Join Jill Butler for an in-depth discussion in this video 16 Emphasize ten percent or less of text, part of The 33 Laws of Typography.
- Law 16: Emphasize 10 percent or less of text. There will be occasions when you need to emphasize some text, to call attention to it. Emphasizing text is a great way to add visual interest to your documents and break up large gray text blocks. Emphasis also helps signal to readers that certain words require extra attention. But you want to be careful. You don't want to emphasize too much text on a page because then you've basically emphasized nothing.
Emphasis should be limited so that, when it is used, it does what it's meant to do, which is call attention. You should emphasize 10 percent or less of visible text on a page. This means that, for every 10 words, only one word should be emphasized. Any more than that, and you risk over-emphasizing. In these first couple of examples, we'll look at emphasizing body text. In this first example, notice how most of the text in this paragraph is bold.
Bold text is a great way to emphasize text, but this is too much. So much text here is bold that the bold loses its impact. Now, in this second example, you can see that only a few key words are emphasized. Notice how those few words really jump off the page and call your attention. Here, the bold text is doing its job. It's emphasizing the key words without overdoing it.
Now let's look at an example using a business card. In this first card, all the text on the card is big and attention-grabbing. Now, the problem is that because all of the text is basically the same size, nothing really stands out, even though it's all big text. In this example, you can see that certain elements on this card have been emphasized using different text sizes. Here, the person's name is the largest item on the card.
That helps emphasize it. It helps the name stand out. Then the job title is the next-largest size text on the card, and then contact information is the smallest text on the card. On this poster, here we're emphasizing text using color. We've decided to use red as our highlight color. Because so much of the text is red, the red text is not functioning as a highlight. If the goal was to use the color red to highlight text, this design is not achieving it.
In the second example, just a few bits of text have been colored red, and that helps them jump off the page. The red highlights are now serving their purpose and they're emphasizing important information. Let's summarize. When you're creating a document, pay attention to any words or phrases that are particularly important to the document's message. It's a great idea to emphasize this text and really help it stand out. This signals to readers that emphasized text is especially important.
But you want to be careful and not over-emphasize. By emphasizing everything on a page, emphasis becomes the norm and nothing stands out. Nothing looks more important than anything else, and therefore, nothing is emphasized. That's law 16. Emphasize 10 percent or less of text.
- Maintaining a visual hierarchy
- Avoiding bad paragraph breaks and line-breaking hyphens
- Staying away from all caps and underlined text
- Using proper punctuation
- Choosing the right typeface