5 Tips for More Professional-Looking Designs

What distinguishes good design from great design? Typography. While typography is a complex art, that has evolved over the ages, by using these simple tips, your designs can achieve greatness.

ONE. Size matters.
A good rule of thumb, when setting text, is that 10 pt type is a good, basic size for a large body of text. Anything below 9 pt can become hard to read, and anything above 11 pt can look elementary, like a children’s book. 16 to 20 pt type works well for headlines, and 12 to 14 pt is appropriate for subheads. Captions and footnotes can be much smaller at 7 to 9 pt.

When it comes to size, keep it simple – only use 4 different sizes of type: (1) Header, (2) Subhead, (3) Body Text, and (4) Caption/Footnote.

TWO. Set the mood.
Set the proper mood by using a carefully selected font. A “serif” font (like Times) is best for setting a long body of text. “Serifs” are the little feet at the ends of each letter. They tend to portray a traditional look. In contrast, “sans-serif” fonts (like Helvetica or Arial) don’t have serifs. Sans-serif fonts are more modern and basic. They are great for headlines or short stretches of text in a poster or small advertisement.

Most importantly, the font you use should be appropriate to the subject matter. If you find yourself limited to fonts that came with your computer, use a playful font like Comic Sans for a child’s birthday announcement or cartoon, and use Papyrus on an invitation to an Egyptian-themed party. Stick with serif and sans-serif fonts for text heavy projects like newsletters. Sans-serifs are utilized for the web.

Use the appropriate character style (bold, italic, underline, all caps) to create emphasis. Emphasizing a word or phrase requires only one style change. It is unnecessary to set text in bold, italics, and underline; instead select one style that is most appropriate.

At the appropriate font size mentioned above, all caps can be very effective for setting a headline, or for calling out a word or two within your body text, but keep it to a minimum. When you over use a character style it doesn't draw attention, it competes for attention and decreases readability.

Invitations and fancy announcements that have been set in all italic text or all cursive/script text are hard to read. Use italics and script fonts sparingly as accents or highlights to your over-all message.

FOUR. Get in Line.
Text alignment is key! Flush left aligned text is the easiest to read and is the best choice in most instances. Flush right alignment should be used for short pieces of text, like a caption, call-out quote or margin note. When working with full-justified text, be mindful of word and letter spacing – large gaps between letters and words can become an issue. Centered text works well for invitations or short documents. Stick with one alignment style throughout your document for the most professional look.

FIVE. Consistency is key.
Most of all, keep your document or project consistent. An organized and consistent document will always appear more polished. Make sure the characteristics you choose for headers, subheads, body text, et cetera, remain constant throughout your entire project.

At the end of the day, your newsletter, advertisement, or flyer should have great readability (reading ease) and consistent structure. Follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll be on your way to greatness.

Be sure to check back on Tuesday, May 5, for “Taboo Tuesday: 10 Typography DON’Ts.”

For reference, or to learn more about typography:

“Thinking with Type”

“Typography” from Wikipedia

For Free Font Downloads (Mac & PC):


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