Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good Type Matters, Part 1

(First in a series.)

The most important graphic element on any page (printed, web, or other) is type. It sends subtle but important signals to readers.
  • Done well, it sends positive signals and reinforces your message.
  • Done poorly, it sends negative signals and confuses your message.
Businesses often use MS Word and Powerpoint to design countless communication pieces where type is often the only thing on the page (or screen). Applying some very basic typographic know-how can increase the legibility and effectiveness of those pieces. Today’s topic:

Use the same font.

I know it sounds obvious, but when you copy-and-paste from lots of different sources, it’s easy to end up with three or four similar typefaces in the same letter, or slide, or paragraph, or sentence (I’ve seen each). Though subtle, people pick up on this and it leaves an unflattering impression. It’s sort of like mismatched socks or wearing two different browns that just don’t go together – people notice, even if they can’t readily identify it. For example, Palatino (aka Book Antiqua) and Times New Roman look similar, but not alike:

Hamburgerfons Hamburgerfons

Add a line of Helvetica (or worse, Arial) and a callout in Verdana, and you have the makings of a really moshed-together slide (or letter, or report, or email).

Hamburgerfons Hamburgerfons

Does it change what you are saying? Well, yes it does. In the same way that an ill-fitting suit or bad manners detracts from your message, bad typography like this says “I really don’t care about the details”, or worse, “I didn’t notice them.” Is that what you want to say to current and future clients? (I didn’t think so.)

One way to avoid this is to always use Paste > Special > Plain Text, but that’s not practical, so you’ll just need to remember to pay extra attention to fonts as you copy-and-paste (and reapply the style or font to the text in question to be sure).

Next time: line spacing (leading).

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