Typography Lingo: 10 Terms You Need to Know, Illustrated

Typography Lingo: Ten terms you need to know from Caffeinated Design Studio

Master some design basics with this condensed typography lingo textbook, created to give you the knowledge you need to follow the fundamentals of fonts.

1. Baseline

Typography Lingo: baselineA 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.

2. X-Height

Typography Lingo: x-height

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.”

3. Ascenders

Typography Lingo: ascenders

Ascenders are the strokes that rise above the font’s x-height (b, d, f, h, k, l and t)…

4. Descenders

Typography Lingo: descenders

…while descenders are the tails on lowercase letters that dip below that baseline (g, j, p, q and y).

5. Serif Fonts

Typography Lingo: serif

Time logo - serif exampleSerifs 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

Typography Lingo: sans serif

Facebook logo - sans serif exampleMeanwhile, 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).

7. Kerning

Typography Lingo: kerning

Wendy's logo example of kerningKerning 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.

8. Tracking

Typography Lingo: tracking

Bulgari logoSimilar 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.

9. Leading

Typography Lingo: leading

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

Typography Lingo: 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?

Google logo before and afterGo 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.

Danielle O'Malley-Johnson
Danielle has a BFA in Graphic Design from Central Washington University. When she isn't designing - or reading design books - she loves to decorate and spend time with her husband and two small children. Her favorite coffee order is a Chai Latte.
Danielle O'Malley-Johnson
Danielle O'Malley-Johnson
Danielle O'Malley-Johnson

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Kristin Heffley

Thank you, Janis! Let me know if there are any other topics you’d like to learn more about.

Kristin Heffley

Thanks, Stacia! We’re lucky to have very talented designers on our team. Knock on wood.


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