In this session, we were over the moon that Chris Do took some time out of his hectic schedule to help our community. Chris is CEO and Founder of The Futur, an online education platform with the mission of teaching 1 billion people how to make a living doing what they love.

We all know typography gives design a voice, which is why we knew this session would be invaluable to any designer/creative. Chris walked us all through the fundamentals of typography design including: contrast, scale, repetition, and composition. These are the elements that help to create impactful designs and communicate a message.

Learn how to master the fundamentals of typography design with the amazing Chris Do, who walks us through contrast, scale, repetition, and composition. These are the elements that help to create impactful designs and communicate a message.

As Saul Bass says, “Design is thinking made visible”. However, Chris Do believes that the secret to design is typography. 

Below is an image of Joseph Mueller's work. You can see that without adding imagery or illustration, it's still powerful. In his use of overlapping colors and type, you can still read the title itself as it's very well proportioned and balanced. There is an asymmetrical balance and beauty to this. Before the modern era of graphic design, the standards of beauty were centered layouts with Serif type basis. So, this is the radical departure of designers emerging in the early part of the century by playing around with type and moving things around. 

Pro tip: If you like a layout, put a piece of tracing paper or tissue over it, use a ruler and a pen to draw grid lines across connecting everything. You'll be shocked and surprised at how many things conform to a grid. As Masimo says, “Grids are there to be felt, not seen”. 

Balance Legibility While Creating Interest

Imagine a scale, on the left side there’s legibility (i.e. is it readable? Can people understand what you are doing?) On the other side of the scale, there’s being interesting. If it's super legible, but it has no interest, people would say it’s really boring.

For instance, a government forum is readable but it is not a well-designed document because it just purely conveys information and nothing more.

You could make something really interesting but if you make it impossible for the people to read and decipher, then the words just become art and paint and not words anymore. You have to understand that if you don't stop somebody from scrolling in the street, looking at a poster, then there's no chance for them to look at the message. 

You get to decide where you sit on that spectrum after you've understood the fundamentals, to make it both legible and creative. As a designer you have to walk the tightrope of balancing on a slackline, having a balance of legibility and visual interest.

Repetition and Contrast

One of the principles is about repetition and contrast. For example, if a song talks about a cat in an alleyway that jumps off the garbage can, knocks over a bottle and gets into a fight with another cat, all while you're trying to get some sleep, is not going to make the most pleasant notes for you to listen to because they're random and there's no structure to them. So there's no repetition there. However, if you are trying to sleep and if your leaky sink makes a dripping sound, that's repetition but without variants. So a balance is what needs to be achieved between the two. 

Work with Negative Space

As Claude Debussy says, “Music is the space between the notes”. For example, if you had a beat to a music, the way every beat differed would make the music change. This is also how you understand negative space. 

Notice the art board image below, it is 1920 by 1080 but the entire space isn't filled up. If you draw boxes around in the white spaces, you will also notice the amount of space that is being used. So when you start to understand design, you have to vary this space. Notice the proportion of one box to the other, it is three times as big as that. If you want to do something that's centered, then make it look as though you’re looking right into the camera and everything in frame is symmetrical.

As shown in the image below, on the left building, if you look at these black shapes carefully, they look like the facade of a building. If you were to do some paneling it could be interesting because of the rhythm, as opposed to building on the right. The grids are uniform and repeating, but the modern ones by the world famous architects produce more like the one on the left. 

So, you can see this idea of repetition and the space between the notes being played out as discussed before. Start to tie these things together in terms of understanding space and form, and you can design anything at this point. 

Understand Alignment

As you can see in the image below, there are three text examples in Lorem Ipsum. You can use a few ways to align your text. There's a grid with a column and the text is placed inside. The first one is flush right, rag left. As you can see there's a certain order to this with a crisp right edge. The next one is centred text with a classic vibe to it that forms a symmetrical shape. The third one is called justified or force justified; its left and right edges are sharp. Some movie posters, especially the credit block at the bottom, with all the stars, names, the producers, and all the people that are important usually use this centered text on the posters. It is also used in newspapers and magazines. 

It's very important that you understand who you're designing this for. In Western culture, you read from the top to the bottom. So you scan the page top to bottom and then read left to right. Some cultures read top to bottom, right to left. If you go to a Japanese newsstand, all the magazines are flipped backwards, but it's not backwards. That's right reading for them, wrong reading for us. The cover is actually on the back side and they read that direction. These are just customs. Nothing is good or bad relatively, but it's just how people have been accustomed to do this.

Since we’re designing this for a Western American-European culture, flush right, rag left is hard to read. With the centre layout too, it’s difficult to read because there are no hard crisp edges. However, with justified texts, it is much easier to read because it has hard crisp edges. This too has some problems though. If you notice, in order to have sharp left and right edges, it forms certain spaces in between the texts, so it becomes a little low to read through. 

Pro tip: In order to make the best copy, use flush left, rag right. This is ideally set for legibility reading. Always maintain a crisp left edge. 

Understand Spacing

As a designer, you have control in terms of how much space to put between each letter, word, and line. It's called inter-letter spacing, inter-word spacing, or inter-line spacing to be legible and pleasant to look at. For maximum legibility, with a decent typeface, have about 60 to 70 characters per line. That's ideal. Too long or too short becomes a little harder to read. 

As shown in the image below, with the first example, when the lighting is too tight, it becomes much harder to read. It's fatiguing to the eye just to look at because the descenders and ascenders of the typeface start to run into each other. If you look at the second example, you can see that there's a lot of lettering and also the column width is much wider. It becomes harder to remember when you’re scanning the text. You also notice a lot of negative space that distracts you from reading the word itself. 

For example, Apple uses this on their website; they have varying screen sizes and it works best for them because of the multiple platforms of communications such as on the laptop or an iPad or on the iPhone. When you open the same website, the copy will place itself according to the screen size. In example three, you can see that there's a lot of lighting and an increase in tracking, the space between characters and the column width is very narrow. It makes it more legible. 

For example, a poster is a format that's meant to be seen at a distance. So the crammed copy is going to hurt the design. Movie posters are image driven because that'll catch your eye. There's usually a bright color, lots of contrast and they have just one or two big words and a phrase. So, the poster's main problem is to grab your attention in a world that's too noisy. A good example of this is Jack Daniel’s posters that are minimalistic. 

Pro tip: According to people who research legibility, 9 to 12 points in terms of type units is most legible for a normal distance and reading a book, from your head to your table. If you're holding a book in front of you, that's the most legible point size. If it gets too big or too small, it becomes a little harder to read. However, it does not mean every book that you design has to be 9 to 12 points in type size. It depends on the size and the platform you’re producing for. 

Another example as shown in the image below is that of Nike’s. They made this poster to grab people’s attention and it also won many designer awards. This is a smart design as it's hard not to notice it when you’re walking past it because of its layout. 

Choose Weight and Width

As shown in the image below, all the three examples have diminished legibility. A body copy with a heavy weight is hard to read. The first one is Helvetica, extra bold. It's fatiguing and takes up a lot of ink. The second is Dido or DDO. It looks like a hairline and feels like the words are breaking and falling apart. This can’t be used for body copy but can be used for large displays. For example, Armani Exchange uses this typeface. The third one is Trade Gothic Next compressed. It has a smaller character relative to its height and so is hard to read for body copy. However, if you use this for a headline at an appropriate size, it looks great. Now, if you change the first typeface from bold to light, it becomes more legible for body text, just by creating different weights and juxtaposing the two together.

Use Uppercase and Lowercase Strategically

With reference to the image below, the words “Hot chicken food truck” are written in both uppercase and lowercase. Here, the uppercase looks much bigger and takes more space than that of the lowercase even though both of them are sized equally. So if you're trying to conserve space, using uppercase will eat up that space. The caps immediately feel like a headline or higher in the hierarchy. This can be used if you want to grab somebody's attention. If it's not meant to get attention, then use the lowercase. With uppercase, you usually format a shape around it. So when you're reading, it automatically tells you what word it is instead of reading every letter bit by bit. 

Understand Contrast

If you've noticed so far, all the reference images have a footer or a header type. This is because it provides contrast. So when you have something really big next to something really small, the bigger thing seems bigger and the smaller thing seems smaller. So, having these tiny details adds spark and grabs the attention of the viewer. It’s like an added accessory. 

Understand Repetition

There are three elements on the page as shown below, except the header and footer. To get a layout, align everything on one axis. Take the lens selection tool and align everything. The indentation should be left aligned making the paragraph look sharp. Add spaces between paragraphs so it's easier to spot it. The thing about repetition is to pick a pattern and then break that pattern. 

That’s it! You have mastered the fundamentals of typography design.