A Sense for Typographic Scale, continued

I didn’t really get at what I was hoping to convey with the last piece on developing a sense for appropriate typographic scale. Which is a real shame considering how fundamental it is. It’s true that if one does the exercises I prescribe, the result is likely a furthering of the development of this sense that’s both difficult to describe and impossible to confer. After giving it a couple weeks’ thought, I now see that what’s really missing from all this talk is an ultimatum, and more bad examples.


I’m calling this a sense, because if it were only a series of techniques, they would be easily acquired. Like a little child’s sense of balance, or a motorist’s sense for the road, one is not born with an eye for typographic scale. It develops and refines over time and with experience. This ability to feel and not merely see type, is the indispensable characteristic of typographers who know what they’re doing.

Here’s the ultimatum. Great and mediocre designers diverge on this point: having developed senses specific to typography. Your demonstrated ability in this precise area – that of scale – is impossible to hide. It will be one of the first signs of the quality of your work. So you had better learn this. Here are some examples of what not to do. For similar examples with properly used type, refer to my previous post. Seems like I wrote this out of order.


Above: Notice how the type, Fry’s Baskerville, is too light and spindly on the page. A closer look below reveals that its fine details and tight fit make it suited to display settings of, say, 20 pt and up.

Below is Tony Stan’s ITC Garamond, deceptively given the weight name of ‘Book.’ But, don’t be fooled; this is more of the same. A type style drawn for display, but unlike the above, it’s additionally been poorly adapted to function as text. The letter spacing is tight and the contrast of the letterforms is overpronounced in all the wrong ways. If you’re going for a late ’70s – early ’80s vibe, this will get you there.

Which could cause one to think that lowering the contrast is all that’s required. Below,  Jos Buivenga’s Museo shows it isn’t so. Because Museo is designed to work as a display face, it limits its ability to function well at text sizes. Notice how similar a feeling ITC Garamond and Museo give off when setting text. And you can achieve this with nearly any display face.


Lastly, Cyrus Highsmith’s Novia is a set of two size-specific script faces. Be careful not to do what I do above, which is ignore that the design is size-specific. Since the style is inspired by the engraving discipline, the fine hairlines above should match in weight. How? Either by keeping the size consistent, or by using the Light weight at an appropriate scale. Similarly, it would be inappropriate to use both the Regular and Light weight at the same size, unless it’s for the purpose of showing the difference.

That’s it. Again, the previous piece on type scale should make a lot more sense now. Thanks for reading. Using Type is a regular Thursday deal.


  1. Posted May 3, 2013 at 4:42 AM | Permalink

    If you allow me, I have a comment to make: I do not think there is something like “bad designers.” There are designers “who know”, and designers “who do not know.” It’s a matter of information.
    Sometimes your digressions graze the pedant. This is annoying when trying to achieve an educational work. This does not prevent me from continuing to read your articles I find exciting, but it is possible that some readers feel “complexed” with your comments. Example? I do not know so I’m a bad designer … Ouch!

  2. Posted May 3, 2013 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

    Hey Eric. It’s true, my typographically pedantic side reveals itself sometimes. I can see that. I’m more disappointed however that my writing came off with a stinging tone. I intend no offense, and I hope very little was taken.

  3. Posted May 3, 2013 at 5:21 PM | Permalink

    I know the difficulty of transmitting knowledge, I spend my time more to teach than to design … I understand the importance of your show, but I think the purely visual angle might have been more effective to highlight your concept.
    Because it is obvious that your “sense” is one of the first thing you should check: is my typography adapted to the medium? And it is important not to focus on the aesthetic preferences at the expense of legibility.

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