by Ilene Strizver
The essential function of type is to get your message across. Sounds simple, right? Not always. The more information you have to present, the more challenging it can be to convey it in the right sequence and with the right emphasis. “Typographic hierarchy” refers to the different levels of importance your design choices assign to the information you’re trying to convey.
The most crucial element in achieving good typographic hierarchy is the overall design of your piece. Once all the elements are arranged with care, it’s time to make some typographic choices that prioritize the information for your readers.
How do you make the most important information stand out? Try the following techniques:
- Choose your primary typeface wisely. Select a legible type family with enough weights to give you options.
- Use a contrasting typeface. If your primary typeface is a serif design, a contrasting sans can often work well to help prioritize information. Don’t use more than two families; more runs the risk of making your design too busy.
- Vary size. Changing the point size will draw attention, but be sure to make it noticeable. A one-point change won’t create enough contrast; try two points or more.
- Use all caps. In small doses, all cap settings work well for brief emphasis, especially for subheads and column headings. Use all caps sparingly, though – text in all caps loses readability after more than a few words.
- Incorporate italics. Using italics is a great way to achieve subtle emphasis, particularly for bylines, captions and within blocks of copy.
- Take advantage of small caps. If your typeface has true-drawn small caps, use them! They’re terrific for highlighting specific elements when you have a lot of information to prioritize and don’t want to change type families.
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- 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.