Use Leading and Kerning to Improve Readability

Typography_UseLeadingAndKerningToImproveReadabilityHave you ever created a brochure or pamphlet and stared at the text, thinking, “dang, that looks so text heavy! but what can I do to fix it?” Obviously, small documents like brochures and pamphlets have space constraints, but if you want your document to look more inviting and readable, you’ll almost always want to adjust the leading, and sometimes the kerning. It takes more space, but looks much less text-heavy. The white space is almost always welcomed by readers.

First, a couple definitions. If these terms are new to you, make sure you take note of them. All good visual communicators know when to adjust the leading and kerning on a document.

Leading (pronounced LED-ing) is a fancy term for line spacing, or the space between lines. If you have only ever designed documents in Microsoft Word, you don’t have great control over leading—all you can really do is set the document to double- or triple-spaced lines. But if you’re using Adobe InDesign, you can make the leading any size you want, in points.

Kerning, on the other hand, is the space between two letters (spacing between many letters is actually called “tracking,” but you may hear designers use the term kerning for that as well). Kerning is good when typefaces seem crowded, or when two letters seem awkwardly close together.

So when should you adjust leading? All the time! (Well, at least when you are creating paragraphs or large bodies of text). If you are working in a 10-point font, say Century Gothic, you’ll notice that the default leading in InDesign is 12 point (you can find the leading drop-down right underneath the font size in the tools palette). This isn’t horrible, and if you left it at 12, your readers would certainly be able to read the document. But if you increase the leading point size to, say, 18, your document will look much better! And your readers will enjoy reading it much more. If your text is looking heavy, lighten it up with some nice spacing.

Kerning is most useful when you are trying to slightly increase the width of a word (say, in a logo) to align nicely with a word above it. But kerning is also nice when, for example, a hyphen awkwardly touches part of a letter or number (like a “7” or “f”). In fact, look at the quotation mark on the ‘f’—there needs to be some kerning there! One other useful way to use kerning is to spread words across a large area of a page for visual effect. You don’t want to get carried away with the leading and tracking, but know it is there and use it when needed.