Top Ten Type Crimes
by Ilene Strizver
Are you a type criminal? Don’t be afraid to confess; the type police won’t come knocking at your door in the middle of the night. Even the most seasoned designers can commit an occasional type crime, by accident or inattention.
If good typography is important to you, knowing and recognizing the “ten most wanted” type crimes will help make your projects stay on the right side of the law.
NOTE: Many of these topics have been covered in depth in previous fy(t)i articles; for more information, follow the links below:
1. Dumb quotes
The presence of “dumb” single and double quotation marks instead of typographically correct “smart” quotes (also called curly quotes or typographer’s quotes) is still the most commonly committed type crime.
Dumb quotes (which are straight, not curved, and are correctly used as foot and inch marks) often sneak in the door when copy is taken from emails, web sites, or lifted from PDF files. Proof your final piece carefully before sending it off to the printer, and pay special attention to last-minute corrections or additions. TIP: Most current design software has the option to convert dumb to smart quotes when the text document is properly imported, so avoid the temptation to copy and paste. But if the document contains measurements using foot and inch marks, make sure these don’t get converted to curly quotes by mistake!
2. Double word spaces
Not only is it ugly to have two word spaces between sentences, it’s typographically wrong! Say goodbye to the days of typewriters (which is when this practice started) and hello to the digital age. TIP: Many of today’s word processing and text editing applications can remove double spaces with automatic commands or preferences, eliminating the need to do a more time-consuming search and replace
3. Computer styling
Using your computer to condense, expand, slant, or otherwise treat letterforms like Silly Putty is a sure sign of amateurish type. Don’t do it! Computer styling results in distorted forms that degrade your type and overall design. TIP: Choose a type family that has all the weights and variants you might need (including condensed and expanded versions if necessary).
4. Computer-generated small caps
There’s no excuse for the poor typographic practice of “faking” small caps, particularly since the advent of OpenType, the state-of-the-art font format with room for thousands of characters. Hundreds of new typeface designs as well as many old favorites are now available as OpenType fonts, which often include true-drawn small caps. TIP: Consider replacing some of your outdated Type 1 and TrueType fonts with OpenType versions; it will be well worth the investment!
5. Incorrect use of hyphens, en- and em-dashes
If you’re still confused about the proper usage of hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes, you’re not alone. Whether you’re a designer, proofreader, writer or editor, you need more than The Chicago Manual of Style by your desk to understand the correct typographic usage of these punctuation marks. Review this original fy(t)i to brush up on the nuances. Then proof, proof, and proof again, as these kinds of errors are easily overlooked. TIP: Everyone involved in a piece (yes, even the designer) should be up to speed about correct usage to avoid this “dashing” category of type crime
6. Too many hyphenations in a row
It should be obvious: long rivers of hyphenated words down the right edge of a column of text look terrible and are hard to read. For optimum readability, aim for no more than two hyphenations in a row, and no fewer than three characters before and after a hyphen. This is stricter than the defaults of most design software, so be sure to change the hyphenation preferences accordingly. TIP: If you prefer to turn off hyphenation completely, you might need to break some words manually to avoid the bad rags and deep indents that can result from no hyphenation and narrow column widths. This is especially true of copy containing long words (medical or scientific subject matter, for example).
7. Inappropriately sized type (both large and small)
A skilled designer knows that not all typefaces work at all sizes. Type that is too big or too small to be both legible and attractive is an aesthetic, rather than technical, error, but it’s a type crime nevertheless! TIP: Be sure to look at a typeface at the largest and smallest sizes you plan to use before choosing it for a project. Make sure it’s legible and looks good at all chosen sizes.
8. Letter spaced lowercase
Fred Goudy, one of the most prolific and well-known American type designer of the 20th century, is reported to have said, “Anyone who would letter space lower case would steal sheep.” So take heed! Adding space between lowercase letters is considered poor typography because it breaks up the word shapes made by upper and lowercase letters. These shapes are what the brain recognizes when we read, so this type crime severely reduces readability. TIP: If you love the look of letter spaced type, use it with all caps, and use it sparingly
9. Poorly justified type
How often do you see stretched-out letter and word spacing, lots of hyphenated words in a row, and rivers of white space in justified columns of type? Possibly every day, if you look at newspapers, magazines, and the junk mail in your actual mailbox.
Too much type that shouldn’t be justified is justified. Why? Some people think it looks nicer, and ?ts more words in, but more often than not, this isn’t the case. Justification should only be used in columns that are wide enough to maintain the type’s color and texture without an excessive number of hyphenations. TIP: Use caution when wrapping type around images; this can result in narrow widths and poorly spaced lines.
10. Widows and orphans
Last but far from least, try to eliminate these unsightly stray words at the ends of paragraphs or tops of pages. They create visual holes in the flow of text. TIP: Methods to eliminate widows and orphans include inserting manual line breaks, making minute adjustments to the column width, and editing the copy to add or cut words.
Visit our Typography Articles Page to read more about Typography.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.