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Finding Your Typographic Rhythm

CreativePro Magazine Issue #1 coverThis article appeared in Issue 1 of CreativePro Magazine.

Imagine listening to a favorite piece of music—the harmonies, the groove, how it flows, moving effortlessly from one passage to the next. Now imagine listening to music that is out of tune, off tempo, and played without intent. How did you feel?

When you listen to music, the repetition of patterns of sound, words, and notes establishes its rhythm. The same is true for typography: We use letters to form words on the page as blocks of text, then arrange the space around these blocks to give the type rhythm and the document structure. Done well, this creates something that is both pleasurable to look at and easy to read.

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Nigel French is a graphic designer, photographer, and design teacher, based in Lewes, UK. He is author of InDesign Type (now in its 4th Edition), The Type Project Book (with Hugh D’Andrade) and the Photoshop Visual Quickstart Guide (with Mike Rankin) from Peachpit Press. He has recorded more than fifty titles in the LinkedIn Learning online training library.


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  • Sharon Miller says:

    Thank you for explaining this so well. I find it extremely helpful, but there is one issue you didn’t address in terms of kerning and line spacing. When I am doing an interior layout for a book–a novel or nonfiction–in InDesign there is always one problem with type that I must try to fix. An open book shows the reader a pair of facing pages. For me, it’s important that the text on those two pages mirror one another, consistently beginning and ending in the same place. There is no problem with the top of the page, but the bottom can be tricky when protecting for widows and orphans (Keep Options set at two lines top and bottom).

    Example: When a three line paragraph (very common in fiction) appears at the bottom of the page, all three lines are pushed to the next page to avoid a single line at the bottom of the page. If the facing page does not make the same adjustment for a widow at the page bottom, it ends with one more line of text than the facing page. This makes the bottom margins uneven.

    My go-to solution has been to first go to the Character menu and adjust leading and/or character spacing to balance the bottom margins as closely as possible without going overboard. Finally, when the layout is basically ready, I go to text-box options on every page and justify the text box which (I think) simply increases the leading between lines. It’s not ideal because sometimes the two pages look slightly off because of different line spacing. When I think it’s too obvious, I go back to the Character menu and fiddle with the spacing there.

    I don’t know if I am using an ideal solution, but I haven’t had any clients come back to complain that the pages somehow don’t quite match, but I would like to be confident that I’m doing the right thing.

    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Sharon K Miller, Editor
    Buckskin Books

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