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A Non-Designers Guide to Design Jargon: Typography

September 7, 2021


Whether you are a small business owner working with a design team, a content creator who enlists the help of a freelance graphic designer, or a lady with a side hustle creating your own visual content, it’s important to know and understand design basics and terminology so that you can more effectively communicate with the visual designers you collaborate with and better understand content surrounding the topic as you learn more about design.

Now, like with any profession, there are a lot of nitty gritty details and information surrounding graphic design, but what I’m focusing on here is the information that will best help you as a non-designer or DIY designer. In order to do this, I have broken down the information into different category based articles and focus on terms that I think will be more useful to you.

For this first article I wanted to focus on one of a graphic designers most important tools: typography. If you are working with a graphic designer or creating yourself, this is a really important topic for you to understand and one that has just so much technical terminology that I thought it would be a good place to start!

1. Sans-Serif Font | A font that does not have the “serif” feature and is instead characterized by straight ends.

2. Serif Font | These fonts have an added feature at the ends of the letters called a “serif”. It’s like a foot at the bottom of a “r” or the fancy hook at the end of a capital “s”.

3. Slab Serif Font | A type of serif font in which the serif feature is thick and bold instead of curved and thinner.

4. Display Font | Decorative fonts that are made to be used larger for things like headers and posters. They’re not good for use in small formats like body copy because they become super hard to read.

Designer Tip: It can be tempting go a little wild with the display fonts because they seem fun and interesting. But beware, it’s best not to use more than one at a time in a design as things quickly get out of hand and will look unprofessional, trust me on this one. Instead, try pairing them clean and easy to read fonts that highlight the display font.

5. Font Weight | This simply describes the thickness or thinness of a font. Examples include thin, light, medium, bold, heavy, and extra bold. A single font can come in a variety of weights.

6. Oblique | It’s like the italic for fonts, slightly slanted.

7. Typeface | When a style of type, for example Times New Roman, comes in a variety of styles (like oblique) and weights it’s considered a typeface. Each of the variations, for example Times New Roman Bold and Times New Roman Light, is considered a separate font.

Designer Tip: I love typefaces that have lots varying fonts because using different weights and styles of the same typeface in a design or document allows me to create visual hierarchy, while keeping the design unified and cohesive.

8. Point Size | Is the smallest unit of measure in typography and is often used what talking about how big or small type is in a document. For example, the default for Microsoft Word documents is 12 pt. (point) type.

9. Tracking | Adjusting the spaces between the letters in a word or sentence equally. This changes the readability and style of your content. This can be adjusted in Canva using the spacing drop down)

10. Leading | Adjusting the spaces between lines of text vertically. Like tracking, this has a big impact on the readability of your content and can be adjusted using the Canva spacing dropdown.

11. Kerning | Is similar to tracking as it is a vertical space adjustment, but is applied to the space between two letters instead of the entire word or sentence.

12. Lorem Ipsum | Is text used as a placeholder when the actual content isn’t available. It originally comes from Latin text, but to most is meaningless and is always replaced by the content intended for the design. When you purchase templates for things like eBooks the content used and that you replace with your own content is often Lorum Ipsum.

13. Body Copy | The main text in your content. This doesn’t include things like headers or pull quotes and is usually a smaller size.

14. Pull-Quote | A quote, key phrase, or excerpt that is visually highlighted. This helps to break up large amounts of body copy and puts emphasis on important lines, phrases, and information in your content.

15. Widow | When a single line of body copy gets separated from the rest of the paragraph. This is something we want to avoid and will usually fix in a design because it disrupts the flow when someone is reading the content.

16. Orphan | Is much like a “widow”, but is when a single word ends up separated from the rest of it’s sentence. We try to avoid these too.

17. Calligraphy | The art of writing out words and phrases. This custom type is done using varying amounts of pressure on a tool like a paint brush or pressure sensitive pen in order to create the letter forms.

18. Hand-lettering | This is another way of creating custom type, also referred to as lettering, in which the letters are drawn instead of written.