Talking Typography

By Rob Johnson


In author and poet Robert Bringhurst’s book The Elements of Typographic Style, he opines on the letterform: “In a badly designed book, the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field. In a book designed by rote, they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page. In a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs, no matter how many thousands of lines and pages, the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles.”

Typography is, simply put, the art and procedure of arranging type. It’s a fundamental concept for any skilled designer, and as the quote above illustrates, it’s about much more than making the words legible. The choices made in typography, from font choice to layout, can make or break a design. Thus, if you are working with a designer, it will only benefit your relationship to understand a few key typographical terms. The graphic and ten terms below can help you communicate exactly what you want from your designer as it relates to the type in your next project—be it a book, a brochure, or a website.

1. Glyph
Any singular mark that makes part of a font, whether a letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a dingbat. Glyphs are the building blocks of typography.

2. Leading
Leading describes the vertical space between each line of type. It’s called this because strips of lead were originally used to separate lines of type in the days of metal typesetting.

3. Kerning
Kerning describes the act of adjusting the space between characters to create a harmonious pairing.

4. Tracking
Similar to kerning, tracking relates to the spacing of all characters and is applied evenly.

5. Measure
Describes the width of a text block. If you’re seeking to achieve the optimum reading experience, it’s clearly an important consideration.

6. Serif
A flare or terminating flourish at the end of a letterform’s strokes believed to originate with the Roman tendency to paint letters onto marble before chiseling them out.

7. Ligature
The conjoined but non-identical twins of the typographic universe. Ligatures pull two forms together to produce a new glyph.

8. Pica
One sixth of an inch in length, the pica is associated with line-length and column width. There are 12 points or 16 pixels in one pica.

9. Point
A standard typographical measurement equal to 1/12 of a pica or 1/72 of an inch.

10. Terminal
A type of curve at the end of a stroke. See the teardrop shapes at the end of the “a” and “r” above.

Source: Definitions