January 12, 2024

Typography Mistakes That Ruin Your UI (And How to Avoid Them)

Author:

Wayne Middleton

Key Takeaways

  • Font Pairings: Choose complementary font pairings, such as serif with sans-serif, and limit to 2-3 fonts to enhance readability and visual interest in UI design.
  • Font Size and Line Height: Opt for font sizes of 14-18px for body text and 18-32px for headings, with a line height of about 1.5 times the font size, to ensure readability and visual hierarchy.
  • Consistency and Accessibility: Maintain consistency in typography and ensure accessibility by using high-contrast text and background colors and designing for readability among users with visual impairments.

Typography Mistakes That Ruin Your UI (And How to Avoid Them)

The Importance of Typography in UI Designs

Typography plays a critical role in user interface (UI) design. It's not just about making the text look visually appealing - typography choices can make or break the usability and accessibility of a digital product. Good typography promotes readability, enhances comprehension, and improves the overall user experience.

Understanding the impact of typography on user experience

This article gives a detailed summary of essential typography guidelines for UI design. It covers important factors such as font combinations, size, alignment, spacing, contrast, consistency, and accessibility. By following these best practices, designers can effectively communicate with text, guide users efficiently through digital interfaces, and create visually appealing designs.

How to use Font Pairings in you UI Designs

When pairing fonts for UI design, the goal is to find fonts that complement each other while still providing enough contrast for readability. Some key recommendations for font pairings include:

  • Pair a serif and sans-serif font - The classic combination. The serif font has decorative strokes on letters, while the sans-serif font has clean lines. This creates visual interest. For example, pair a serif like Garamond with a sans-serif like Helvetica.
  • Combine a display and text font - Use a decorative display font for headlines and titles. Pair it with a simpler, easy-to-read text font for paragraphs. For example, Lobster for display and Open Sans for text.
  • Mix font weights - Use a light font paired with a bold font. Or try regular with italic. Contrasting weights keeps typography dynamic. Pair Playfair Display Regular with Playfair Display Bold.
  • Use font pairs from the same family - Fonts designed together naturally complement each other. Try combining different weights, styles and variants from the same typeface family. For example, Source Sans Pro goes well with Source Serif Pro.
  • Limit to 2-3 fonts - Stick to just a couple fonts for most UI designs. Too many fonts compete and make the design feel uncoordinated. Consider a display font, text font and monospace font.
  • Choose fonts with similar x-heights - X-height is the height of lowercase letters. Mixing fonts with similar x-heights improves consistency between different type sizes and weights.
  • Use scale and contrast - Pair fonts with different scales (small vs large) and contrasting styles (simple vs ornate) to create visual interest. For example, a small-scale condensed font paired with a dramatic headline font.

Font Size

Font size is a crucial but often overlooked aspect of UI design. Choosing the right font sizes establishes visua

The Importance of Typography in UI Designs

l hierarchy, optimizes readability, and ensures accessibility.

When selecting font sizes, aim for sufficient contrast between headings and body text. Headings should be significantly larger than body text. As a general guideline:

  • Headings should range between 18-32px
  • Body text should range between 14-18px

Larger font sizes are easier to read on screens. But avoid going too large, as cramped layouts become difficult to scan. Too small, and the text strains the eyes.

Aim for font sizes that strike the optimal balance of being large enough for easy reading, without occupying excess space or looking disproportionate. Consistently apply sizes across sections.

During the initial design phase, it is important to test various font sizes on real devices. Both zooming in and out should be done to guarantee that the text is still readable and accessible for all users. Adequate sizing aids in creating a clear user interface and enhances the overall experience for users.

Line Height

Line spacing, also known as line height, is a vital aspect of UI design that greatly impacts the readability of text. By appropriately adjusting the line height, designers can enhance legibility and facilitate users in efficiently scanning and understanding the content.

The ideal line height creates adequate spacing between lines so they don't feel cramped, while still maintaining a rhythmic vertical flow down the page. Lines that are too close together make it difficult to track from one line to the next. Too much space creates a disjointed feeling.

As a general rule of thumb, the line height should be around 1.5 times the font size. A 16px font should have a line height of around 24px. For body text, line heights between 1.3 to 1.5 times the font size are optimal. Heading and title text can have more generous line heights up to 1.8 times the font size.

Line height should be consistent across similar typographic elements on a page. When line height varies, it disrupts the vertical flow and makes the content feel disjointed.

To ensure proper line height for readability, UI designers should:

  • Set the line height between 1.3 to 1.5 times the font size for body text
  • Use more generous line heights up to 1.8 times for headings
  • Maintain consistency across similar typographic elements
  • Balance adequate spacing between lines without creating too much distance
  • Review line height across various content lengths to ensure it promotes readability

With appropriate line height, text content becomes inviting and easy to consume. Proper line height helps guide the user's eyes down and across the page.

Alignment

Alignment refers to how text is horizontally positioned between margins. There are three main options for alignment in typography: left aligned (flush left), right aligned (flush right), and centered.

  • Left aligned text has a clean, crisp edge on the left side, with a ragged right edge. This is the most common and readable alignment for body text, especially in Western languages that read left-to-right. Left alignment helps guide the reader's eyes naturally through each line.  
  • Right aligned text has a straight edge on the right side and ragged left edge. This alignment can be useful sparingly, such as for sidebars or pull quotes to create contrast. But large blocks of right aligned body text can be difficult to read.
  • Centered text has even edges on both sides. Centering text places emphasis and focus, so it's ideal for headlines, titles, and short call-out paragraphs. But centered text in long passages slows down reading comprehension.

In most cases, UI design begins with left aligned text as the default, switching to centered or right only when needing to deliberately draw attention or create visual interest in short blurbs. Paragraphs and long-form body text are best left aligned for readability. Avoid centering large blocks of text which strains the eyes. Right aligned text can highlight intriguing pull quotes. Mix up alignment strategically to guide the user's eyes and bring visual cohesion.

Contrast

Making sure there is enough difference between the colors of the text and background is extremely important for making the text easy to read and accessible. Text with low contrast is hard to read, especially for people with vision problems.

When choosing font and background colors, aim for a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. The higher the contrast ratio, the easier the text will be to read.

Some tips for maximizing contrast:

  • Use a dark font on a light background or vice versa. Avoid similar shades.
  • Don't use colored text on colored backgrounds.
  • Make sure interactive elements like links and buttons have even higher contrast.
  • Test contrast using web tools to calculate the ratio.
  • View designs in greyscale to identify insufficient contrast.
  • Ask others to review for readability, including those with visual needs.

With careful attention to contrast, you can create inclusive designs that work for all users and avoid accessibility issues.

Spacing

Proper spacing between elements is crucial for clean and readable UI design. It helps separate content, direct eye flow, and reduce visual clutter. Some key spacing tips:

  • Use adequate space between paragraphs, line-height of around 1.5, and margin for left/right padding. This prevents dense blocks of text that are hard to scan.
  • Add breathing room around visual elements like buttons, photos, illustrations so they don't feel crammed. Use at least 8-16px padding.
  • Maintain space between navigation items, columns, cards, widgets, etc. Lack of space creates visual congestion.
  • Be consistent with spacing units like padding and margin to align elements. Don't use random values.
  • Utilize white space for visual impact, improving flow through negative space. But don't overdo it either.
  • Study competitor spacing for UI patterns. Each content type has best practices for spacing.
  • Test across devices, spacing needs adjusting on mobile/tablet vs desktop.
  • Emphasize spacing around CTAs for maximum attention. Dense areas distract from calls-to-action.

Proper spacing is more than just aesthetic. It ensures UI is usable, readable, consistent, and aesthetically pleasing. Don't underestimate the power of thoughtful spacing.

Consistency

Consistency in typography is important for creating visual harmony and reinforcing branding. Employing uniform fonts, sizes, spacing, and other elements establishes a smooth flow and aids users in quickly scanning and understanding content.

Some tips for consistency include:

  • Use the same fonts and limited font variations throughout a design. Don't use too many different fonts and weights.
  • Maintain a consistent scale and hierarchy for font sizes. Header sizes should have a clear relationship with body text and other elements.
  • Keep line height, spacing between paragraphs/sections, etc consistent. This helps content flow smoothly.
  • Format elements like links, buttons, captions, etc. in a uniform way. Use the same treatments each time they appear.
  • Be consistent with font styles like bold, italic, caps, small caps, etc. Only use a style for its intended purpose.
  • Use the same fonts at the same sizes across different platforms and devices. This maintains unity in the user experience.
  • Stick to the same alignment approach, such as left aligned or justified. Avoid switching back and forth.

Consistency strengthens muscle memory, speeds up content consumption, and prevents visual confusion. Users appreciate and expect consistency. It elevates typography from a mess to a symphony.

Accessibility

When designing an interface, it's important to consider users with visual, motor, or cognitive disabilities. Typography choices can greatly impact the accessibility of an interface.

  • Use sufficient contrast between font colors and background colors. People with low vision need high contrast to read text easily. Avoid color combinations like light gray text on a white background.
  • Don't solely rely on color to convey meaning. Also use bolding, italics, or varying font size. Color blind users may not be able to distinguish information.
  • Make sure text can be resized without breaking the layout. Users with low vision should be able to comfortably increase font sizes.
  • Use simple, easy to read fonts. Stylized or cursive fonts can be much harder to decipher for people with cognitive disabilities.
  • Allow enough line spacing for screen readers. If lines are too close together, the text can become jumbled and hard to parse.
  • Design buttons/links to be distinguishable from body text. Underlined links help users know what's clickable.
  • Provide sufficient contrast between visited and unvisited links. People with visual impairments rely on this cue.
  • Use concise, straightforward language. Reading level should not be too advanced.
  • Allow customization of font styles. Some users have preferences like heavy fonts to deal with dyslexia.
  • Follow accessibility standards and test with assistive technologies. Validate the interface works with screen readers.

Testing

It's important to test typography across different devices to ensure readability. Some things to check:

  • Font sizes - Make sure text doesn't appear too small on mobile devices or too large on desktop screens. You may need to adjust sizes for different breakpoints.
  • Line lengths - Check that lines don't extend too far across on wider screens. Keep line lengths between 45-90 characters for optimal readability.  
  • Letter and word spacing - View your typography on actual devices to ensure spacing looks proportional and text is readable.
  • Alignment - Flush left alignment can appear ragged on some mobile browsers. Test centered, right, and justified alignments.
  • Layouts - Headers, paragraphs, and other elements may shift and overlap in some mobile views. Check for any layout issues.
  • Accessibility - Test for sufficient color contrast and font size for low vision users. Ensure text remains legible when zoomed to 200%.
  • Performance - Large web fonts can slow page loading. Check that fonts display properly even before fully loaded.

Testing on real devices helps spot typographic issues that may not be noticeable on desktop alone. Be diligent about cross-device testing to ensure typography displays beautifully everywhere.

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Wayne Middleton

About the author

As a creative author, I specialize in uncovering patterns in data, design, and marketing to develop innovative solutions. My expertise covers marketing automation, digital marketing, strategy, SEO, SEM, PPC, digital design, branding, and front-end development. With a knack for managing marketing and creative projects, I ensure timely delivery and budget efficiency. My portfolio includes work with clients in pharma (AstraZeneca, BMS, Gilead, Amgen, Kowa) and other sectors (BBC, Sony, Discovery Channel, Travelodge, Reebok). Renowned for my attention to detail and a unique English perspective, I bring fresh, creative solutions to every challenge.

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