Top tips for working with typography in presentations

When working with typography in presentations, it’s more than simply choosing the prettiest font. If you want to make the most of your slides, there’s a few adjustments you should consider. Perhaps, you should have more than one font? If so, which pair together and which should be avoided at all costs? Should you align your text to the left, right or centre? Should you embolden text? Arghhhh. It’s ok, it’s ok. We’re here to help.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about working with typography in presentations.

 

What’s your type?

The world is your oyster when it comes to choosing a typeface. A cleverly-placed font can set the tone of a document, before anyone even reads the copy. With this in mind, make sure you choose a typeface that is appropriate for what you’re trying to convey. For example, you wouldn’t trust a solicitor who has chosen to type up their contracts in Comic Sans.

If they’d asked our advice, we would’ve told them to choose something that communicates respect and integrity, such as Bodoni or Optima.

But remember, with great type comes great responsibility. There’s no point having a swish type with flourishes coming out the wazoo if no one can read it!

If you’re creating a business presentation, you can’t go wrong with one of these six system fonts. If you’d like to branch out a bit, then you can install one of these custom fonts.

 

Serif & sans serif

In type, serifs are the little extra flourishes that sit at the ends of the larger strokes. They likely came about because the Romans would first paint the outlines onto stone before carving, and the paint brushes would create flares at the ends. Serif fonts more closely represent handwriting and, therefore, are universally acknowledged to be easier to read in print. The serifs create joins between letters, similar to how we’re taught to write in school.

Serif Roman Typography

 
Conversely, san serifs types (sans means without, in case you’re desperately trying to recall your GCSE French) are considered better for online and screen formats. This is because their simplified forms translate well across different screen resolutions. If in doubt, go with a sans serif font for your presentation.

 

Opposites attract

There are many impactful applications for using more than one font in a presentation, however it can be overwhelming to try to decide which typefaces complement each other. Usually, a font with a big personality paired with a more conservative font works well. Pairing a serif with a sans serif can create a nice contrast, but make sure your body copy uses the more conservative text, as you want it to be readable. You can have a little more fun with your header type, as this tends to be larger with more space to breathe.

Avoid pairing types that are too similar. If they aren’t distinguishable from
each other it can look like you made a mistake, and be confusing to your audience.

If you’re unsure, play it safe. Choose a typeface with lots of weight variations (like Open Sans below), and pair fonts from the same family. They were created to work together. Just make sure there’s enough contrast to make the two types distinguishable.

Open Sans weight variations

 
Finally, don’t go crazy with your number of fonts. As a general rule, for presentations and longer pieces of text there should be no more than three or four variations in type, weight or effect. That means you can usually get away with two different typefaces. You can then bold, italicise or change the weight for the remaining variations.

 

Be bold to stand out

Use italics to stress a point or to indicate a publication, such as; Top tips for working with typography in presentations.

A lot of people like to use bold to make their key information stand out. But be careful. If you embolden too many things, what’s important gets lost in a sea of bold.

The underline is not used as much these days. But when it is, it can indicate a title or be used as a stress, in a similar way to italics but with more bite.

 

Get in line

It is really important to be consistent with your alignment choice. There’s nothing worse (maybe a slight exaggeration) than when alignment jumps from left to right, to centre, back to right. It makes it difficult for the audience to know where their eye should go, and paragraphs become hard to distinguish. They’ll spend more energy trying to read your slides than actually understanding what you’re talking about.

Left-aligned text is the easiest to read. In the West, this is the most commonly-used alignment, as we read left to right. It also creates a clean left edge for our eyes to return back to once we reach the end of the previous line, like a typewriter always returning to the same point.

Right-aligned text is usually used for decoration, or to accompany a logo. It’s not very easy to read when in large blocks, because your eyes have to do summersaults to find the beginning of the line again.

Centred text works for small snippets of text, such as posters and book covers. Like with right alignment, your eyes will struggle to follow from line to line, if it’s any more than a few sentences.

Justified text is generally acknowledged as a sure-fire way to create order. However, it can be difficult to get right. Justified text makes the words fit a pre-determined line length, by changing the amount of distance between each word. This means each line has a sharp, consistent edge, but can create big white spaces between words called ‘rivers.’

Justified text can be particularly difficult for people with dyslexia to read, as the ‘rivers’ distract from the actual text.

 

Optimise your copy

The optimum line length for presentation copy is 50 characters. This allows the eye to keep track of where the next line starts, so the jump back is seamless.

One of the biggest peeves when it comes to working with typography in presentations is untidy sentence endings. We’re not talking about ending with a preposition, it’s only really dull people that care about that. We’re referring to how a body of text is shaped.

Avoid raggedy paragraph structures, which cause your – otherwise beautiful – design to look untidy and unfinished.

If you’re using left-aligned text, look out for any big gaps or words that hang off the end of the line. Try using a soft return to move them around, as this creates less space between lines than a hard return and notifies the brain that you’re still within the same paragraph.

This is all great advice, until you add in the complication of widows and orphans.

A widow is a lonely word with a line all to itself. You can fix this with that soft return trick, knocking a word or two down from the line above. Your widow won’t be so lonely anymore.

Widow text example

An orphan is when that single word, or a single line, causes you to have to start a new column, or a new slide entirely. Again, either editing your copy or adjusting the structure of the whole paragraph will fix this.

Try to strike a balance between the perfect paragraph shape, and widows and orphans. If you have to make the call, it’s better to have a ragged line than a widow.

 

As you can see, when working with typography in presentations, there’s quite a lot to get your head around. Follow our advice and you won’t go far wrong. For more tips on creating beautiful slides, check out our presentation design cheat sheet.

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