Using Type: Make it Legible

It should go without saying that type that can’t be read has no purpose, but, unfortunately, it bears repeating. –Timothy Samara

If you’re designing something, chances are you have something to say, so, make sure the message is clear and concise. Here are a couple tips to help accomplish that:

Be careful not to over decorate. Good design is more than cool visual effects. Sure, typography should be visually pleasing but it’s easy to get carried away with colors, textures, outlines, shadows, fades, graphics, and all the other fun design effects and techniques. That’s not to say cool techniques can’t be used, even in abundance, but remember, there’s a fine line between great visual stimulation and over doing it to the point that the message becomes secondary. Always keep in mind, the goal is to draw attention to the message… the cool effects should just aid in the process.

In this image all decorative elements work well together. The designer used panels, scrolls, outlines, fades, shadows, color and textures to work in harmony to accentuate the most important part of the design – the message.  The techniques and effects help the readability, not hinder it.

Keep in mind, once readability is compromised, all the cool techniques no longer matter. You want your audience to say “Wow, that looks cool!,” but not if they walk away having no idea what the message was.

Gino’s Italian Bistro
Designer: Chuck Davis
Fonts used: LHF Phantom / LHF Ross 1929 Roman

It is a mistake to attempt to put the largest possible letter on a given space. Lettering does not increase in legibility with increased size, as most people seem to assume. –Jan Tschichold

Negative space matters. In fact, it is essential in design. It creates contrast and is just as important as your positive space (text and images.) Enlarging the design as big as possible in an attempt to get the message noticed has the opposite effect. Instead of getting the message across, the message becomes hard to read.

Take a look at the two images below. Which is easier to read? Why?

Making the letters as big as possible has actually made this design difficult to read. The lack of negative space is overwhelming and confuses the reader. Our eyes don’t know where to go or what part of the design to concentrate on.

Just by reducing the size of the text and creating negative space, the readability is greatly improved. Our eyes know where to focus our attention, making it easier to distinguish between the letters.

The Carlton Room / Lymphad Antiques
Designer: Arthur Vanson
Font used: LHF Essendine 2
The negative space in these designs allow the message to be easily read.


I care, therefore I kern. I see it all too often: a well laid out design with bad letter spacing. Don’t rely on your computer program to kern for you. It is important to visually ensure every letter is equally spaced.

It should be noted that space does not necessarily mean distance. For example, the greatest distance should be between thick vertical strokes, such as MIE, and the smallest between round letters, such as DOC . Because of their shape, two round letters naturally create the illusion of distance between them, and thus, do not have to be spaced as far apart.

If you are a beginner to design, the task of kerning can seem daunting. But with little practice you will soon learn to naturally spot kerning issues and your work will reap the benefits.

Click here to read an article about “The Importance of Letter spacing.”

Rules can be broken-but never ignored. – David Jury

It’s good for a designer to experiment with all kinds of techniques and artful expression. In fact, the design process usually requires such experimentation. The hard part of design is knowing which experiments work and which do not. Always be mindful of whether a design is supporting or taking away from your intended message. In the end, your message should be clear, concise and on point with your intended audience.

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