Typography Lingo: 10 Terms You Need to Know, Illustrated
Master some design basics with this condensed typography lingo textbook, created to give you the knowledge you need to follow the fundamentals of fonts.
A baseline is the line upon which all letters sit. Imagine drawing a line directly under and touching the bottoms of the letters in “baseline.” That’s your baseline.
X-height refers to the distance between the baseline and the top of mean-height letters — or letters that don’t have ascenders and descenders, like “x.”
Ascenders are the strokes that rise above the font’s x-height (b, d, f, h, k, l and t)…
…while descenders are the tails on lowercase letters that dip below that baseline (g, j, p, q and y).
5. Serif Fonts
Serifs are the feet at the end of letters. Serif fonts utilize both thick and thin lines, and are typically used to convey historic, traditional or established messages (think of companies and logos like Time that brand themselves as reputable and trusted). Serif fonts are also used for long bodies of text like books and magazines because the feet help the eye easily step from one letter to the next.
6. Sans Serif Fonts
Meanwhile, sans serif fonts are free of feet. Their clean lettering typically uses an even weight throughout, and is often used to convey a more modern message (think logos like Facebook and other brands positioning themselves as young, fresh and innovative).
Kerning refers to the space between two individual letters. For example, in the Wendy’s logo, the “n” and “d” have tighter kerning than the “y” and “s.” Kerning is often used by designers to customize and perfect logo typography.
Similar to kerning, tracking refers to adjusting the space between a set of letters or words. Wide tracking is often associated with elegance and luxury, such as in the Bulgari logo.
Meanwhile, leading refers to the spacing between baselines of text. You can make your designs easier on the eye by giving your ascenders and descenders more room to breathe with increased leading. This is particularly important with large blocks of text on websites or other marketing materials.
10. White Space
Speaking of room to breathe, white space is the leftover area in a design — the unused area in the margin, between elements and sometimes within elements. FedEx, the World Wildlife Federation and Girl Scouts of America all use white space to create an “aha” moment with their logos. In this case, white space is sometimes referred to as negative space.
You’ve learned some typography lingo: now what?
Go forth! Take this new type knowledge and keep up with creative conversation, communicate more easily with your designer, impress your colleagues, and add some input when a goliath like Google releases a new logo. You’ll sound super smart.