typographic rules for layout design
Typographic Rules for Layout Design
By Professor John T. Drew
California State University, Fullerton
• A rule-of-thumb is an expression signifying the most common approach when setting typography. At a minimum, it is a good starting point to see if the font being used fits this rule-of-thumb profile. If not, massage the type a little one way or the other.
• A rule-of-fact is an expression signifying a hard and fast rule that should never be broken.
1 Tracking: The uniform amount of space between letters, words, lines of type, paragraphs, columns of text, and manuscripts.
1a Tracking rule-of-thumb: 6/1000 of an em for body copy. This will help to cut down on rivers and to create good color within the body of text type. Typographic rivers are unusual amounts of space between words within a paragraph(s) or columns of body copy, creating the appearance of a river or canyon running vertically through the text type. This is considered poor typographic form.
2 Leading: The amount of space between lines of type.
2a Leading rule-of-thumb: 3 points of leading. Readability studies show this is the most comfortable amount of leading for body copy. More than 3 points of leading or fewer than 3 will slow down a poor to average reader. A good way to tell if there is too much leading is to squint your eyes and look to see if the paragraph of text is an American flag—stripes of lines that are caused by too much leading. I discuss with the students that in some cases they may want to intentionally slow the reader down, and I ask them to experiment with this concept in their typographic style sheets. I pose the question, “What information would be appropriate to slow down—i.e., pull out quotes, subheads, heads, any kind of information the reader does not have to read in large quantity?
3 Kerning: Adjustments of the space between two letterforms in an inward or outward direction.
3a Kerning rule-of-thumb: In most cases kerning takes place with headline typography, subhead typography, and logo types.
4 Column width: In a modular grid system, the width of each modular unit or columns of units. In traditional grid systems it is referred to as the live area. Column width also is used to define the width of body copy based on the modular unit or live area.
4a Column width rule-of-thumb: Readability studies show that the width of 9-to-12-point body copy columns should be between 18 and 24 picas. Any longer and a poor to average reader will have a hard time picking up the next line down. The same applies for a column width that is shorter than the recommended line length. If a column width is going to be shorter than 18 to 24 picas then the size of type needs to be adjusted so that eight to twelve words, on average, are within a line of type. Also, it may be necessary to add additional points of leading to help the reader in the reading process. Again, this is for body copy, and I ask the question, “What typographic information found within the profile can break this rule?”
5 Text type: 8 to 12-point text.
5a Text type rule-of-thumb: Body copy should be type set at this size. Body copy is not meant to be read at a distance greater than 18 inches to 24 inches away.
It is not an eye chart. Therefore, as a barometer use 9pt Times New Roman to size bodycopy. For example, type your name in 9pt Times New Roman and size it against the font you intend to use. The X-height should be the same. Times New Roman is in the middle-of-the-road, meaning some typefaces have larger X-heights and some are smaller. Using this rule, Helvetica 7.75pt, Bodoni 11pt, and Times New Roman 9pt all have the same X-height. This rule ensures that bodycopy is neither too large or too small.
6 Display type: 14 points type and above.
6a Display type rule-of-thumb: Display type is meant to be read at a distance greater than 18 inches to 24 inches away, or for visual hierarchy and typographic impact.
7 Typographic rags: The uneven length of typographic lines set within a flush left rag right, flush right rag left column of text, or centered column of text.
7a Typographic rags rule-of-thumb: This rule-of-thumb was given to me by Professor Ned Drew and is an excellent way to explain typographic rags. If the line of type set above looks as if it were to fall off a cliff, the rag needs to be adjusted. I use a chalk board eraser and the end of the board to demonstrate this phenomenon by extending the eraser off the edge. If placed over half way, the eraser will fall.
8 Typographic rivers: The spaces or uneven spaces between words that tend to meander and line up in a paragraph like a river or canyon through the earth.
8a Typographic rivers rule-of-thumb: Setting the tracking at 6 will cut down on rivers. Justified and forced justified type will always create rivers. I tell the students “if you are planning to use justified type you need to make sure to adjust your body copy to eliminate rivers.” There are five factors that contribute to typographic rivers, line length, tracking, font, font size, and two spaces after a period. Massaging these factors will, in most cases eliminate rivers. If not, you will need to change out the bodycopy font.
9 Em or En: In type setting, the width of the capital “M” or one half of the “M” to create an em or en unit of measurement within the font and type size
9a Em or En rules-of-thumb: 1. When setting paragraphs, the indent should be 2.5 to 3 Ems. 2. The first paragraph within an article or section break where
a subhead or headline is used should not be indented. To set an indent in these cases is visual redundancy. If a one-line break is set no paragraph indent
10 Two spaces after a sentence or after a period: Used only when writing for the English Department. Do not use this method when writing a manuscript that will be printed. This will create spacing problems that may be overlooked and create rivers.
10a Two spaces after a sentence or after a period rule-of-thumb: Two spaces after a sentence or period were used when individuals worked with typewriters.
A typewriter is a monotype setter, which means that all the keys on a typewriter are the same size. For example, an “i” and a “w” would take the same amount of space to set. This is not the case with computer applications. With the computer, the two-space rule should not be used. The use of two spaces is the fastest way to create rivers.
11 Hanging punctuation: Punctuation that is set outside of the column on the flush or flush sides. It is set this way in order to attain visual alignment.
11a Hanging punctuation rule-of-thumb: To set hanging punctuation in an application that does not offer this feature, the student must use the paragraph tabs under edit in the style sheet dialog box. Set the indent space and move the text box over to hang in the gutter on the master pages (about 1/8 inch).
12 Running headers or footers: Type that is at the top or bottom of a page that signifies the title or chapters.
12a Running headers or footers rule-of-thumb: Most of the time running footers and headers are typeset smaller or lighter than bodycopy.
13 Heads or headlines: Typography that is used to display titles, chapters, or section information.
13a Heads or headline rule-of-thumb: Headline typography does not always have to be display size type.
14 Subheads: Typographic information that displays section dividers, and important information.
14a Subheads rule-of-thumb: Subhead typography does not always need to be typeset in display sizes.
15 Folio: A page number.
15a Folio rule-of-thumb: Folio numbers can be placed anywhere on the page. Most often they are placed on the bottom, top, and in the outside margin.
16 Typographic bullets: Used in place of numbers or letters in listing information.
16a Typographic bullets rule-of-thumb: To create a bullet in an application, press “option 8” on the keyboard.
17 Photo caption: Information that depicts, describes, or refers to a photograph, illustration, diagram, and/or the maker.
17a Photo caption rule-of-thumb: Most often the photo caption typography is smaller than body copy. It is not unusual to see this kind of information set at
6 to 8 points.
18 Pullout quotes: Important information that is marked out from the body copy and that summarizes an article, meaningful fact, interesting tone, or the personality of the article.
18a Pullout quotes rule-of-thumb: Most often this kind of quote is taken from the body copy, enlarged, put in quotation marks, and placed in a different location to help draw reader interest. However, a pullout quote can be typeset in italic, bold, bold italic, underlined, all caps, outlined, tracked out, distressed type, or altered in size in other words, any treatment that calls attention to the information, even if the information is still embedded in the column of text.
19 Widow: In typographic composition, a single word or two short words, at the end of a paragraph, that is typeset on a line by itself.
19a Widow rules-of-fact: 1. Never typeset a paragraph in this manner. It is a good way to show designers and typographers you do not know what you’re doing. 2. If the last line in a paragraph has two words, consisting of three letters or less, kick down an additional word to the line.
20 Orphan: In typographic composition less than three lines of type at the bottom or top of a column of text.
20a Orphan rule-of-fact: Never typeset a paragraph in this manner. It is a good way to show designers and typographers you do not know what you’re doing.
21 Hyphenation mark: A mark used to subdivide a word at the end of a line of type within a paragraph.
21a Hyphenation mark rules-of-thumb: In typography there are four rules to follow: 1. No more than one hyphenated word in a row; 2. No more than three hyphenated words in a paragraph consisting of five or more lines; 3. No more than one hyphenated word in a paragraph consisting of five or fewer lines; 4. No hyphenation of the last word in a sentence.
22 Spread: Two facing pages.
22a Spread rule-of-thumb: A common spread format is 8.5 inches’ x 17 inches.
23 Top margin: The area at the top of a page or spread that is above the live area within the traditional grid structure and is above the modular units within a Modern and Postmodern grid system.
23a Top margin rule-of-thumb: Within traditional grid structures, the format or size of the page or spread defines the top margin. In a Modern or Postmodern grid system the rule-of-thumb is 3 to 6 picas in depth. This area of measurement is the most common for layout design.
24 Bottom margin: The area at the bottom of the page or spread that is below the live area within the traditional grid structure, and is below the modular units of the Modern and Postmodern grid systems.
24a Bottom margin rule-of-thumb: Within traditional grid structures, the format or size of the page or spread defines the bottom margin. In a Modern or Postmodern grid system the rule-of-thumb is 3 to 9 picas in depth. This area of measurement is the most common for layout design.
25 Outside margin: The outer left and right areas on a spread or single page that is outside the live area within the traditional grid structure and is defined by the page or spread size. Within a modular grid system, it is the area that falls outside the modular units and is on the left and right sides of a spread or
25a Outside margin rule-of-thumb: The outside margin is 3 to 6 picas in depth. This area of measurement is the most common for layout design.
26 Inside margin: The space inside the live area within the traditional grid structure for layout design. In a traditional grid structure, the inside margin is defined by the spread size or format. Within a modular grid system, it is the area that falls outside the modular units and is located next to the binding.
26a Inside margin rule-of-thumb: Unlike any other margin, this margin is dependent on the number of pages found within a book, journal, magazine, annual report, and the like. For example, the more pages a book has the larger the inside margin must be. The binding of a book must be accounted for when designing the grid structure. When the thickness of a book, journal, magazine, and annual report is less than 1/2 inch the inside margin should be no less than 1 inch. It is basically a one-to-two ratio. To be cautious call the printer or paper representative and give the format, the binding method, paper specifications, and the number of pages to them. They will be able to determine the minimum inside margin width.
27 Horizontal hang line: A line or lines on the Modern and Postmodern grid system in which to align information horizontally. This information can be both typographic and image based, and is used to achieve strong horizontal alignment within a format that includes page-to-page alignments.
27a Horizontal hang line rule-of-thumb: Sometimes referred to as a flow line in layout design. Most horizontal hang lines are the top and bottom of a unit in a modular grid system. If the grid system used is more simplistic and uses only columns to define running text, then the horizontal hang line should be based on text leading for placement.
28 Vertical hang line: A line or lines within a Modern and Postmodern grid system in which to align information vertically. This information can be both typographic and image based, and is used to achieve strong vertical alignment within a format.
28a Vertical hang line rules-of-thumb: 1. Most often vertical hang lines are used to mark half columns for use with photographs, diagrams, illustrations, and their corresponding text. 2. Vertical hang lines can also be used to mark the width of body copy or images that are one and a half, two and a half, three and an half columns wide, and so on.
29 Modular units or spatial zones: The subdivision of a page, spread, or format where information can be organized.
29a Modular units or spatial zones rule-of-thumb: Within the structure of a Modern and Postmodern grid system the modular unit or spatial zone helps to create the color of the page, the compositional balance, and the sequential ordering of information.
30 Graphic armature: A graphic device that serves as part of the design in which kinetic energy is induced.
30a Graphic armature rule-of-thumb: Most often an armature is used to emphasize information, help the compositional balance of the page, or help navigate the viewer. A graphic armature can take any shape, but most often is created in a geometric form or as part of a printable grid.31 Gutters: The space between columns within a modern or postmodern grid system.
31a Gutter rule-of-thumb: The most common measurement for gutter width is 1 to 1.5 picas. If it is over 1.5 picas it tends to look like a 4 Lane Hwy running through your composition.
32 A short word after a period at the end of a line of type: A word consisting of three letters or fewer.
32a Rule-of-thumb: When this takes place in composing running body copy, kick the word down to the next line