Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Type Matters, Part 2: Leading

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.

In this post:

Line spacing (leading).

Leading is the space in between lines (so called because in the very old days, typographers would need to add thin strips of lead in between lines of type).

Here is the basic rule for most non-designers in ordinary business:

Err on the side of greater line spacing.

Bad line spacing is a giveaway that no one has paid attention to legibility, and it usually makes your type more difficult for people to read. So why would anyone do it?

The correct leading gives readers little channels for their eye to follow to the next line – the closer lines are together, the harder it is to get to the next line (and so legibility decreases). Typical leading is at least 120% of the type size for a normal width paragraph (such as that set in a newspaper or book), so 10-point type might have 12-point leading* (spacing). But, as lines get longer (the width of the paragraph), the space in-between needs to increase to give readers a clear route back across the page (or screen), so the same 10-point type might need 14- or even 20-point leading to make sure the paragraph is comfortable for the reader. Negative leading (i.e., 10-point type with 8-point leading) is never a good idea for regular text. Never, never, never. So, if your paragraph (or even as few as two lines) look squished, you are slowing your readers down and making them work harder. Don’t do it.

If adding more space makes the report or presentation longer and you want to limit the length or amount of pages, editing is the answer, not making more type more difficult to read.

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* Technically, this would be 2 points of leading (10-point type + 2-points leading = 12-point spacing from line to line). I use the term spacing hear because office applications refer to inter-line spacing that way, not as leading.

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