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Justified lines, which are aligned on both the left and the right, are created by varying the word spacing in each line. This is controlled by hyphenation and justification settings, which are called H and Js for short. Hyphenation settings in design programs, such as InDesign and Illustrator control how many letters occur before or after a hyphen. Hyphens help regulate word spacing by allowing for word breaks. I'll talk about the principles and the desired results of good word spacing, so you'll know what to look for.
Good word spacing is like good letter spacing. It should be invisible. That means if you notice it, there's a problem. Since we read groups of words at a time, we need just enough space to separate words. Too much word spacing breaks a line of type into separate words, too little and the words run together. You should have a minimum of six words per line in order to avoid gappy word spacing. Here's a real-life example of what happens when you try to force the lines to justify.
When the lines are too short, and there aren't enough places to add space, you will see rivers of space in a passage of text. This disrupts the rhythm of the horizontal lines of text and creates unsightly gaps. My teacher used to point this out by saying you could drive a truck through those spaces. If your column of text is narrow, consider setting your text flush left. If you are setting your type flush left, you still need to pay attention to the shape that is being created by the word breaks at the end of each line.
Sometimes awkward shapes can appear and a little bit of tracking or a strategic turning of the word onto the next line will improve the look of the ragged right edge. What you should be trying to achieve with the rag is an evenly balanced irregularity. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but here are some examples. You should try to avoid hyphens in flush left, rag right text. Here's a nicely balanced rag under the headline just the numbers. In these three columns of flush left, rag right text, we see an even easy flowing shape of the rag, a balance of lines of different lengths, nothing stands out or calls attention to itself.
Keep in mind that every element whether space around a form or form itself should be in balance. Qualities and elements exist in relation to one another. Letter spacing and word spacing should be in balance. The shapes of the letters should be in balance with the shapes between the letters. These timeless and immutable principles of balance, rhythm, and harmony are the same principles that govern good design in any field, architecture, fashion, music, sculpture, painting, or the arrangement of a meal.
These principles are in the related shapes of the letterforms in any beautiful piece of calligraphy or beautifully designed typeface. Everything you need to know about balance, rhythm, and harmony are right there in the letters themselves.
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