Type Crimes

I recently convinced Annie Clark to let us in on her secrets to great typography. As one of our most popular designers, her insights are not be missed by all of you budding typophiles.

Type Crimes! by Annie Clark

The first project for my college typography class was to design a poster strictly using type that responded to a pithy fortune cookie fortune, “Chance will lead to thrilling prospects.” How easy will this be, I thought to myself, I will use the type to construct playing cards into a poker hand — perfect! Enthusiastic and wide-eyed, I transformed R’s and Q’s into an ace of spades, spaced letters far apart to create the cards delicate boarder. “I am a typographic genius,” I thought to myself, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s critique.

I proudly pinned my design to the board for critique, admiring it from a distance. You couldn’t tell it was abc’s and ampersands that made those cards, what typographic genius! Then came the critique.

I waited with delight as he came to my design. “This is an example what not to do,” stabbed my professor as he started his criticism, “type is much more expressive on its own, it doesn’t need to be manipulated into shapes, and I won’t bother getting into the type crimes going on here.” Type crimes?! I thought this was type genius! Later that day in class he passed around a list:


1. Horizontal & Vertical Scaling
When the proportions of the letter have been digitally distorted in order to create wider or narrower letters. If you want a font to look condensed try Helvetica Condensed.

2. Pseduo Italics, Bolds, and Small Caps
A type family can be faked by slanting, or inflating or shrinnking letters. Not all type faces are created equally, a good font should have at least a bold and italic.

  • Italics: The wide, ungainly forms of these skewed letter look forced and unnatural.
  • Bold: Padded around the edges, these letter feel blunt and dull.
  • Small Caps: These shrunken version of full size caps are puny and starved.


3.Too Much Space
Digital typefaces are designed with spacing between the letters carefully thought out, too much kerning does not make your type look light and airy, it makes it awkward and hard to read. The same goes for leading, the space between lines of text, mind the gap and don’t get carried away.
too much space

4. Negative tracking
Make the shoe fit, not the foot. Don’t use negative tracking to save space.
negative tracking

5. Stacking type
Roman letters are designed to sit side by side, not on top of one another. Uppercase letterforms create more stable stacks than lowercase ones and centering the column can help visually even-out the differences in width. Stacks of lower case letters are especially awkward because the ascenders and descenders make the vertical spacing appear uneven and the varied width of characters make the stack look precarious.

Needless to say, it was a steep fall from my genius, and certainly prevented me from being a repeat offender. Sticking to the to basic foundations will not only prevent you from violating the laws of type, it will make your designs more legible, more stable, and better composed.

List compiled by Professor Steve Jones, with help from Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.

Find more of Jonathan on her blog.

  1. Thanks for making me feel like I’m back in class Annie!
    Just Kidding! I admit to playing too much with my kerning. Don’t judge me!

    Love the post and the idea. I hope to see more help-the-designer type posts in the future!

  2. Great advice, Annie! Thanks so much for sharing this.