles, subtitles, and captions/footnotes/marginalia afterwards. It's most important that the body copy be legible.

Here's the things to be aware of:

  • Alignment. Flush Left/Ragged Right is more legible than Flush Right and Justified. Only justify with a longer line length and only use Flush Right sparingly and never for body copy.
  • Rivers. Rivers are formed when the white spaces between words seemingly line up and form a "river." Avoid these.
  • Line Lengths. You want to apply the Goldilocks Principle to line length: not too long, not too short, but just right. Forty characters (about an alphabet and a half's worth of letters, spaces, and punctuation) is about the absolute minimum you'd want for body copy. Short line lengths: 40-55 characters. Longer line lengths are 75-90 characters. You generally want something in the middle range: 55-75 characters.
  • Font Size. The best typical font size for body copy is 10 point. (sometimes 11).
  • Leading. Leading, the vertical space between lines, is 20 percent additional of you font size. Which for body copy, typically means +2 points. So 10pt font has 12pt leading, 11pt font has 13pt of leading, etc. One exception to this is very small type (below 8pt), which needs more leading to make it more legible.
  • Line Length : Leading Ratio. The most important thing for legibility (for black type on white paper anyway). Optical Grey is how dense the type appears on the page. You generally don't want to have lines of text without enough leading. More leading makes the optical grey lighter. The longer your line length, the more leading you have to have to add. For body copy, add +3 or +4. Perversely, the same hold true with short line lengths, where you should add +2.5, +3, or +4. Never more than +4 though.
  • Font Choice. The difference between the thick and thin parts of letters in certain fonts like Bodini make a lot of "sparkle" that make then less legible. You need to add more leading to compensate. Also: the ratio of the Cap (the top of a capital letter) to the X Height (the top of a lower-case x) makes a difference. The bigger the ratio, the less leading you need to add because there is a lot of space already designed into the font face.

posted at 10:32 AM in design 101, faculty, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0)


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