Those of us who are serious about the profession of graphic design have all been through the pain, but have we actually overcome a bad case of centeringitis? When we are ready to pitch our concept to the client, we present our creative brief with a project overview, design brief, our process and ideation and project requirements. When the client is on board we begin our work. Our work begins with our creative brief. This brief provides an introduction, business philosophy, target audience, geographic scope, our research methodology, the specific task, market competition, objectives, project research, project outlines, project goals, source materials and bibliography, items to be produced, and a schedule of delivery. Our process always begins with our research, sketches, color and type studies and then we start our stages and revisions, until we reach our desired results.
The stage that really separates the novice designer from the experienced designer is the typographic exploration and the fine crafted skills that have been acquired from a once specialized field, was absorbed by graphic artists and designers. Eventually, the computer began to replace professional typesetters and it became ugly. The computer used mathematical equations to determine kerning, leading, and alignments. As a result of all this chaos, the education of typography began to diminish and those who hold it close to them have a strong edge in the field of design.
Every student should pick up several books on typography and learn about the history, the letter press, traditional type, the Swiss type movement, the typewriter, computer age type, Emigré, and type in new media. It is important to learn grid structure, kerning, special characters, glyphs, hanging punctuation, letter case, difference between a typeface and fonts, widows and orphans, leading, alignment, typeface selection and attributes, and industry standards. One book I would recommend is The Mac Is Not A Typewriter by Robin Williams.
This book points out many tips to becoming an expert typographer and taking one’s work to the next level. It will teach you things such as when to use an en dash, em dash or a hyphen. It will also explain to young designers the negative effect using all capital letters may have in heavy blocks of type, the effect manual kerning has on legibility, how to use effective leading, and how justifying and centering text may have a negative impact on your design and brand representation.
There are many rules that are broken by inexperienced designers, but it is not too late to correct these mistakes. The one mistake that is commonly seen is probably the most blatant insult to graphic design is the over use of center alignment. It is a path that is taken, because of inexperience and fear. It is arrived at because it it is safe and symmetrically aligned. It is the way my mom would adjust her type using Microsoft Word to create a Lost Kitten flyer so she could hand out to her neighbors. Don’t get me wrong there are some instances where center alignment may be appropriate, but the majority of the time it is not.
Centering type is appropriate when your goal is to create classic and formal appearance. If done correctly it could be quite poetic. It should be done sparingly, because center alignments are less legible because the viewer has to constantly scan for the first word in each line. It may take several seconds longer to get the message across and in today’s “hurry up” environment, it could be the difference between an effective communication and no communication at all. If your client is investing money to spread a message, this could be the kiss of death.
Not only can center alignment be harder to read, it portrays a childish and immature appearance.If this is not the desired outcome, other solutions should be utilized. Just to reiterate, if done sparingly and effectively it could be quite elegant. The biggest violators are those who center heavy blocks of type and imagery for no particular reason.It is even worse, when they do not pay careful attention to the typographic details or rules of typography. It may look like the secretary downstairs designed a brochure in Microsoft PowerPoint and that will be the image that your target audience will react to your brand. Here is an example of one of the causes of centeringitis:
To learn more about typography, read up on AIGA.org, How Magazine and many other resources. A few other books that come highly recommended are Jan Tschihold’s The New Typography, A Typographic Workbook, by Kate Clair, and Grid Systems by Kimberly Elam.