The Power of Typography in Design
Your college professor may have placed a lot of importance on type and hierarchy. Your client may be telling you to make specific words “larger” so they’ll stand out more. No matter who it’s coming from, it’s clear that graphic design is a lot more than just colors and layout; it relies heavily on typography as well.
It’s no lie that type treatments can make or break a design — have you ever seen a logo where the font does not at all match the actual service or product it stands for? Or maybe the text in a magazine is a mess and difficult to read. I’ve broken down two examples that I feel reflect the importance of quality typography in a design.
Logos and Type
Let’s use “Red Truck” as an example (this is not an actual product or service). “Red Truck” clearly possesses a strong connotation. Trucks are known, for the most part, to be sturdy, stable vehicles. “Red” is simply an adjective, not the main focus of the piece. The design should reflect such.
The above logo isn’t successful for several reasons. One, the word red is very stable and is typed in a bold black font. This contrasts greatly with “truck” which is very feminine looking. While “truck” is larger and the focus is placed on this word, it certainly doesn’t communicate the strength of the product to the customer. Furthermore, the fact that truck is in “red” is confusing at first. Why isn’t “red” colored in?
The above example shows us that using appropriate typefaces is imperative when designing. Without them, audiences will be scratching their heads, trying to figure out what it is exactly the mark is supposed to be telling them.
In the second option, we now have both words utilizing a very strong typeface. This makes each word feel weighted and sturdy. “Red” is now shown in its actual color, but this logo is still lacking. We’ve shifted the focus to be on the word “red”; by making it larger than “truck” it now has more importance and becomes the focal point of the logo. This is a clear example of incorrect hierarchy; it’s wise to keep your most important element, or focal point, larger than all other copy when possible.
You may disagree, but I think this logo option is the most successful. “Truck” is now the main focus. It’s strong and anchored. “Red” now visually takes on its role of being the adjective. It’s written in a “flashy” typeface (ever heard the phrase, “flashy red car?”), is the correct color it describes, but is given less importance than “truck” by physically appearing in a smaller point size. To any viewer, we now have a logo that visually breaks down the message as it should be read in terms of importance. This is an example of how type is used to quickly and clearly communicate to individuals.
Typography in Layouts
Of course type treatments are important in layout and body copy as well. For the purpose of this example, I’ve created a pretend client and event. Joe’s Frame Shop is holding a sale for 25% off any framed print. This event ends on June 30th. As with any piece, we need to make sure we include Joe’s logo and contact info. Why does the following text formatting not work for a poster or ad design?
The piece doesn’t work because there’s no focal point. Without prioritizing the content, we leave the audience member searching for the most important bits of information and struggling to piece them together in a way that makes sense. And while this ad does use spacing to separate information, it visually “runs together” and is not appealing to look at in any way.
When communicating with clients of my own regarding their marketing messages, I often ask them to rank their information from greatest to least importance. What’s the number one thing that should be communicated above all else? What’s the second, and so on? This helps me to create a piece that speaks correctly while helping the client to keep their content organized. The result is promotional material that is easy to read and much more effective.
Now don’t get me wrong; this is by no means an award-winning ad. Let this serve as simply an example of what hierarchy can do when used correctly. We have Joe’s logo at the top. This is certainly important, but Joe’s Frame Shop isn’t the focus of the ad; the sale is. The word “sale” is the largest to draw in viewers and get attention. “25% off” is the second largest because it’s the next in line of importance, and so on. Now that the copy is ranked by utilizing font size, there’s still one more typographical treatment that can be used to make this even more noticeable.
The above ad maintains hierarchy but now introduces font variation. Generally speaking, it’s wise to use two different fonts that complement one another in a design. This creates visual interest. I’ve used the same font as the one in Joe’s logo to accent a few bits of information in the ad. My most important elements are still of a different face to ensure they stand out. The result is an ad that’s visually interesting (hopefully your own will be more enticing than this example) and easy to read.
Every project, whether it be a logo, brochure, ad, or newsletter, will have its own objectives and requirements. Following that cliched phrase of “form follows function,” it’s important to create work that communicates clearly first, and looks “pretty” second. Typography, I believe, should be a priority in design, and not just a following act to illustrations and graphics. A well written and presented message combined with effective imagery certainly creates powerful design.