Typography Tips #1 — Kerning

When it comes to tips for great typography, none can be more important than spacing and kerning. The latin writing system that we use is based on modular letterforms that when combined form syllables, words and phrases. Spacing is an important element for separating clusters of letterforms that create individual words and thus allows us to decipher meaning from how words relate to each other contextually.

Without Spacing, Sentence 1 is just a bunch of letterforms that could have any number of meanings, but once we add spaces in the relevant places it is transformed into a sentence with a distinct meaning.

Sentence 1: Spacingisanimportantpartofwrittenlanguage.
Sentence 2:Spacing is an important part of written language.

Kerning is how this spacing works on a micro level, between relative letterforms. The more dynamic the shapes of letterforms the more likely it is to encounter letterforms that require extra attention when placed next to each other. The classic example of this is the combination of letters V and A.

AVA before kerning

The rule of thumb is to use one’s eye to determine good kerning (If it don’t look right, it probably ain’t right).

AVA after kerning

Bad Kerning can make for a bad reading experience in long passages of text. It can also alter the meaning of written language altogether by disrupting the visual flow of letterforms and thus making it harder to make out words and meaning overall.

In my experience there are two main instances of bad kerning, the first involves having too much space between letterforms such that a single word appears to be two words.

AVA after kerning

The second instance of bad kerning occurs when two letters are so close to each other that they appear to form a whole new letter, for example if a lowercase “c” is close enough to a lowercase “l” it might appear to form a lowercase “d”.

AVA after kerning

All in all kerning and spacing are very important in typography and in order to have better spaced and kerned type you just need to practice and over a period of consistent practice you start to develop an eye for it. You can also check out This game by Method of Action, that turns kerning into a playful acticity.

Thats all from me and Tondi Republk on kerning, lets carry on the conversation below in the comments. Until next time check out some classic examples of what not to do below, Ta!

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