Typography Mistakes

Lets face it we’ve all started out before. For some we’re past the start of our professional designing debut, for others we’re Just Starting Out. For those just starting out I am providing a series of my tips every designer should know. This week it I am focusing on Part 2- Typography Mistakes.

As I mentioned in in my previous post “Choosing Fonts,” Typography can be a hard concept to grasp for many designers. In this next part of the this series Do’s and Don’ts for designers were going to focus more on typography mistakes that designers, especially new ones often make. These common typography mistakes can be the difference between a seasoned designer and one just starting out.

Tracking or Kerning

Tracking and Kerning are both related to the manipulation of spacing between characters. But knowing the difference between tracking and kerning will greatly improve your layout skills.


Tracking is the spacing between the character within a group of characters. Negatively reducing tracking can result in denser looking text. Adversely positive tracking can result in more open copy. Too much negative or positive tracking can cause the copy to become hard to read.

Adjusting tracking can be used to control hyphenation, widows and orphans.

Typography Mistakes - tracking


Kerning is the spacing between individual characters. Large number of fonts are designed with preset kerning based on the individual character. Similar to tracking too much positive or negative kerning can adversely affect the readability of the copy.

Typography Mistakes - kerning

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to adjusting kerning if you’re using an OpenType font. OpenType fonts are capable of up to 65,536 glyphs you this allows for inclusion of among other things ligatures, special combinations of letters.
Some examples of ligatures of Adobe Caslon Pro.

Typography Mistakes - ligatures

Get the lead out

While tracking and kerning affect the horizontal spacing, Leading adjusts the vertical spacing. By adjusting the line spacing readability can be improved, by allowing the reader to follow along easier. Just as it does with negative tracking, reducing or the leading can create a more dense look. Opening up the leading too much can cause the reader to become lost as they read. Keep in mind that your leading should typically be more than your word spacing, again it all comes down to legibility.

Typography Mistakes - leading

The Measure is too wide or long

Long strings of text can be hard for people to read. No matter the punctuation or perfect grammar a reader can feel tired after reading a long lengths of text. When laying out your text it is important to know the measure or width of your text. When you’re laying out text you want to keep track of the character count on one line of text. When laying out large bodies of text a good rule or practice to aim for is to allow for 50 – 80 characters, and yes spaces count as a character. The measure and leading of your copy rely on each other quite a bit. The wider your measure the more you’ll want to increase the leading, to improve readability and legibility. Smaller measure should use less leading, because again to much leading can make the copy seem lost and hard to follow.

Typography Mistakes - measure

Reverse Type

The epic battle light vs dark even carries over to typography. There are and always will be disagreements on the use of reversed type. Some say that it is too hard to read, unfortunately in my experience this tends to be older people who refuse to admit their eyesight is going bad. Others argue that there is nothing wrong with it, this tends to be younger “hip” people/designers. I’m not looking to settle that argument here I just want to point out two basic rules for reverse type:

  1. Increase the leading and font size more than if it wasn’t reversed out
  2. Don’t reverse out large amounts of copy

Typography Mistakes - reverse

Learn to Count

Keep the number of fonts you use to a minimum. Never go above three fonts for a piece. But keep in mind that while you might have 97 different versions of Helvetica Neue, that doesn’t mean they can all be considered one font. Over using your font weights can be just as confusing as using 4 different font families.

Typography Mistakes - multi-fonts

Font Size

12pt text (the default with in most DTP programs) is not the ideal type size for body copy. 10 – 11pt is ideal. With a smaller point size you can open the leading more to improve aesthetics and overall design.

Font Size with Hierarchy

If you’re laying out your copy/document learn to create a hierarchy and stick with it. As you do so try to minimize the amount of different sizes of copy. If your using four or more different font size you’re using too many. Too many font sizes can quickly lead to confusion and a sense of unbalance.

Typography Mistakes - Hiearchy

Hang out

One of the worst things to happen to typography, is the advent of Desktop publishing (DTP). with DTP designers lost the ability to easily have hanging punctuation. Programs like Microsoft Word, Quark express and Adobe InDesign haven’t had this capability until recently. Because of this when people see indented text with bullets next to them, they unfortunately think its correct.

Typography Mistakes - Hanging

Use the right Quote marks

This is short and simple; these are not the same thing learn the difference and when to use them.

Typography Mistakes - Quotes

Centered Text

Typically laying out text using a centered option is a bad idea. The flow and balance of easy reading is lost. Because of the way we are taught to read reading text that is centered is harder to process. When presented with text that is centered the reader tends to read each line and pausing slightly to process what they read before moving on to the next line. Using centered text should only be used in laying out formal invitations, such as corporate events or wedding invitations.

Typography Mistakes - centered


Tabs are not how you set an indent. If your doing this STOP now. Proper indentation should only be as long as an em space. and no this is not the wide of an “M.” Ems are the a unit of measurement. While an inch is always an inch an em changes dependent on the point size of the text. If you’re laying out 11pt body copy, one em would equal 11pt.

Typography Mistakes - indents

Hyphen En Dash or Em Dash

Using a hyphen when you should be using an en dash or em dash. To understand the differences read about it here or here.

Get the Space out

Many people think that as they type they need to add two spaces after a period. This false belief is a carry over from the introduction of the typewriters of the Victorian era, not contrary to popular belief your 8th grade typing teacher. Early typewriters used monospaced, or equally spaced, letters. regardless of the origins the practice is outdated and should not be continued. As a designer simply searching for and replacing the offending double space can solve this problem.

Typography Mistakes - spacing

All by myself

Typography Mistakes - control

A true sign of the immaturity of a designer is the appearance of widows and orphans. These lonely words are an eyesore and can cause a significant break in the flow of reading. Other than the eyesore these cause a debate in the design community. Call them what you may, regardless they don’t belong and should never appear. Here are the terms I use as with most of my colleagues that I have worked with over the years:


A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the rest of the text.


A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column. A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.

Note: with in InDesign it is possible to create a special GREP code to ensure a word less than so many characters never happens. Go to this page to learn more, and get the code.

Basic typography skills are easy to learn and remember. But when you allow these common typography mistakes to happen you give can give your client the appearance that your still learning. Learning to master layout of the typographic elements on your project will improve what you have to offer your clients. I hope that you’ve found this helpful. Do you have any comments or questions related to typography mistakes, let me know in the comments below. Be sure to come back for the next part of my tips for Designers Just Starting Out.