There are no rules in typography. It can be refined, it can be messy or it can be abstract. With that said, having a grasp of the fundamental typography principles can be helpful in taking typography in the aesthetic direction you want it to go.

This article breaks down the three main typography principles – leading, kerning and tracking – then highlights some examples of creative use.

Leading

letterpress

Simply put, leading is the vertical space between lines of text. The word “leading” comes from the early days of type, where letterpress workers would use metal lead bars of varying heights to add space, or “leading”, between lines of type.

leading

The example above makes creative use of leading in the way it actually sets the parameter to a negative value. In other words, the lines are so close together that the letters should be overlapping.

However, through clever placement, every letter finds a space to comfortably sit. The “k” in “know” tucks nicely between the “y” and “o” of “you”. “Know” drops in right after the “i” and “l” of “love”. That’s just to name a couple instances. This is a great example in that it proves comfortable leading can be achieved creatively rather than through following assumed “laws” on spacing.

Kerning

This previous 99designs article by Rebecca Creger wonderfully explains kerning. To recap, kerning is a typographic adjustment that is made to either extend or lessen the space between two typographic characters.

kerning

In the example above, typographic master Jan Tchichold creatively kerns the “P” and “H” in the word “PHILOBIBLON” in a vein similar to the Experimental Jetset example in the previous section. The kerning of these letters is set so tight that the curve of the “P” actually overlaps well past the first several characters of the word. This makes perfect sense, as the space between the “trunk” of the “P” and the “H” matches the spacing of the rest of the letters in the word.

Tracking

Unlike kerning, which strictly regards the spacing between a pairing of characters, tracking regards the the spacing between three or more typographic characters in sequence. This adjustment can span words, sentences and even paragraphs.

tracking

The example above makes creative use of both tracking and leading in the way it sets both parameters very spaciously – almost to an extreme. This creative use can be said to be successful in the way it lets each typographic character act as an ornament or decoration in the design. The letters drift and fall down the album cover like snowflakes.

Conclusion

conclusion

It can be helpful to know the three main typographic principles and to have awareness to when they need to be adjusted. With that said they can also be pushed, bent, and twisted creatively. In the example above, David Carson completely opens the floodgates on creative typography.

Many of the letters are kerned unevenly, the leading often leaves words overlapping, and the tracking varies wildly. Through this “misuse” of typographic spacing, Carson actually makes a visual language that makes sense in the “big picture”.

Perhaps the ultimate takeaway from this article is that the fundamentals of typography are simply parameters of typography to be aware of and by no means do they imply a correct adjustment.

Questions or thoughts about typography principles? Comment below!