What Is Typography?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about the importance of typography and how the style, size, and spacing of certain typefaces impact the overall message and design of a print or digital document.

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Typography is the style and appearance of text and is a design element used as a tool by graphic designers. As a design principle, typography is the use and manipulation of typefaces to create an end product that is understood and easily read by viewers. 

When choosing a typeface, designers consider factors like readability, hierarchy of content, and how fonts work together. Using text as a form of visual expression can alter and impact a document's entire message and tone. Typography is the practice of selecting and using text in a meaningful and impactful way. 

Read more: User Experience (UX) Terms: A to Z Glossary

Main styles of typeface 

Typeface refers to a specific style of font. Every style of font, or typeface, has variations in appearance that set it apart from other typefaces. You may hear a typeface called a font family since all of the text within a specific typeface has the same characteristics. When choosing a typeface, consider the qualities of the font to ensure that it aligns well with your message and does not distract readers. Consider common typeface styles:

  • Serif: Serif fonts feature small strokes called serifs that are attached to the main part of a letter. These strokes are sometimes referred to as “feet.” Fonts in serif style tend to convey a classic, traditional tone. 

  • Sans-serif: Sans-serif translates to “without serif,” meaning that the letters lack the strokes attached to them, as you’ll see with serif fonts. The style tends to communicate a modern, clean tone. 

  • Display: Sometimes called decorative, these typeface styles are typically used stylistically for effect or as a design element on their own. Display fonts are more impactful when used in headlines or other small pieces of text where you want to draw attention.

  • Script: Script fonts resemble human handwriting. These fonts have fluid, flowing strokes with no breaks between characters. They can add a feeling of luxury or retro style to your creations.

Typography tips 

Typography is an art. Every time text is placed on a page, consider the user experience and what the message conveys to the viewer. Text can be a distraction if not used with intention and thought. When creating a document with text, try to adhere to these principles of typography: 

  • Use no more than two to three complimentary fonts on one document. 

  • Ensure optimal readability, using sufficient white space, line spacing, and appropriate text size.

  • Decorative fonts are best when used sparingly—for example, in headlines.

  • Sans-serif fonts tend to read slightly better on screens than serif.

  • Try not to exceed more than 60 characters per line of text. 

  • UX design

  • Information architecture

  • Negative space

  • Iconography

Get started in UX Design 

Get your start in user experience (UX) with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn to apply foundational UX concepts, like user-centered design, accessibility, and equity-focused design through this program. Upon completion, gain a Professional Certificate to share on your resume or LinkedIn profile.   

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