My grandmother had a great appreciation for fine art.  She was an artist herself and bequeathed to me an assortment of supplies, from pencils to oil paints to large, heavy books that have been quite a pain to transport across the country to my various residences (although I love them dearly).

This early initiation into the world of aesthetic helped me fine-tune my eye for design, which I use on a daily basis when creating content for my company: newsletters, event invitations, marketing collateral and Keynote decks.   Not everyone has an innate ability to make things look pretty, but some simple skills can be learned despite never having designed anything – even a flyer for your missing cat.  (Sorry, Fluffy.)

Read on for a few of my favorite typography design hacks for non-designers.

1. Mix up your fonts

A design can get pretty bland with the same font throughout.  There’s a few ways you can mix and match your type to make it a compelling piece of content.

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In the text above, I used the same font but made the outside words bold and the middle one a lighter weight.  Many fonts come in 10 or more weights and styles, so you can have a lot of fun with this method.  It’s also interesting to employ the absence of bold (which is usually used to emphasize) to create an impact.  The same can be achieved by pairing italic with non-italic fonts.

Mixing sans-serif (meaning the letters don’t have the little lines on their ending points) with serif can have quite an elegant effect.

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In the example above, I also played with scale, which is a useful tool when you have words of different sizes.  Making one word much bigger than the rest and piling them into a typographical sandwich (I just made this up and it’s my new favorite term) serves the purpose of keeping everything nice, neat and compact while looking pretty cool.

Finally, you can mix up fonts in a stylish way by playing with the case: one part of the text is in lowercase with another in all caps.  In the example below, I used all of the above tactics: different weights, fonts, styles, case and scale.

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The main rule with fonts and styles is DON’T USE TOO MANY.  There’s a fine line between creating dynamic mash-ups of style that look great and ending up with font vomit.  A good rule of thumb is: if everything is in either sans-serif or serif, don’t use two different fonts.  You may have to experiment a bit to fine-tune your approach.

A not-so-great example of typography.

2. White space is your friend

There’s nothing like an ultra-clean looking piece of design – just look at anything Apple creates.  Images and text are left alone to breathe in a vast emptiness that makes any focal point just…sexy.  (And notice how they use two font weights on their title line!)

Courtesy of Apple, Inc.
Courtesy of Apple, Inc.

One of my favorite design tricks for titles and headings is using contrast to give text the illusion of being cut out of a brick of color, like below.

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This will typically only work for all-caps, but have fun with it!

3. Use fonts as design elements

Don’t have access to a library of stock images?  No time (or skills) to create a fancy graphic?  You can use fonts to punctuate your design in an unexpected way.  The example below is an interesting approach to a pull-out quotation.

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Here, I also played with transparency (sometimes called opacity) to layer the elements.  You can also put very large quotes (scale again!) on either side of the text, like below.

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Try using an ampersand as an image-like element:

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Note: You can forget my rule about different fonts within the serif or sans-serif families for these methods; since you’re not using other letters, only a punctuation mark, you can use different kinds of fonts without the design looking too cluttered.

4. Space out your lines

A great balance can be achieved through giving a lot of space between your characters or lines.  Too much looks a bit weird, but keeping in mind the white space rule above, this is a tasteful way to put text on a page.
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Here I used a few of the style tips I spoke about: italics and non-italics, scale, white balance and spacing.


No, I’m not coming on to you.  One of the paramount rules of design, and probably life in general, is to KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.  (Yes, my design professor actually taught us that.  No, it was not on the test.)  Rather than toiling away and over-complicating your work, it often helps to close your computer and walk away for awhile, even until the next day, and return to your design with a renewed vision.

I hope these design hacks help you with your future aesthetic endeavors.  Now go forth, and create something beautiful!

Note: A lot of the fonts used in this post were downloaded from dafont, my favorite resource for cool typefaces.