How to make designs more successful with typography

Friday 9 October 2015

Earlier this year I was interviewed by the folks at about typography. The following transcript was originally published in May on the web site.

There’s much more to typography than meets the eye. Typographical enthusiast and founder of Lettica, Sarah Cowan, tells you how to use it to its fullest potential; making print more user friendly and how it can make your design more successful.

Digitally-printed wedding stationery

Tell us bit about yourself and what you do

Hello! I’m a freelance graphic designer and typographer with a love of letterpress printing. I specialise in designing for print, and have great faith in the value of printed media in a world where we are bombarded with increasing amounts of digital information.

What got you into design?

I have always been creative and I love making things, but I also have a scientific side to my personality. So design – being creative problem solving – is something that suits me very well.

You are a self-confessed typographer. We love typography here at What got you into this and why does it inspire you so much?

As a child I was given a copy of Frederick Lambert’s Letter Forms: 110 Complete Alphabets, which is probably where my fascination with letters and type all began!

I went on to study Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, where I learned about the history, theory and psychology of typography, design, and printing, with a fabulous range of tutors, and graduated with a first class honours degree four years later.

Typography inspires me because it can be both aesthetic and functional, appealing to both the creative and scientific sides of my personality. The typeface you use has a massive effect on the overall ‘flavour’ of a piece of text. Taken further, type can provide beautiful graphic elements on the page, and become almost illustrative.

Poster design for a dog photographer

Typography also has a significant (and measurable) effect on the success of a design. It can help to achieve certain aims – such as keeping within space constraints while retaining legibility, or helping the user to find the information that they want with ease.

In my opinion, good typography is a skill and a service. It allows you to present text-based information in a way that is clear for the user, as well as ultimately helping your client achieve their intended aim – whoever the target audience might be.

Do you have any favourite examples of typographic design?

I don’t think I have any specific favourite examples, but I’m a big fan of type being used well, and in a way which is appropriate. Good typography doesn’t have to be particularly creative or flamboyant, but if it is clean and clear it will be effective.

A suite of letterpress-printed wedding stationery

As a print designer, which points do you think are important to consider when it comes to creating artwork?

My approach to design could be called ‘design for use’. I think it’s essential to consider the intended user and purpose of the item and work back from there. It’s all about making sure that the end result will be fit for purpose. This may be best achieved by adjusting the format, shape, size, etc from that which the client originally envisaged.

It’s also important to define an achievable and affordable print specification before becoming wedded to a specific design idea. You need to have knowledge about the production techniques you intend to use, or trusted contacts in the industry who can advise you on what will work, and what won’t. It’s not always obvious.

Letterpress-printed luggage labels for a florist

Which software couldn’t you live without and why?

I would be lost without Adobe InDesign. As a typographer it’s essential to have a good quality page layout programme that can handle the intricacies of micro typography elegantly, and InDesign does this very well.

As a freelancer how do you split your time between obtaining new work and completing the work that you have?

Clients can find the experience of working with a designer daunting, particularly if they have little or no experience of commissioning design. Additionally, clients are essential to my success as a designer. So it’s important that I give my current clients my full attention.

Of course, all jobs have periods of quiet time whilst your client considers the design options, signs off on designs, or during production. These intervals are perfect for following up possible leads or promoting previous work.

Letterpress-printed business cards

Where do you go to find inspiration?

I tend to find my best inspiration from situations completely removed from my own sphere. I like to look at food packaging and colours in ranges of clothing or homeware. I also tend not to seek inspiration for specific projects, but rather view feeding my creativity as an ongoing process.

Any tips for those just starting out?

I have found that networking is really important if you are going to work as a freelance designer. You may have brilliant skills, but if nobody knows about them then you simply won’t get the work. It’s also important to present yourself as a professional since your clients will be putting their faith in you to design something, rather than purchasing something they can already see. Meeting people is the best way to achieve both aims.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

I’ll be very happy to be working with a wide range of print-loving clients, sharing my love of typography and letterpress printing, and having a fabulous time in the process!

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Photograph of Sarah Cowan

Hello! I’m Sarah, an independent graphic designer & typographer, helping businesses to communicate their unique selling points through printed marketing and communications.

I’ve been sharing my knowledge about design, typography, marketing, branding and printing since 2014. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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Sarah Cowan