Design of text on a page. Originally referred to the process of designing and printing a page from moveable type. The page can be any medium. A subset of typography, Fontography is the design of a particular font, that is, the set of characters in a consistent type family.

Typography is the art or craft of arranging letters for communication. Over the past 500 years this art has been applied to just about every medium of visual communication known to man. A note on the other write up: Fontography is a made up word, type design refers to the designing of a typeface. A font is a specific typeface at a specific size or a computer file defining a typeface. See the Internet Type Foundry Index.

Among the great typographers of the more distant past were Francesco Griffo in the fifteenth century (designer of Bembo and italics), Claude Garamond in the sixteenth, and John Baskerville in the eighteenth. The faces such as they created are called Old Face (or Humanist).

Around 1800 hideous typefaces were introduced, collectively called New Face (or Rational): these are what make nineteenth-century books (and many twentieth-century American and French ones) so hard on the eyes. They were intended to be designed with geometric exactness instead of mirroring the intuitive beauty of handwriting.

New Face was largely abandoned in many countries in the early 1900s, with the work of Stanley Morison (1889-1967, designer of Times New Roman), Edward Johnston (1872-1944 designer of Imprint and the London Underground's Railway Type), Eric Gill (1882-1940, designer of Perpetua and Gill Sans), and later Max Miedinger (1910-1980, designer of Helvetica, which has the distinction of being one of the few truly beautiful sans-serif faces), and Hermann Zapf (b. 1918, designer of Palatino, Optima, and those dingbats). Some of these are wholly new designs but many are a return to the classical beauty of Old Face.

Sans-serif is usually considered less easily readable than serifed, and appears somehow less trustworthy, but the only scientific study that supported this was...ahem... by Sir Cyril Burt. That's less easily readable in print: a computer screen doesn't have the resolution to be able to show serifs to advantage.

Essential, very informative site on all aspects of typography, with biographies, samples, sales etc etc:

The old artists of the classical school were never egotists. Egotism has been and remains responsible for many defects of modern typography.

Talbot Baines Reed

Typography may be defined as the craft of rightly disposing printing material in accordance with specific purpose; of so arranging the letters, distributing the space and controlling the type as to aid to the maximum the reader's comprehension of the text. . . . Typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally æsthetic end, for the enjoyment of patterns is rarely the readers's chief aim. Therefore, any disposition of printing material which, whatever the intention, has the effect of coming between author and reader is wrong.

Stanley Morison

Typography was also a predecessor to ASCII art. Here is an example from the 1865 book, Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). The following tail of a mouse is from Chapter III, "A Caucus Race and a Long Tale":

                        "It _is_ a long tail, certainly," said Alice, looking
                     down with wonder at the Mouse's tail; "but why do you
                     call it sad?" And she kept on puzzling about it while the
                     Mouse was speaking, so that her idea of the tale was
                     something like this:----"Fury said to
                               a mouse, That
                                     he met in the
                                          house, `Let
                                              us both go
                                                 to law: _I_
                                                  will prose-
                                                   cute _you_.--
                                                  Come, I'll
                                                 take no de-
                                              nial: We
                                           must have
                                        the trial;
                                     For really
                                   this morn-
                                 ing I've
                               to do.'
                                Said the
                                 mouse to
                                   the cur,
                                      `Such a
                                         trial, dear
                                             sir. With
                                               no jury
                                                or judge,
                                                 be wast-
                                               ing our
                                          `I'll be
                                    I'll be
                                    you to

Some typographical terms

  • Letter spacing:
    • Tracking: the overall horizontal spacing of a piece of text. Wide or loose tracking describes large spaces between each letter, narrow or tight tracking describes letters which are very close together or even touching.
    • Kerning: the distance between two letters. Kerning can produce odd effects, eg: "Th i s is s pac ed oddl y", but is usually used to make a line of type look more even. For example, mm are further apart than ll, you would track the ll more tightly so that they have the same sort of density on the page as mm.
  • Leading: the vertical distance between lines in the same paragraph. In early printing lead spacers were placed between lines of type to increase line spacing, hence leading.
  • Characters:
    • en and em dashes: hyphens that are the width of a letter 'n' and 'm' respectively.
    • Ligature: a graphical device to link two letters in a way that is more visually pleasing. Some common ligatures are for 'fi', 'ti', 'ae'.
  • Point: the standard unit of measurement for typography. There are 72 points to one inch.
  • Serif opp Sans Serif. Serif fonts have small horizontal lines at the turns of the letters, whereas sans serif fonts don't. The small horizontal lines on serif fonts help to guide the eye along a line, and so they tend to be used for paragraphs. Sans serif fonts are cleaner and are often used for headings. Times is serif, Helvetica is sans serif.
  • Weight: how thick the lines of each letter are. The same font can come in many different weights. Bold is the most common variation in weight that is used, but you can also find ultra light, light, extra bold and black.

Some general hints

Be consistent. Use the same fonts and formatting for the same kind of heading throughout a document

Use white space. Leave a large border, especially on the left and top of your document, try it! Also, use looser leading (ie: more space between lines), and at least half a line's gap between each paragraph.

Only use two fonts (maximum) in any one document, unless you have a very good reason to use more.

Don't use any font called "Comic ...".

Try using a serif font for paragraphs and a sans serif font for titles.

Use smaller fonts. Most people can comfortable read 10pt serif type. Headings don't need to be large to be noticed, try experimenting with different fonts.

There are no rules. The more you experiment with fonts and typography the more skilled you become and the more fun it will be. Good typography makes a big difference to the way people perceive a document.

For a far better description of the history of typography than I could ever do, awestruck props to Cletus the Foetus for his article on the evolution of white space!


Much of today's printing is set up in sans serif typeface. The serif is the little tail which is attached to Roman face letters at the beginning and the end of each letter. Books and newspapers are nearly always set in serif typefaces such as Times Roman. This is a fairly new face which was designed for newspapers. The serifs help the eye to move quickly along the line of letters with clarity of identity. It also packs into a narrow newspaper column.

With familiarity we scan just the top half of the first 3 or 4 characters, recognising the word in its context with the whole sentence. Often we need to know whether the noun is singular or plural. It would be much easier if the letter "s" was placed at the beginning of the word to save the eye movement on to the end.

The Roman face is a descendant of the characters incised in stone over 2000 years ago. The serif was essential to terminate the strokes of the letters. However we have been conditioned to reading serif type faces with more speed and accuracy than the sans serif faces such as in this site, and it is increasingly used in advertising and architectural publications, because it looks "modern" and "cool". The demands of function do not seem to apply.

Further, for clarity of reading the line should not exceed about 40 characters in length, as the eye movement from the end of one line to the beginning of the next takes more time if the line is long, as we try to avoid re-reading the previous line. The space between words needs to be no greater than the width of the letter "e", which again helps the eye to move quickly and with accuracy. It is easy to read in the setting in this article that the eye is not traversing the story as quickly and with the same degree of accuracy as we find in quality books. It is also eating up unnecessary space on the web site. Further, the waste of a whole line in the space between paragraphs slows our reading and is uneconomical.

The excess space would be better spent in the page layout. But this is determined by the screen width. A page in a book which is set out with generous space and a clear Roman typeface is a pleasure to read. Most people would be familiar with the name Eric Gill. He was a typographer who was commissioned by the London Transport Board to design a useful typeface which could be easily copied by signwriters and used in printing of all publications. Gill Sans is the familiar face of everything produced by the Board and, like a logotype (logo to you) identifies the organisation. Eric Gill also designed a Roman typeface, "Perpetua," which is lighter than Times New Roman, which is probably the default typeface in your computer. Perpetua is a delight to read in a block of type. If you have it in your font on your computer change it to your default type and see how it compares, page for page with Times New Roman. While you are about it, also change your default for "style" to "Book" which gives a shorter space between paragraphs. However, if you are compiling a list you must go back to "Normal" style.

Ty*pog"ra*phy (?), n. [Type + -graphy: cf. F. typographie.]


The act or art of expressing by means of types or symbols; emblematical or hieroglyphic representation.


Sir T. Browne.


The art of printing with types; the use of types to produce impressions on paper, vellum, etc.


© Webster 1913.

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