by Ellen Lupton
Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking with Type and Graphic Design: The New Basics, discusses structuring of information and typographic hierarchy.
Every body of text, especially a complex one like a newspaper or magazine, has an implied hierarchy, an order of importance among elements as well as a range of purposes and functions. A headline seeks to catch attention quickly, like a spicy snack, while body copy aims to hold a reader’s focus over time, like a leisurely meal. Some readers prefer to look at pictures (and the captions that explain them), while others seek out maps, charts, and graphs that present a rich density of data in a compact space. A single type family with multiple weights and styles allows designers to create variety and difference while maintaining a common vocabulary.
Graphic designers use typography to articulate the differences among these diverse experiences, allowing readers to find the content they want. The page layout shown in the illustration above suffers from a lack of hierarchy. Even though the text settings vary in size, the copy is all of a similar weight and overall texture, creating a page that dulls the eye and discourages the mind. It’s not enough to simply make the main headline the biggest thing on the page; it also needs to have its own weight and physicality.
In the above illustration, the designer has used the elements of an extended type family in order to give each part of the page its own look and feel. Weights vary from heavy to light, creating contrast across the overall page and inviting readers to scan the text and choose among articles, captions, and shorter blurbs and headlines. Some type styles conserve space, while other dominate it. Some styles are dramatic at large sizes, while others perform best when scaled small. The designer of this layout has employed the full range of a type family while using other devices as well to break up the page, including vertical and horizontal rules and tinted backgrounds. Together, these diverse elements create a more satisfying experience for readers.
Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, design teacher, and author of numerous books and articles on design.