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The aim of this tutorial is to provide an introduction to typography. Typography is defined as

  • the art of designing printed matter
  • the appearance of printed matter

There are many different types of printed matter, books, brochures, newsletters and many more. This tutorial focuses on technical documents.

Typography is relevant for user interface designers from two perspectives. Firstly, user interface design often includes the presentation of text on a display. Although typography is mainly concerned with printed matter, it provides valuable guidance for these situations. Secondly, user interface design involves to a large degree documenting and communicating designs, usually on paper. Knowledge of typography can aid this process.

This tutorial was prompted by the lack of practical literature on typography. We have been looking for good books on typography for more than five years now and have not found a single book that completely met our needs.

To a large extend this tutorial is based on what we have learned from technical communicators we had the pleasure and privilege to work with. They proved to be our most useful source of information.

Over the years we have come across two books we would like to recommend. They both have their limitations, but they make good reading.

Bringhurst, R. (1996). The elements of typographic style. 2nd ed. Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks.

White, J. V. (1988). Graphic design for the electronic age: The manual for traditional and desktop publishing. New York, NY: Watson-Guptill Publications.

White (1988) is a good starting point for anybody new to typography. It makes easy reading and provides lots of useful information with many illustrative examples. It still falls short of providing detailed practical information, though. Unfortunately, this book is now out of print.

Bringhurst (1996) is a completely different type of book. It is the bible of typography. You need a fair bit of background knowledge in order to understand it. Don't be discouraged by the typography of the book. It is amazing how a modern book on typography could have such an antiquated look and feel. However, the content is good.

Although there are many typographical conventions on which to build on, which conventions to apply in which circumstances is a matter of personal style. The recommendations in this tutorial reflect our style which has been influenced by our experience. You may encounter recommendations which contradict those expressed in this tutorial. Pick the one you like better. Develop your own style.