Format Design: Typography and Typestyles
The final element in creating a presentation design is selecting the typefaces you will use throughout your slides. With literally thousands of typefaces to choose from, choosing one or two for your presentation can be confusing.
Good typography is the backbone of a presentation. Since most presentations are made up of type slides, it's essential that the typefaces you choose ensure clear, readable copy. Often an audience has only a few seconds to read what's up on the screen, so clear, simple type makes their job easier.
Type, like color, can also set a mood. As we'll see later in the chapter, different typestyles can be aggressive or relaxed, casual or formal and they can definitely express an image of you and your organization to the audience.
To start this chapter, let's talk about what makes up a typeface, and then move on to type styles and how to use type in slide layout.
A typeface or typestyle is an alphabet designed for use in mechanical (or electronic) printing processes. Usually created by artists who specialize in type design, there are literally thousands of typefaces to choose from.
Anatomy Of A Typeface
The style used to draw letters defines the typeface. Lower case letters consist of three main parts: the body or x-height, the ascender, and the descender.
- The x-height spans the largest area or body portion of the letter.
- The bottom of the x-height lies on the baseline.
- The ascender is the part of the letter extending above the x-height.
- The descender is the part of the letter extending below the baseline.
- Strokes are the actual lines forming the letters, and depending on the typeface can vary greatly in width or thickness.
Figure 8.1: Parts of a typeface
There are several characteristics that distinguish one family of typefaces from another. The three major areas of difference in type styles are: Roman/Italic, Serif/Sans Serif, and Stroke Weights.
Letters carved into the stones of ancient Roman ruins are the inspiration and basis of early typeface design. Named Roman after their origin, these letters drawn with strong, regular, vertical and horizontal strokes, serve as the basis for most typefaces used today.
One printer in Venice, Aldus Manutius, developed a very compact, slanted typeface based on the handwriting style of the time. This innovation allowed him to print smaller, more portable books. The style he developed, with other printers in Italy, became known as Italic throughout the rest of Europe. Today his name and portrait are recognized as the trademark for a certain popular desktop publishing software firm.
The Roman stonecutters made a small twist with their chisels to prevent chipping at the end of a stroke. This twist resulted in a small wedge-shaped extension called a Serif. Serif typefaces mimic this stroke.
Figure 8.2: The serif
Later typestyles, called Sans Serif (from sans, which is French for without) omit the serif. The term Oblique refers to the slanted (italic) versions of sans serif typefaces.
Figure 8.3: Serif and Italic; Sans Serif and Oblique
The difficulty of developing molds for typesetting confined early type designers to using even, regular stroke thicknesses when designing type styles. However as technology improved, it became easier to produce typestyles with exaggerated differences between the thicknesses of various strokes. This Stroke Weight is another major element in defining a typestyle.
Figure 8.4: Stroke Weight
Based on Roman/Italic, Serif/Sans Serif, and Stroke Weight characteristics, typefaces break down into several families. The dividing line between categories is fuzzy and some styles fall between categories, but here's a short breakdown.
OldStyle Serif Typefaces
The original Roman alphabet provides the pattern for the design of OldStyle Serif typefaces. The master source for these letters is the inscription engraved on the Trajan column in Rome. The beauty of the letters comes from the casual balance of the stroke weights and serifs. A characteristic of OldStyle Serif is that the capital letters (especially the J's) fall below the baseline, into the descender area.
Figure 8.5: OldStyle Serif Typefaces
While commonly used in print, the low x-height of OldStyle Serif faces doesn't provide a substantial look when used as body copy for projected presentations. However, these faces can be used effectively in titles, and add a very elegant and traditional note to your presentation.
Modern Serif Typefaces
First developed in the late 1700s, Modern Serif typefaces are more draftsman-like than OldStyle and have exaggerated differences in the stroke weights making up the letters. Designed for use in mass publications, they're the staple of English-language publishing. Newspaper publishers developed typefaces such as Times Roman to satisfy their need for easy-to-read type.
Figure 8.6: Modern Serif Typefaces
The orderly, symmetrical quality of the letters make Modern Serif typefaces an appropriate choice for presentation materials. They're easy to read in both body text and titles, and tend to give a conservative, solid look to your presentation.
Sans Serif Typefaces
Sans Serif typefaces, characterized by somewhat uniform stroke weight and lack of serifs, started appearing in the middle 19th century. Mainly they appeared as large headline and display text. The early sans serif designs were a big departure from the traditional typefaces used in publications of the time, and were often referred to as "grotesque." As designs improved, and people became more accustomed to them, these faces became greatly appreciated for their simplicity of design and readability. The Helvetica typeface, designed in the early 1950's by Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger, is the most popular of the sans serif faces.
Figure 8.7: Sans Serif Typefaces
The clean lines and easy readability of sans serif faces make them the de facto standard for use in slide design. Using sans serif faces give a presentation a modern, progressive look. A good rule of thumb is: "When in doubt, use Helvetica!".
Transitional typefaces have characteristics of both serif and sans serif categories. Optima, while being sans serif, has a combination of thick and thin strokes giving it the feel of a serif face. The Lubalin Graph typeface has serifs, but the general impression and uniform stroke weight of the lines make it look more like a sans serif face.
Figure 8.8: Transitional Typefaces
You'll find other examples of typefaces that don't seem to fit in one category or another, but what matters most is that the typeface looks good and is readable.
Decorative and Display Typefaces
Decorative or Display typefaces cover almost everything from fancy wedding invitation scripts to weird psychedelic poster letters. Some of these faces can be very useful for emphasis or special effects. Decorative faces are subject to the waves of fad and fashion. Use them carefully, and don't depend on them for corporate presentation designs that have to remain fashionable for years.
Figure 8.9 : Decorative and Display Typefaces
In traditional typesetting, a Font is a set of molded metal letters belonging to a particular typeface in a specific size. Each variation of a typeface, whether it's smaller or larger, Roman or Italic, is a separate font. Some typefaces even have variations that are narrower or wider, condensed or expanded versions of the basic typeface. The design characteristics making up the original typeface directly influence all of these font variations.
When setting type by hand, a printer selected letters from two large, stacked wooden cases containing all the pieces of available type, each different letter in a separate small bin. The UPPER CASE held all the capital letters; the lower case held all the small letters. This terminology is still used today.
The way in which we measure type size is in points, a point being 1/72 of an inch. The height of the metal slug holding the molded letter, in cold and hot type printing systems, determines the point size of a font. In most, but not all computerized fonts, the point size is the combined height of the ascender, x-height, and the descender.
Figure 8.10: Point size
Many type manufacturers disagree about how to measure the type size of a computer font. In fact, the same font distributed by different manufacturers will look significantly different from one to another. Adobe's 30 point Garamond differs greatly from Bitstream's 30 point Garamond in letter height and design. Both companies based their designs on the original hot type font, but the artists who created the computer fonts put their own individual stamp on the face.
Figure 8.11: Garamond Comparison
Besides different sizes, fonts also come in different weights. Weight depends on the additive or subtractive thickness of the lines and total density of the characters. The description of the font weight varies depending on the typestyle. Some faces, such as University Roman and most Decorative faces, have only one or two weights, regular and bold. Others such as ITC Eras have as many as six or more weights.
Figure 8.12: Type weights
A regular font also can be redrawn to be narrower or wider than normal. Condensed or Compressed fonts are redrawn to have a narrower look. Extended or Expanded fonts are redrawn to have a wider look. All the different variations of an original font design make up a Font Family. Some font families, such as the Eras depicted above, may only have a few variations. Other families, such as Helvetica or Univers, may have dozens.
Figure 8.13: The Helvetica Family
Using Computer Fonts
Computer fonts come in two types: Screen fonts and Outline fonts. Screen fonts are used to display a representation of your final work on your computer monitor. Outline fonts are used by laser printers, typesetters, and film recorders to produce your final output. Both types of fonts contribute to creating a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) display on your computer.
Screen Fonts provide you with the What You See part of WYSIWYG. You might think screen fonts are only important to you if the final output of your presentation is a screen show. This couldn't be further from the truth. The accuracy of your screen fonts is essential to knowing what your final output will look like. All too often, what looks great on your computer screen will be a mess when it's output to film.
Screen fonts are stored in your computer's memory as Bitmaps. Each point size of a screen font is stored as a series of pictures for each character, and can take up a lot of space, both on disk and in your computer's memory. Bitmaps are collections of dots (pixels) which are displayed on your computer's monitor to show an approximation of the final output to paper or film. Approximation is the operative word here. If you select a point size for your artwork that is the same as one supported by a screen font on your computer, it will usually be pretty close to your final output. However if you choose a type size that isn't supported, you can run into some serious differences between your "WYSIWYG" screen representation and your final slide.
Figure 8.14: Bitmap Screen font
Some desktop presentation programs are quite good at font handling; others have displays that have very little to do with what your final output will look like. As a rule, Windows 3.0 and Macintosh programs are far superior in their font capabilities than DOS-based programs. Having accurate screen fonts, in all the sizes you're using in a presentation, increases your productivity and saves wasted trips to a laser printer or service bureau to test your designs.
Outline fonts are the What You Get part of WYSIWYG. They are actually small programs that provide a geometric description of the shape of every letter in a font. Outline fonts take advantage of the maximum sharpness and resolution of your output device. A laser printer will print outline fonts at 300 dots per inch. A typesetter will print them at up to 2540 dots per inch. And a high resolution film recorder will reproduce the same fonts at up to 8000 dots per inch!
Figure 8.15: Outline font
The most common type of screen/printer font combination is a PostScript font. Each PostScript font (IBM or Macintosh) comes with an an outline font file and a screen font file. The screen font consists of several standard sizes of bitmaps (usually 10, 12, 14, 18, and 24 point) for screen display and the outline font contains the program for describing the characters to a printer.
Adobe Type Manager and Other Screen Font Managers
Specialized programs such as Adobe Type Manager can produce bitmap screen fonts on the fly directly from the outline printer fonts. This method allows you to see any size type in a more accurate display on your monitor. Some programs (especially CorelDRAW!) have this ability built in to the program by using their own proprietary font arrangement.
Figure 8.16: How an ATM font works
Using Fonts With a Service Bureau
Because many presentation programs have different ways of handling fonts, it's important to check with your film recorder or printer manufacturer, or your service bureau to find out about font compatibility. Programs such as CorelDraw and early versions of Harvard Graphics have their own font systems which may or may not be supported by your slide vendor.
Many service bureaus require customers using PostScript fonts to send their printer and screen fonts along when sending in a job for imaging. Whatever typestyle you choose, always prepare a test file when creating your presentation format design to see if the fonts you have selected will be supported in your final output.
A Final Word on Typefaces and Fonts
In the new world of desktop publishing, the definition of font and typeface has mingled. The new generation of typesetters can generate letters in any point size using electronic means; thus eliminating the original "size" definition of font . In today's terms, Font and Typeface usually refer to the actual typestyle or the printer font containing the encoded electronic information to generate letters for your printer.
Further contributing to the melding of the two terms is the influence of the Macintosh FONT menu and its method of handling type. In the Macintosh menu, style now refers to whether a typeface is bold, italic, or even underlined. This system is gradually being adopted by Windows-based presentation programs as well. Fortunately, the words we use to define a typestyle don't really affect the way we USE type. And at least the meanings of Upper Case and Lower Case have remained the same, even in the electronic age.
Choosing and Using Type
Now that you know all about what a typeface or font is, you need to get down to the business of making concrete decisions about how to use them. Your choice of typeface will directly affect the look and readability of your presentation. Once you've selected a typeface, decisions like what size to use, what weight, how to use capitalization, effects, kerning, and justification are the next step. Let's examine all the issues affecting the use of typefaces and fonts in text slides or transparencies.
Type and the Corporate Image
The typefaces you choose for a presentation have a distinct influence over how your audience perceives you and the organization you represent. Oldstyle Serif faces such as Caslon, for example, convey a feeling of tradition and history.
Figure 8.17: Oldstyle serif
Modern Serif faces, such as Times Roman, are clearer and more readable on slides than Oldstyle, yet they retain the same feeling of tradition and stability.
Figure 8.18: Modern serif
Sans Serif faces such as Avant Garde can imply a dynamic, future-oriented outlook.
Figure 8.19: Sans serif
Using an inappropriate font can ruin even the best presentation - for instance a decorative typeface such as Fraktur can make even the most serious subject matter seem trivial.
Figure 8.20: Inappropriate decorative font
When choosing a typeface for your presentation, think about the sort of impression you want to make on your audience, and select fonts that reflects that impression.
Type as Fashion
Typefaces have always been subject to fads and fashions. Graphic designers quickly pick up on innovative, new typefaces and suddenly they're everywhere. But when a newer, more distinctive face appears, the older face gets placed in the history books.
When choosing a typeface consider the effect of fashion on typefaces and how that relates to your presentation. If the presentation you are designing will be given repeatedly, it must stand the test of time. Choose faces you think will have lifetime appeal. If the presentation is a unique event for a really with-it corporation, the latest trendy typefaces, which might seem dated after a while, will be sure to make a lasting impression.
Choosing a typeface for your presentation really isn't that hard. Most people have a limited number available to choose from, so the important thing is to use a little common sense.
Picking Presentation Fonts
Most presentation programs come with a small assortment of fonts that can be counted on for legibility and clean design. Microsoft PowerPoint and Aldus Persuasion come with Helvetica and Times Roman - both excellent for slide design. On the other hand, Corel Draw comes with over 150 fonts - some of which are definitely NOT suited to slide design. Select a face for your slides that you will enjoy reading projected ten feet high. Avoid gimmicky or overly ornate fonts that draw attention to themselves. Remember, the purpose of your text is to convey information to the audience, not to wow them with incredible typefaces.
Don't pick a face that's hard to read from a distance. Tall, narrow typefaces or faces with exaggerated serifs, are particularly difficult to read from across a room.
The following are some examples of legible typeface pairings that are very strong and project differing corporate looks for slide and transparency presentations.
Figure 8.21: Presentation typefaces
Using Decorative and Display Typefaces
Don't underestimate the power of typeface to surprise and delight your audience. A fancy or unusual typeface, used sparingly, can put that extra spark in your presentation. A single word or phrase, in a jazzy typeface can make a point more emphatically than the regular typestyles in your presentation.
Figure 8.22: Using unusual type
Mixing fonts within a presentation, one face for titles, one face for body copy, is common. A rule of thumb is to limit the number of typefaces to two. Putting too many typefaces in a presentation will make it look disorganized and slapped together. As we discussed in the chapter on format design, it's essential to keep a consistent look throughout your presentation. One good idea is to use an attractive serif face for your title, but stick to a sans serif face for your body copy to enhance readability.
Readability: The Bottom Line
No matter how wonderful your chosen combination of typefaces are, the most important thing is, they need to be easy and clear to read. The true test for readability is to put yourself in the place of a viewer sitting in the back row of your audience. If he or she can read everything on your slides clearly, you've succeeded. Consider also, different projection environments can affect the ability of your audience to read your slides. Slides designed to be projected for a large audience in an auditorium, need to be much simpler and easier to read than those meant for a small audience in a conference room.
Too Much Text: Enough is Enough
One easy way of ruining a slide is to try to fit too much information in a single slide. Limit yourself to ONE SLIDE = ONE MESSAGE. Too much text on a slide will confuse your audience and draw attention away from the speaker. Keep the content of your slides simple and to the point. Don't make the slides a substitute for the speech.
There are no strict rules about how much text is too much, but there is a simple test to help you determine when the amount of text is readable. If you are working on a standard 13-14 inch computer monitor, bring up each frame to full screen size (or as close as possible), and sit 6 to 7 feet away from the monitor. If your program has a screen show utility, use it to preview your presentation for legibility. If you can clearly read the text on your screen, it will project well in an average meeting room, on a standard 40 inch projection screen. If you have to squint to read it, zoom in, or otherwise increase the size of the text on the screen, try to reduce the information on the slide. You can split the information between two slides or design another way of showing the information.
Choosing Type Sizes
Different presentation programs have distinct ways of designating type sizes, especially DOS-based applications. Depending on the page size used in your program, a type size large enough for body copy in one presentation may be too large for the title of another. Rather than trying to give you exact type sizes, we'll be talking about relative type sizes.
Generally you should pick a large type size for your title. Choose the longest anticipated title in your presentation and then set it in a size that fills the available space you've allowed for your title area. If your title typeface seems small or crowded, you may need to edit some of your titles to make them shorter. On the other hand, if the text looks enormous on the slide, there's nothing wrong with making it smaller. The important thing is to make your message clear and easy to read, without overwhelming the other elements of the slide.
Your body copy, subtitles and subheads should be set at least one standard type size smaller than the title. For example, if your titles are in 36 point type, you should set your body copy in 30 or 24 point. Again, this is just a guideline. If you have five or six words in your title and for some reason only have three words in your body copy (it can happen!) you could even make your body text a larger size than your title. If you have a large amount of copy that just can't be cut or split between several slides, smaller type sizes will have to do.
Keep in mind that if your final output is as a screen show or video you will have to use larger type. The low resolution of the video screen will cause small text to fill in and become unreadable.
Other items in your slides, such as footnotes, should be kept to about half the size of your body copy. Try to avoid footnotes if possible. They're seldom readable and almost never read. Information so insignificant that it needs to be a footnote is usually not worth putting in a slide at all. If legal considerations require a footnote or attribution in your slide, make it very small and don't worry about whether the audience can read it or not. Only the lawyers will care if it's there!
Mixing Type Sizes Within a Presentation
You can consider making drastic point size changes from one type size to another in increments or steps. For instance, if your body copy size is commonly 18 points, and you have that one frame that must have 36 point body copy; you could step the body copy size up to 24 points in the frame before the 36 point frame. After the 36 point frame you could step the body copy back down to 24 points, and in the following frame back to the original 18 points. This stepping procedure gradually introduces the audience' eye to larger text without the shock of going from 18 point text to 36 point text, in the flash of one slide. When using this stepping procedure, often the audience isn't even aware of the type size differences between one slide and another.
When to capitalize words has always been a sticky question in slide design. The most important thing to remember is readability is essential.
As a rule, avoid text in ALL CAPS. Most typefaces are much harder to read in all caps than in upper and lower case letters. Most people read words as much by their shape, as by consciously recognizing the actual letters. Therefore, words are more easily recognized in upper and lower case.
Traditionally, slide titles and bulleted copy use Initial or Headline Caps. Headline Caps describes the capitalization of all words in a title or heading except internal conjunctions, prepositions, and articles. Avoid using periods after copy set in Headline Caps, and try to avoid setting full sentences this way.
When dealing with body copy, if the text reads as a complete sentence with subject, verb, and object, use Standard or Sentence Caps. A period after a bullet item set in Sentence Caps is optional
It's a toss-up between Sentence or Headline Caps if you are creating bulleted text slides or item lists . Usually shorter bulleted items look better in Headline Caps than longer items. If your bullet items aren't complete sentences, it's normal procedure to use headline caps and omit the period after each entry.
Figure 8.23: Capitalization
Again, the most important rule is consistency. Try not to change your capitalization rules from slide to slide, and never within a slide.
There are several methods of making particular words or phrases stand out in a mass of text. Your audience will pay greater attention to these words and will remember them easily. Don't get carried away. Excessive use of type emphasis will dilute the effect and make your text look too busy and cluttered.
The most common way of emphasizing type is to change the typestyle to a bold face. While this works very well, using a lot of bold face in a frame can be very tiring on an audience because it appears to make the text brighter as well as bolder, thus overemphasizing it. Usually an italic emphasis is better because it highlights the text without making it appear brighter.
One method of highlighting text, underlining, should be avoided in slides. Underlined text can be quite difficult to read from a distance and can cause the audience to misread the copy. It's also difficult in some presentation programs to accurately align an underline with its text.
Often overlooked, color is the best way of highlighting text in a slide. When working on color slides, it's just as easy to select copy and give it some color, as it is to bold it or change the typestyle. The best colors to use in highlighting text are yellow and very light blue. Both stand out even against white text. If you need to highlight a word in colored text (as in a title), use white - the contrast will be more than adequate to make your point.
Letterspacing and Kerning
Most presentation graphic packages don't give the user much control over letter spacing and kerning. Normal letter spacing is usually fine for slide work. If you are working with a program that does give you control, such as Corel Draw or Pagemaker, remember text that needs to be read from a distance needs wider spacing than normal. Text spaced tighter than normal will tend to clump together and be very difficult to read from the back of the audience.
There are four ways of aligning text, left, right, centered, and justified. Each way of aligning text has very specific uses.
Figure 8.24: Type Alignment
Left alignment refers to text aligned along the left margin of a copy block. It is the most common way of aligning titles, body copy, and bulleted text. Bulleted text on slides should ALWAYS be set in left alignment so the bullets will line up.
Right alignment refers to text aligned along the right margin of a copy block. It can be used for columns of numbers, forcing the decimal points and numbers to align in vertical columns.
Center alignment refers to text centered on a line, like titles and subtitles. You also can use center alignment for the occasional block of copy that acts as a statement or quotation. DO NOT center bulleted text. The misaligned bullets will look out of place.
Justification refers to text evenly aligned along the left and right borders of a copy block, giving a distinctly blocky look to sentences and paragraphs. Justified text should be avoided in slide design. The large text size used in slide design, coupled with relatively short line lengths, will force justification to add irregular and unwanted space between letters and words. Hyphenation can eliminate some of this unsightly space, but can solve one problem by creating another. Too many hyphenated words in a block of text can be very difficult to read.
Special Type Effects
There are several special type effects that are available in presentation graphics software that can enhance your slides. Special effects should be used sparingly, as they will make your slides look needlessly complex.
The most common type effect used in slides is the drop shadow. A drop shadow gives the illusion that there is a bright light illuminating the slide area. The important thing to remember with drop shadows is that all of the shadows on your slide should go in the same direction. If some are "down and left" and others are "down and right", the audience will sense something wrong with your slides, even though they may not know exactly what it is.
Figure 8.25: Drop Shadows
The Real World:
The Case of the Missing Font
Wednesday, October 3, 4:00 PM: The call was from Larry Thomas at Slides R' Us, Hypothetical's imaging service bureau. Since Jim's samples were due back at the end of the day, a phone call this late meant trouble.
"Hello, Larry. Why do I have a feeling this is bad news?" Jim said.
"You're learning fast, Jim. What fonts did you use on this job?"
"Everything's in Helvetica...Ooops."
"Right the first time. Your "Hypothetical" text at the bottom must be in a different font. It came out as Courier on the slides and all the letter spacing is messed up."
"You're right, Larry. The logo is in Serif Gothic Light. That's our corporate font."
Larry laughed. "No problem. How soon do you really need these slides?"
"I have a meeting with the bigshots after lunch tomorrow," Jim said.
"OK, here's what we'll do." Larry paused a moment. "I checked our font support list and we do have that font. I'll reshoot the slides tonight and have them on our first processing run. I can have slides to you by ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
"If you have the font, how come it didn't come out the first time?" Jim asked.
"You didn't list it when you sent in your order. We have over six hundred fonts available to our customers. We can't keep them all on line at once, so we only load the fonts needed for each job we shoot. Make sure you always tell us every typeface you use in a job, and this won't happen again."
" Thanks, Larry. Other than the font problem, how do they look?"
"Very nice work, Jim. I like the red background, but I'll bet your bigshots go for the blue. Do you want me to send the bad samples over now?"
"No. It's not worth a delivery charge. Just send them with the reshoots. Thanks for your help. Bye."
"Thanks, Jim. Bye."
Depending on your software, there are thousands of typefaces available for creating presentations. To help you choose the right one (or more) for your project, keep the following tips in mind:
- The most important criterion for selecting any presentation typeface is readability.
- Screen and outline fonts combine to give you optimum readability, both on your screen and on your slide.
- Choose the typeface to match your message: Serif faces for tradition and stability, Sans Serif faces for a modern, progressive look, Display and Decorative faces for special effects.
- Avoid trendy, fashionable fonts for presentation designs that have to last.
- Don't use more than two typefaces on a slide. Avoid the "ransom note" look.
- When in doubt, you can't go wrong with Helvetica or Times fonts.
- Keep It Simple! Don't overload your slides with too much text. Remember: One Slide = One Message.
- Step back from your monitor to judge the readability of slides. Six or seven feet away from a standard monitor will give you an accurate idea of what the slides will look like when projected.