Words to Read By

Posted March 18, 2015, under Vocabularama

Typography is a field that has a surprising amount of odd terminology.

Here’s John Green explaining that the dot on the i is called a “tittle” — because apparently our typographic ancestors had much the same sense of humor as we do today.

PS: If you like knowing the names of random things that you didn’t even know had names, we do recommend you watch the video over on Mental Floss.

There’s a good reason for that: for all that they are not the most physically demanding of trades, design and typography are complex fields, which require years of study and experience to master. The weird thing is — for typesetting in particular — the end-product of all that experience is to not even be noticed.

The Catch-22

The problem with that is, sometimes folks come along who seem to think that if they don’t see it, nothing’s there. And every designer has run afoul of the client who thinks that we surely are getting paid a lot just to push some buttons.

We know you aren’t and never would be that sort of client — but even so, we’d like to give you some examples of how you’re getting your money’s worth.


A common error that amateur or rookie designers make is insufficient contrast. For example, it’s fine to have text over a background image, but:

In a situation like this, a designer has to ensure there is enough difference visually between the image and the text that everyone can read it easily. The factors in play there include: text color vs background color; what font, what size, and what weight; in addition to the rest of the standard typesetting package.

Tragic Terms

By now a lot of people know what “widows” and “orphans” are in a typographical sense. Even if the terms are often considered fungible, the core concept is that you’ve got single words — or worse, fragments — being left alone.

That’s no bueno. It’s distracting, mostly because widows and orphans upset the rhythm of paragraph spacing and cohesion.

“River” is less of a tragic word, unless you’re hydrophobic or you’re friends with the Phoenix family. But in typography, rivers must be avoided wherever possible. Once again, because they’re distracting and ugly.

On the Eye Trail

The goal is always to make the text easy to read. Sometimes typesetters have to make adjustments to the size and font usage if the target audience is outside the prime 12-35 demographic. Not so much for commerce, but because young children and older folks alike have difficulty reading text that is set in small, condensed fonts.

Column width, leading (the space between lines of text), letter-spacing (which has fancier names that we have covered in detail here), all contribute to the reader’s eyes moving smoothly through your text with ease and comfort. In fact, proper design and typesetting will actually pull the reader along, keep them engaged, and keep their eyes on your content. This is what’s known as “eye trail.”

We don’t usually admit to this, because it sounds braggy — but yes, we sort of are wizards.

Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.