9 Typography Mistakes to Avoid

We’ve all done it. We all feel bad about it. We want to avoid it in the future: typography mistakes. Whether it was the result of not enough sleep, too tight a deadline, too small a budget, or all of those at the same time, we still must avoid these common typographic mistakes if we want to stay employed as graphic designers!


So let’s get right to it. Here are nine examples of what you did in one form or another, and solemnly vow never to do again…

1) Illegible typeface choice


You thought the typeface was cool at first, but after it was published, not so much. When content matters (when does it not?), play it safe and make it readable.

The fix: get a better typeface. Push the envelope with some other factor, other than the readability of your header and body fonts.

2) Poor readability


You planned poorly and tried to cram too much text from the client into an area that was poorly thought out and couldn’t accommodate the last customer edit. Will reducing font size and leading and kerning make it work? Well, you crammed it in there alright. But now no one can read it.

The fix: plan for change, make your client edit their work (or wordsmith it yourself) and think “white space” between letters and lines as appropriate.

3) Bad font choice


You went font shopping and fell in love with Typeface X and just had to use it on the next project. In this example, your lovely new font has no justifiable reason to be used for a banking piece. Totally wrong mood. To “correct” matters, you paired it up with a strange-bedfellow typeface, and now have completely lost your way.

The fix: make sure the content and context drive your typeface choice, and don’t shoehorn an unjustifiable font choice into a design. Curb that new-font enthusiasm and think clearly! Pay attention to that still, small voice that says “Gus, something just ain’t right about this.” :)

4) Conflict of mood between typeface and content


You were in a rush and grabbed a standby typeface, and you began crafting a lovely chunk of typography. You got some tight, custom kerning going on which gives you a great piece of abstract art. The only problem is somewhere between optical and metric kerning delicacies, you totally stopped thinking about the content. You fell into the zone. Your left brain kept saying “hey, wait a sec” but your right brain just tuned it right out with “not now, I’m busy.”

The fix: come up for air from the creative process periodically and do a left-brain spot check. See the project from 10,000 feet and ask the left brain for it’s opinion. The left brain will say “this doesn’t make any sense” but the right brain will say “but this looks cool!”. Left brain needs to keep right brain on a short leash.

5) No typographic hierarchy


You got so busy cutting and pasting text into your design software, you forgot what the outline was supposed to be. You grabbed a few styles and applied them, but don’t really see the outline, or hierarchy of the content and thus totally miss the need to set a typography hierarchy that follows the content.

The fix: read the content and conform a clear, distinguished, but not overly-complex typographic hierarchy that conforms to and visually clarifies your content. Be sure to think about typographic color and create contrast and variety in a way that visually structures the content in a beautiful way.

6) Trite or “cute”


This one is easy. With nobody around that day, no one to look over your shoulder to help induce “designer shame” (which is how most bad design is stopped dead in its tracks), you did it. You went and did it. It was cute as a nascent thought, but as you committed to execute this monstrosity of clever, you just couldn’t stop from making the super-clever “connection” between the typeface and the content. The horror! But you did it!

The fix: stop being cute and literal. Remember, cute is half the way to cliche, and cliche is a stones throw from you working at the burger joint. Again. Trite and cute are what the left brain thinks good design is: easy, symbolic parallels between subject and form. It’s the difference between drawing a still life of a flower by seeing and transcribing, and drawing a circle surrounded by rounded zig-zag lines for pedals. With a crayon.

7) Bad typeface combinations


You know the client was already using Typeface X in it’s logo and stationery, but you want to help evolve the brand. You found Typeface Z, which is where you think the client should be. The only problem is you stuck X and Z together to solve the problem, but you only made it worse.

The fix: let the dominant typeface dominate. Stick with what works. Listen to your eyeballs. Choose a font that is both subordinate to your heading font, and that falls in line with its mission. Avoid font personality conflicts by tightly limiting and controlling where the eye of the reader goes. A good pair of fonts help direct the reader in the flow of the context, not against it. It doesn’t create typographic confusion. Rather, it resolves it.

8) No typographic contrast


It just was never clear to you how many headers and sub-headers you were going to have and of what relative contextual or visual importance each style needed. So you just kind of went on autopilot and didn’t see the need to distinguish styles using the standard methods. You just plodded along, dragging yourself to the finish line. Maybe it was the double cheeseburger and fries for lunch.

The fix: Use the standard methods like altering font weight, leading, kerning, white space to create strong visual contrast. But in order to do this you simply have to understand your content. So, read the content first. Don’t start designing styles until you understand the roll and function of each typographic element of a design. Only then can you properly craft a solution with the right degrees of contrast to help convey the meaning of the content.

9) You didn’t break any rules


You used Arial and Times New Roman on your last 300 projects. You almost used Comic Sans and Papyrus in the same design, but you didn’t. Therefore, there is yet hope for you.

The fix: Make a mess, have fun, try new things. Learn the rules then bend them. You’ll end up at an interesting typographic place! :)

BONUS MISTAKE: Oh, you actually forgot to check out the Big Book of Font Combinations? Well there’s one of your main problems!

Yo, Font-Addict! Make sure to sneak-peek at The Big Book of Font Combinations. It's on sale—17% off—for a limited time and then POOF! Go grab a copy and stare at all 370 examples of informative font combinations. You know you want to!

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  1. says

    As you probably already know, teachers and fellow students (that aren’t art students) and terrible at graphic design. At my school, a teacher typed something up – some motivational thing – and printed it out and hung it up next to the classroom door. Her two font choices were Comic Sans and Papyrus.

  2. says

    LOL! That’s too precious. I’d love to see that! If you can snag a pic, send it to me. I was already planning on collecting some bad examples like that. That would be perfect! Bad fonts — they are everywhere!

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