Kerning matters!

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Sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Kerning matters! The art of equalising the spacing between characters is as important today as it’s always been. Ever since movable type was invented (in China, 11th Century), the physical limitation of individual wooden or metal characters sitting next to each other has resulted in uneven spacing in print.

In ‘out of the box’ versions of popular desktop publishing software, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Indesign, the issue persists, forcing users to make manual adjustments in order to produce well-spaced words. The problem is at its worst in numerical dates, particularly those involving the numbers ‘1’ and ‘0’ (see the example below).


Now, I don’t think that bad kerning should be ruthlessly hunted down in small text – no-one has the time and it’s not necessary. But what does annoys me is when I see it in places where it surely does matter; in newspaper or document headlines, on shop facias, on TV news features. It makes me think that if no-one cares about this glaring error, then what other, less obvious problems are being missed.

The good news is that this stuff is easy to fix. Turning a badly-spaced headline into a well-spaced one takes a few seconds. Isn’t that worth it for a statement that may represent a company, organisation or charity communicating to thousands or millions of people, where what you say (and how you say it) really matters.

Every year, I tell my graphic design students: ‘the only reason this Uni keeps your contact details is so that I can track you down, anywhere in the world, and publicly shame you for crimes against design’. I can see their eyes glazing over. Boring? Yes, but it’s also true.

So come on, join the cause! Business owners, graphic designers, editors, everyone – let’s expose bad kerning and all the other typographic evils before its too late!

Acknowledgements to Louise McWhinnie and The Conversation.