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Out of the box: Simple guidelines for better typography
by Brian Sooy

When you peel the shrink-wrap from your favorite layout software, you're trusting that it shipped with the proper settings for beautiful typography. Having worked with layout software since the days of Adobe PageMaker - through tests and trial and error - I've developed a simple set of standards and guidelines for better typography. Your layout software just needs a few tweaks for better spacing, and a careful eye for common typographic oversights.

As designers, we want the spacing between the letters and the words on the page to be perfect - for even color on the printed page, consistent letter spacing and uniform word spacing.

Open a book; pick up a magazine; read a brochure... Readability is not accidental. Someone has carefully spaced the typeface, deliberately managing the number of hyphens and the placement of other punctuation, and eliminating the double spaces between sentences from the client copy. How do you keep track of all that?

My standards are grouped into five categories. I build them into the brand standards manuals I develop, and my design staff follows them as a checklist. When I receive a proof for review, I can focus on aesthetics and clarity of communications, because the small typographic details have been taken care of.

Of course, we have more control over this in traditional media than we do online (a topic for another article). Start with these guidelines to win praise from your clients and lower your creative director's stress level as you enhance readability in all your work.

Of course, some typefaces have letter spacing and word spacing that are deliberately more open, so you may need to adjust these settings for even color and spacing to suit your preferences.

Body copy:
Hyphenation settings from InDesign:
  • Turn off hyphenation for bullet lists, subheads, and headlines.
  • Bullet lists will read well with maximum +2 points intra-bullet leading of type point size.
  • Bullets require an additional minimum +20% inter-bullet spacing (one or two points); ie the space between bullets.
  • Make sure the distance between a bullet and the first character in the line of does not exceed the M square. If the bullet is too far away, it will look like it is floating away.
  • The InDesign bullet style should be used where appropriate. (This makes it easier to create bullets and the stylesheet).
  • Avoid manual line breaks in bullet lists.
  • Use paragraph styles for all text where possible.
  • Never apply character styles to paragraphs, use them for words only.
  • Keep character styles simple: bold or italic or type variant. The more attributes that you apply using a character style the harder it will be to troubleshoot type inconsistencies in paragraphs.
  • Hang punctuation into the margin where possible (Enable the story feature on text blocks in InDesign).
  • Do not hang punctuation in bullet lists: it shifts the bullets to the left of the text block but doesn't always shift the text.

This article has been written by Brian Sooy. Sooy+Co. is a design and branding agency that builds brands with meaning for causes that matter. Brian also is the principal designer and founder of For Custom fonts, web icons, and typographic inspiration, visit