Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it’s readable. Legibility means that text can be interpreted, but that’s like saying tree bark is edible. We’re aiming higher. Readability combines the emotional impact of a design (or lack thereof) with the amount of effort it presumably takes to read. You’ve heard of TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)? Length isn’t the only detractor to reading; poor typography is one too. To paraphrase Stephen Coles, the term readability doesn’t ask simply, “Can you read it?” but “Do you want to read it?”
A saccade’s length depends on our proficiency as readers and our familiarity with the text’s topic. If I’m a scientist and reading, uh, science stuff, I may read it more quickly than a non-scientist, because I’m familiar with all those science-y words. Full disclosure: I’m not really a scientist. I hope you couldn’t tell.
Through type, we’re able to communicate our message and play with the tone and tenor of the delivery. Just as different musicians perform the same song differently, we can take a variety of approaches to the way we deliver a message.
Flexibility is often one of my biggest considerations when choosing a typeface. If I can create a good level of contrast by using different styles within a typeface family, it accomplishes a few important things. For one, it lets me stay stylistically consistent within my design. I can use different styles for headlines, subheads, and maybe even text, and they will all share a common background throughout the piece. That flexibility helps me establish a clear hierarchy while keeping the visual language simple.
Counters are a letter’s interior space. Counters can be enclosed, like the middle of the letter o, or open, like the middle of the letter c. An aperture is the actual opening of the counter, like the space between the ends of the letter c. Typefaces with a high x-height usually have large counters, and their letters take up more of the em box.
When done right, a typographic system feels intuitive, like an unspoken set of instructions.
Contrast is, in my humble opinion, the most crucial tenet of graphic design. It instantly forges connections and distinctions between elements and, when used in concert with other tools like a grid, it helps our viewers discern what’s vital, what’s related, and what’s not.
With practice, you’ll find your own pathways and shortcuts without needing to use a formal process. You’ll develop a gut instinct for what looks right or wrong typographically and you’ll make critical judgements to arrive at your solutions faster. Typography is a pursuit that combines the best of history, writing, math, artistry, and craft. No one thing rules over another. Sometimes the math won’t add up, but the type may look right. When that happens, you need to rely on your instincts.
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