Good Display Face Part 2
by Ilene Strizver
The purpose of display type is first, to attract the reader’s attention, and second, to draw that reader into the text. To pull off this feat you need more than a good typeface – it has to be a good display typeface. Once you’ve chosen your type, you’ll still have to set your display text properly to maximize its effectiveness.
As discussed last month (see Part I, “Good Text Face”), the same typeface can have a markedly different “feel” and appearance when set at different sizes. That’s why, before selecting a typeface for display use, you should evaluate it at the size you’ll be using it.
Here’s what to look for when choosing a display design. We’ll also discuss what simple adjustments you can make when setting your type that will help your display copy look and function at its best.
A good display typeface should have a distinct, assertive personality. Whether it’s a decorative design with a flamboyant attitude (the “life of the party”), or a simple bold sans with minimal embellishments (the “strong, silent” type), a good display design makes a powerful and specific first impression.
Consistency of design still matters in display faces (see Part 1 for more on consistency). However, display applications may only consist of a few words or sentences. What’s more important than overall consistency is that the characters you’ll actually use in the headline look good and work well together to express the tone of the piece.
Legibility in a display setting is only as important as your design objectives need it to be. This is a big difference between text and display settings. Think about it, though: smaller amounts of copy set at larger sizes make fewer demands on the reader. When choosing a display type, go for impact and expressiveness, rather than legibility alone.
As type gets larger, the letter spacing tends to look more open. A typeface that was designed for display sizes might not need much in the way of letter spacing adjustments. However, if you’re working in large sizes with a typeface that was primarily intended for text, the letter spacing will probably appear too open. The solution? Use your design application’s tracking feature to tighten the letter spacing.
Like the space between letters, the space between words gets to be “too much” as type size scales upward. Reducing excess word spacing improves appearance and readability.
How much is enough? Leave enough space to create a separation between the words, but not enough to create gaping white holes. This can most easily be accomplished by reverse kerning (yes, you can kern a space to a character!). The H&J (or justification) feature of your design software will let you make this adjustment as well.
Kerning also changes with scale. A letter pair that seems perfectly kerned at a smaller size might look unbalanced and uneven when set larger. The bad news is that clumsy letter pairs will be all the more obvious at large sizes. The good news is, since there are fewer words in a headline setting, it’s easy to add your own custom kerns. Always look your display text over carefully and adjust any uneven combinations.
By choosing your display face carefully and then making the necessary adjustments to letter spacing, word spacing and kerning, you’ll be on your way to creating strong, effective display copy that will get your piece noticed.
See our article on selecting a Good Text Face.
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.