Typography: When Ornate is Too Ornate

Okay, me again with the lettering. I promise I don’t only obsess about this. Most of the time. This blog will be about other things! Eventually!

Full disclosure: I love fancy typography (Major plot twist, huh?). It’s up there with buttery leather-bound notebooks and those shiny pens that glide over paper like a shark torpedoes effortlessly towards its prey. I can stare at a gorgeous bit of text for an unhealthy length of time. 

So yeah, I understand the temptation to use a fancy, swirly font and slap on more flourishes than you’d find in a 17th century aristocratic dandy’s signature. I get it. I really do. However, the point of a title is to, well, be read. Preferably the first time. Without any squinting, or “Is that a G or a Q?”

With typography-based designs, it’s easy to go overboard because that text is the big, glorious jewel in your cover’s crown and you want it to be the shiniest, sparkliest, beautifulest jewel ever. So, on that note, here are some common overzealous mistakes I see pop up all the time with typography-based cover designs:

1): They went bananas with the layer effects.

Gleaming metallic effects. Moody, grimed dystopian steel effects. Glinting gold bevels. If you have Photoshop, it is hard to resist the temptation to use special layer effects on all of your text, regardless of relevancy or common sense or even sanity. Everything. Must. Be. Shiny.

Well, the hard truth is, sometimes it really should not be shiny. Layer effects are fun, but must be used wisely. With great fabulousness comes great responsibility. In the end, if it makes your design look like a magpie’s hoard rather than a balanced, readable cover, nix the layer effects and go for something simpler.

2): The glyphs are multiplying!

Yes, the glyphs. Oh why must you tempt us so, ye foul creatures? If your font is customizable with loads of fancy glyph options, again, restrain yourself from making every single letter have a giant swirl or loop or curve, etc. These special letters and flourishes are meant to accent text, not turn it into a visual circus.

3): Individual words are broken up into segments and it… doesn’t work.

I understand that sometimes, a one-word title can look a bit plain. Likewise, I get that if you have a long title, it can be hard to fit on your cover. However, breaking a word into two or, Gods forbid, three segments and stacking or placing them in different parts of your cover will not aid you in your endeavor.

On rare occasions, this tactic is nifty and still be easy to read. However, lots of the time it’s simply a typographical jumble and looks like you were trying too hard.

4): This handwritten cursive font is about as legible as my own handwriting, which equals an apoplectic chicken with a crayon taped to its beak.

Yes. Font selection. The biggest sinners here often tend to be Fantasy and YA/Teen Fic. Fantasy, because we want our fonts to be, well, fantastical. YA/Teen because of those trendy brush script fonts everyone loves. Romance, Historical Fiction and SciFi are also common offenders. Other genres have issues too, of course, but I find these are the main culprits.

Regardless of genre, font selection can be tough. You can sift through dozens of options before finding the correct typeface. Even if you think the font you have is da bomb, really, objectively look at it from the PoV of a reader scanning shelves or scrolling thumbnails on Amazon. Will they be able to read it in one go? If not, pick another font. 

5): The title is longer than my grocery list.

This is more an R&D issue than a final design one, but it does impact the cover greatly. If you or your designer are having difficulty getting a very long, wordy title to fit on your cover and still look nice, perhaps consider a new one. Alternately, try narrower typefaces, or tricks like placing “The” or “A”, etc. inside larger letters. There is often a way. But if there isn’t, be flexible. Remember, this is a commercial package for your product, meant to sell–readers, your customers, come first.

In conclusion: Text must equal readability first–this applies to titles, author names, subtitles, even the back cover blurb. Everything else is secondary. Happy designing!

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