In books about Steve Jobs, one common story centers around the connection between his short study of typography in college, and the inclusion of font families in the original Macintosh.

Like anyone who’s read a book about people that inspire you, you tend to copy the things they did, hoping that by reading-otosynthesis, you’ll somehow absorb their abilities and pedigree. So, I took a course on typography. Sort of.

Rutgers doesn’t actually have any courses explicitly on typography, unless I went and switched my major to something other than computer science. So, the next best thing was “Graphic Design for Everyone Online”. The past two weeks have been basics about editing photographs, but we just hit typography. I’m hyped.

What I’ve learned

There’s a lot of fundamentals about type size that have been staring me in the face for a while now. Baselines and X-height are actually really important, and are one of the biggest factors in how big a font looks given a specific font size. A font with a taller x-height will seem bigger than another font, even if they’re both at 16px, for example.

Kerning is also a fun topic, mainly because you never notice it when it’s done right, but looks pretty goofy when done wrong. Usually, it shouldn’t be changed from the default unless you’re making a logo, or using words for featured text, instead of paragraphs.

A quick talk about bold text…

The tech industry has been getting bolder and bolder, and not just with font weight. Starting with Spotify, Google, and especially Apple (look at iOS 16!), tech companies are creating their own font families. While intended to separate their brand from the rest, these fonts are strikingly similar to each other, and are increasing the use of bold text in not just feature text, but it starts to bleed into body text as well.

When everything’s bold, nothing is.

As other companies follow in bolding everything, they sometimes forget some fundamentals of legibility and hierarchy. From my typography unit, I’ve learned that the counterforms (the negative space inside the letters) are key in differentiating letters. As stroke weight increases, somewhat counter-intuitively, the font gets harder to read because the counterforms get smaller.

The takeaway? Use bold text, but use it in moderation, and remember that it’s not always easier to read.

Other lessons