Spatial Relationships Of A Kerning Kind: Keeping Reader Attention

I love brilliantly refined and executed typography, the kind that subtly grabs you and makes you stop for more than a half second. I am particularly moved when someone cares about this topic when design is not his or her profession. Matthew But­t­er­ick is an attorney in Los Angeles who cares deeply about this issue and says, “Typog­ra­phy mat­ters because it helps con­serve the most valu­able resource you have as a writer — reader atten­tion.”

We are all busy; therefore, we are always (unconsciously) looking for a reason to stop reading. Don’t you agree?

Typography design is a combination of art application, craft and math science. Type design artists will use their art skills (form, weight, shape etc.) to create visual texture, spacing, readability, and overall spatial relationships between the individual letters and words. The designer will also use grids to calculate the technical spacing in order to format and give the user control of the kerning (spacing) in our publishing software. Kerning is the technical word for the spacing between each letter form and the space relationships between the words in a line. Specifically looking at the relationships between round forms and straight forms will get you started with adjusting kerning wisely.

If a type designer creates a font set, why change the kerning? Wouldn’t it be perfect out of the box?

The visual design process is about relationships, so no, the kerning default setting may not be perfect for your use right out of the box. But novice beware – half the battle is knowing when a font is perfectly kerned versus a font that needs a few space corrections or minor kerning in specific instances. This requires you to pay attention to detail and look at the big picture. Error on the side of less is more in your kerning options. If you are unsure, or if I have totally lost you at this point, stop, don’t kern.

Strive to keep your kerning consistent throughout the document and think about whether your page will make your reader exit immediately. Are your letters and words too crowded? Are letters touching that should NOT touch one another? Are letters too far apart that were designed to actually be touching one another? If you want to dig deeper into better typography, check out this post for an in depth view on kerning.

alphabet letters define shapes

Image Credit: [Creative Pro]