TypeTalk: Why Distorting Type Is a Crime

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above.
Q. Why is stretching or squeezing type in headlines considered a type crime? I occasionally get this request from art directors, clients, and marketing. I know it’s considered wrong, but I don’t know how to reply to them.
A. Distorting type in any way, whether it be stretching, squeezing (AKA squishing), or slanting, is a type crime of the highest degree. It distorts the proportions in a way that destroys the integrity of the letter shapes. It can also reduce legibility by creating a fun-house effect.
You can see the effects of artificially condensing a typeface in the Futura example below. It has its own condensed version that maintains pleasing curves and the minimal stroke contrast of the regular version. The computer-scaled version to the far right fails miserably in comparison, with its ugly egg-shaped contours and exaggerated stroke contrast.

Check out the difference between Futura Oblique and the computer-generated slanted version below. The fake slanted version on the right has a more distorted shape, as well as uneven and exaggerated stroke contrast.

Finally, observe the unpleasant result of stretching Univers. The true-drawn extended version, second from the left, looks far better than the two examples of computer stretching on the right.

A way to avoid these requests for artificial distortions is to pick a typeface or type family that contains legitimate, true-drawn width variants. When created by a skillful type designer, a width variant maintains the weight contrast between thick and thins; the relationships of the horizontals and verticals; the axis of the character stress of italics (when applicable); the thickness and integrity of the serifs, if any; the overall width of character; and the spacing.
Don’t give in to these requests to “set to fit” or fill in white space! Instead, work with the chosen typefaces and other elements to make a successful composition and overall design.
Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at [email protected]

Ilene Strizver is a noted typographic educator, author, designer and founder of The Type Studio in Westport, Connecticut. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, is now in its 4th edition.
  • Anonymous says:

    If this was a crime why does graphic programs allow you to do it? I work for a publication and this is done ALL THE TIME

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree for the most part in body copy. But for titles, headlines, and other design elements I often tend to jack with type by smooshing, stretching and the like… I’m a criminal like that :-)

  • Strizver says:

    Good question! Software is designed by engineers for companies who want to provide as many features as they can to stay competitive. All programs give you enough virtual rope to hang yourself with, design-wise. Their role is not to police the design industry but to stay profitable.

    For this reason, in today’s digital world typographic crimes are committed all the time just because they can be. It then falls on the designer’s shoulders to know right from wrong, typographically speaking.

    Ilene Strizver

    .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT

  • Anonymous says:

    When I use fonts such as BILLY, in InDesign, a black box appears between words (or when I use space bar). What can I do so boxes do not appear?



  • Anonymous says:

    I do retail design for a certain popular grocery chain and they FREQUENTLY ask me to stretch out the type to “make it fill up space” and it drives me insane! Instead I try to stack the words and different font sizes which sometimes they go for and sometimes they don’t and force me to stretch the type and I cringe thinking about how much I’m paying every month on my student loans for design school where I learned to NEVER do that :(

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with your statement, unfortunately many people will look at the stretched/squished/expanded versions you’ve shown and say, “I don’t see a problem with it” As a designer we just shouldn’t be doing it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Ohh the crimes we are forced to commit in the name of the client! The worst for me was altering a registered logo that reads horizontally left to right. The sales rep wanted me to stack the letters VERTICALLY!!! I said ummm…yeah that’s a registered logo, if i do that it won’t be there logo and they could get upset and its just wrong. He asked me to do it anyway. It looked ridiculous but he showed both versions to the client anyway….sigh….I haven’t heard anything about the job since. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve had to explain to sales reps the damage they do when they try to take liberties with registered logos. Some company’s don’t care…but lots do!

  • Anonymous says:

    how dare I commit a typo when griping about pet peeves…I meant “their” not “there” in my previous comment…

  • Anonymous says:

    I don’t think most consumers are savvy enough to discern perfect typesetting to down & dirty typesetting. I will devote more time to a national ad’s typography than I do to a local ad. Stretching a headline to help it stand out on the page is only a misdemeanor in my book… write me a ticket…

  • Anonymous says:

    I see this topic discussed all the time. Who has decided it is a crime to stretch or squish type? Mostly the unemployed I would venture. I may be a newbie to this industry with only 22 years of experience, but I can honestly say that I have never been able to complete an ad without stretching or squishing a line of type somewhere in the ad. The days of hot metal are gone. Wake up and smell the coffee (incidentally I think it stinks!) people. It’s time to let this subject die. Typography is no longer an art form. Anyone with a computer can set type and get paid to do so… no matter what the horizontal scaling is set at. I would love to see samples of all these ads that don’t have scaled text in them. I would guess the ratio is about 1 out of a million!

  • Anonymous says:

    I used to teach typography and the very first thing I would to tell my students was NEVER under any circumstance were they to squish, scale, or in any way distort type. There are millions of typefaces in the world, and most modern typefaces come in so many weights from ultra thin to ultra heavy and everything in between…if you are distorting type you are not serving your client…you are being lazy. Get out on the interwebs and find a typeface that works for your needs. There are PLENTY. Or, take a type-design class and learn how to design the a typeface yourself. As for comments that anyone can set type nowadays…I suppose anyone can, but it takes someone trained and diligent to do it well. Thanks!

  • Anonymous says:

    Just because ‘everyone does it’ doesn’t mean it’s the best way forward. If that’s your attitude to typography then it’s a wonder you’ve had so long in the industry to be honest.

    No matter what you or people like you who couldn’t care less about design say, typography IS an art. Anyone can pick up a paintbrush and make shapes with paint, it doesn’t mean painting isn’t an art.

  • Anonymous says:

    “I work for a publication and this is done ALL THE TIME”

    Whomever is the Art or Design Director of this publication should be taken out back. I would NEVER allow that on my watch.

  • Alvin Martinez says:

    “Who has decided it is a crime to stretch or squish type? Mostly the unemployed I would venture.”

    Or those that actually know the rules of typography and good design.

    “I may be a newbie to this industry with only 22 years of experience, but I can honestly say that I have never been able to complete an ad without stretching or squishing a line of type somewhere in the ad.”

    You say have 22 years of experience, yet you couldn’t find a typographic solution without distorting type?

  • Lucas says:

    Thank your for an educated post about this. I’m old school and remember when knowing ones typography was an important part of the craft. A lot of young designers don’t know the difference between good typography and bad. I see type being abused all the time and it makes me cringe. Bad kerning and tracking, mismatched fonts. Too many fonts on a page etc. These days it’s a sign of a skilled designer when I see they understand typography.

  • alexander says:

    what about things like typography portraits, and warping type to make it look 3D, or to make it look like it’s going around a sphere or something like that? I’m new to type and really want to get into type illustrations so i’m wondering what the rules as applied to that stuff would go.

  • Frank says:

    Design of any kind, even TYPE, is Art. It’s good to know the “rules”, but don’t let any one tell you what to do or not to do (It’s like telling a film director to never break the 180 degree rule). Use your instinct and make your own decisions. Breaking rules intentionally and for a reason can have huge impact on design and composition in a positive way.

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