On Web Typography

What I learned while reading on my beach vacation.

Typography isn’t an exact science. It isn’t made up of a certain set of unbreakable rules that guarantee great type. On Web Typography however is an incredible resource, and I wanted to share some of the things I learned from reading this great book.

There’s nothing like reading beachside with great alcoholic beverage (which was brought to me within minutes of taking this picture).

Typography is a vast subject, and whether you’re new to it or not, you’ll need someone who’s kind enough to hold your hand as you journey into it. Jason Santa Maria is that person. There is a lot to learn and his writing style is never condescending.

Jason talks about developing a typographic system. Interestingly, one typeface is enough for a system when you do your research. If it’s got different widths and weights, you can still create great hierarchy with that. Width of a typeface refers to the difference between condensed letters, and normal; weight is for example: light, semibold, bold, etc.

These different weights and widths are a great way to establish what’s important in your design, and that’s hierarchy. By using different weights, widths, and even size, you’re visually communicating to your visitor what’s most important, and what’s supplemental information. Sizing, unfortunately, is not always an exact math. You can golden ratio the heck out of a design, but type is about how something looks and reads. If the size you use matches a scale, but doesn’t read well, the type has failed.

This goes for a lot when talking about typography. For example, when choosing typefaces. Many feel that choosing a typeface is this daunting task, but according to Jason, most of the time there isn’t a bad choice. If you can read it, you made the right choice. While things like word association, appropriateness and just trying it out help choose, the real question is: Does it feel right? If your gut is telling you yes, trust it.

Punctuation is important when choosing a typeface; make sure it supports the punctuation you’ll need. Depending on the language your text is in, there are a number of special symbols and punctuation you’ll need. For example, in Spanish you might need letters like “ñ” or “ü”, and a number of vowels that’ll need an accent over them. Use the appropriate punctuation for the right situation by knowing the difference and use of smart quotes, straight quotes, and primes. Jason actually made a one-page site that talks all about it.

Jason also talks about pairing typefaces which is a topic many seem to get stuck on. Jason recommends looking for distinction and harmony when finding typefaces that go well together. A go-to move is pairing a serif with a sans-serif, creating that distinction. Other times, a family will actually have both a serif and sans-serif which makes finding harmony easy. As with most the points we’ve been talking about, there’s no finite rule. Pairing typefaces comes down to your taste, and what will read well.

These are just a few of the many helpful tips I learned in this book. I whole-heartedly recommend it. If you want to up your typography game, buy On Web Typography by Jason Santa Maria, and I’m sure you’ll come away viewing type in a completely different light.