Fundamentals of Typography


Typographic elements are just as crucial, (if not more), to a design composition as the image content within the design. Typography holds a semantic value and will affect the mood and meaning of a work depending on how the designer chooses to use letterforms, or by the typeface the designer selects for the piece. Dada and Futurists are design movements that focused heavily on this interplay of meaning and type in their work.

When choosing a typeface, it is important to know that type choice affects a works message. There are several ways to choose a typeface, and many designers look at the message of their piece and then examine the anatomy of different typefaces to see which are compatible, or are a good juxtaposition, to their message. For example, a font with a more circular “o” is going to convey a more open and inviting emotion compared to that of a more oval or narrow “o”.

Type is also chosen based off it’s purpose. Usually serif typefaces are used for large quantities of type as they are easier to read. The serif creates a natural flow between letterforms. San-serif fonts are typically seen in displays or titles.

Just as type can convey emotion through it’s physical construction and by the designer’s choice of placement of the letterforms on a page, type can also be used as imagery. There are different ways that type can be used as an image. The letterforms can be created out of objects, called found object design, or the type can be manipulated or placed to create an actual image.


This article discusses what the author considers to be the top 8 rules for creating effective typography. He poses the following rules:

1) Learn the Basics: a designer must know the anatomy of type before beginning to utilize it in a design.

2) Watch Your Kerning: kerning is one of the most overlooked elements of typography. However, when done wrong, it can be extremely distracting. The author stresses that it is important to look at the negative space between the letterforms and to make sure the space is visually consistence throughout the phrase or word.

3) Be Aware of Font Communication: knowing the psychology associated with different fonts.

4) Alignment: center alignment is the most difficult to read, and mixing alignments can create a visually confusing composition.

5) Choose a Good Secondary Font: a secondary font should contrast with the primary font, but should not be so different that it competes for visual dominance with the primary font.

6) Size Matters: using size to emphasize or de-emphasize certain words in a message or phrase. This creates visual hierarchy and directs the readers attention.

7) Use Typography as Art: start thinking of typography as a design element.

8) Find Good Inspiration: spend time looking at good typography and be aware of bad typography when you see it. Take note of how the type makes you feel and the way in which the designer has chosen to use the type.



This poster shows an example of primary and secondary fonts. The red font is primary, and it’s goal is to be read first so the designer chose to use all caps and a larger font size. The secondary font is the tan lettering which is more ornamental and smaller in size.


The designer of this poster did a good job of mirroring the emotion of the poster in their choice of type. The thin strokes and san-serif font gives the feeling of elegance and clarity. This allows the focus to be placed the imagery-play the designer is drawing the audience into.

mesmerize lights poser

Although centering type is usually considered “bad design”, this artist was able to center their typographic elements in a way that compliments the overall composition. Because of the centered type, the asymmetrical imagery is given special attention and acts as as background to the typography–this creates a sense of depth and purpose.


This is an example of poor typography. The designer has not only chosen too many typefaces, but also aligned them differently, and did not adjust the kerning on any of the words and phrases.


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