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Kerning, Tracking, and Leading: A Simple Guide to Effective Typefacing

Kerning, Tracking, and Leading: A Simple Guide to Effective Typefacing

When designing for the web, you have to keep one thing in mind at all times: readability. It doesn’t matter how great the design is, how gorgeous your layout is, or how genius your use of color. If people can’t read the words on the screen (and this is assuming there are words on the screen, of course), the website cannot serve its function. Three of the most important elements of readability for text are kerning, tracking, and leading, though many people either get them confused or simply don’t understand how to use them effectively. We intend to fix that today.

Kerning, Tracking, and Leading

If you boil these three down to the absolute fundamentals, you’re looking at the spacing between characters on both the X and Y axes. Digging in, you’ll see there’s more to it than that, but in essence, you’re looking at the relationship between text characters. It’s important to understand the relationship between these three attributes because good design and readability depend on your using them to the best of your ability.

And that comes with time and practice. But once you start paying attention to them, you’ll notice how kerning, tracking, and leading are used both effectively and poorly on everything you read and see on a daily basis. Let’s dig in.

Adjusting Kerning, Leading, and Tracking (and More!)

Actually, before we dig in, let’s go over how you change and adjust these settings. While most word processing programs have options for adjusting them, most people won’t ever need to when writing copy or typical text. It’s when you’re designing text that it becomes more of an issue, so programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. will have the options you need most.

In the Adobe products, you just have to open up the Text Layer Character Panel, and you have everything you need. The V/A is kerning, the VA in a box is tracking, and the underlined, vertical A’s are Leading. You can also adjust strikethrough, weight, size, super/subscript, and so much more in this panel. It’s worth getting used to keeping this open.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

Just place your cursor where you need to adjust the spacing and go.

What is Kerning?

Let’s begin with kerning.  Kerning is the simplest of the three, really. It’s the space between two side-by-side characters. In a word, you can have variable kerning because the space between the first two letters may be different than between the last two (and so on).

In monospaced fonts, each character takes up exactly the same amount of horizontal space with no overlap. The A is the same width as the B as the J as the K. Adjusting the kerning between these letters tends to be easier than variable spaced fonts, where the letters might overlap as well as print at different widths.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

In the example above, we have three lines that were copy and pasted using the monospace font Courier New. The top row’s kerning is set at 0, which is the default and uses whatever spacing the font designer chose. The second row is set equally between letters (and spaces) at 200. As you can see, the spaces are uniform between characters across the line. Finally, the third line was kerned at random with both positive and negative spacing within each individual word. As you can see, each character can have different kerning on each side.

What is Tracking?

Tracking is similar to kerning, but it’s not kerning. Where kerning is the space between two individual characters, tracking is the uniform space between each individual word or line. Instead of worrying about how things are put together on a letter-by-letter basis as with kerning, you make sure the entire line is uniformly spaced.  Looking back at the earlier example image, the second line could have been done in a much easier way.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

What I did for the kerning was to place my cursor between each individual character and adjust to 200. I essentially tracked the whole line. Which is what you should do. Simply highlight what you need to track and adjust it in the Character Panel.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

Be aware, however, that some fonts and scripts may become unreadable as the tracking is adjusted.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

Handwriting fonts and cursive typefaces are set with specific kerning, and if you adjust the tracking, you will get gaps in an otherwise unbroken line. Or going the other direction to compress the lines, you might simply make the script unreadable.

What is Leading?

With Leading, you’re no longer dealing with spacing between characters. Leading is the space between lines.

Kerning vs Tracking vs Leading

Effectively making use of leading lets you effectively make use of whitespace in your designs. Cramped lines — even with correct and well-done kerning/tracking — can make a miserable experience for readers.

In some places, you might see leading called line height, but they’re roughly the same thing. One good rule of thumb is to make sure that you leave at least a little space above and below your characters. As you can see in the top example, a 40px font has a 48px line height. That means that no matter what, there will be spacing between the letters. If you set that at or lower than the font size, you will get character overlap.

Additionally, this is the height of the line that the characters sit on. This is not the height of the character. Just as kerning and tracking don’t make the characters fatter or thinner, tracking doesn’t make them shorter or taller. It is simply the space around them.

As you can see, however, the options under the kerning/tracking in the Photoshop Character Panel adjust the width/height of characters independently of kerning, tracking, and leading.

Photoshop/Illustrator Keyboard Shortcuts

The only downfall of the Character Panel is that it gets to be pretty annoying when you’re needing fine adjustment. Thankfully, there are keyboard shortcuts that make kerning, tracking, and leading an absolute breeze to use.

These shortcuts are for the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, so they might be different in Gimp or Paint.NET or another program.

  • Kerning – With the cursor between two characters, hold ALT (or Option on Mac) and use the left/right arrows to adjust the kerning
  • Tracking – With the word/line highlighted, hold ALT (or Option on Mac) and use the right/left arrows to adjust the tracking of the highlighted text
  • Leading – Highlight the lines you want to adjust, hold ALT (or Option on Mac) and use the up/down arrows to adjust the space between lines

While you can place your cursor or highlight the text and type values into the Character Panel, the keyboard shortcuts make the whole process much less tedious and time-consuming. Plus, you get more granular control, so you can make better designs that way, too.

(As an aside, if you aren’t using Photoshop/Illustrator/Premier, etc. keyboard shortcuts regularly, we highly recommend learning, as it makes your workflow much smoother, more enjoyable, and more productive, too.)

Wrapping Up

Kerning, tracking, and leading are fundamentals of readable text in web design (and design in general). Learning the difference and how to use each of them effectively will make you a much better designer. It may seem a little odd that something as simple as the spacing between letters and lines could have such a large impact, but once you deal with it for even just a little while, you will never look at websites, advertisements, logos, or billboards the same way again.

Personas: What They Are, How to Make Them, and How to Use Them in Marketing

Personas: What They Are, How to Make Them, and How to Use Them in Marketing

Marketing personas can help you prevent this problem. In this article, we’ll explain what personas are, how to create them, and how to use them in marketing.

Let’s jump in!

 

What Marketing Personas Are

Marketing personas are characters designed to represent sections of your target customer base. They’re used as tools to help understand customer motivations and predict their behavior in order to ultimately increase sales.

For example, if you create a product that you believe will appeal to teenage boys, creating a persona for them is a good idea. You’ll give him a name, an age, and state a problem of his you can solve. You can also note things such as whether he has a car, or an after school job.

This makes for more efficient and effective marketing. When you’re trying to decide how to market your product, personas help you see through your customers’ eyes. By considering their values, you’ll better know how to tap into your customers’ emotions to make your products or services seem more appealing.

Persona marketing is useful in a variety of different situations. For example, it can link with content marketing to help personas for your target readers. They can also help you determine the best way to communicate with your customers, and what kinds of promotional strategies to use. They can even be useful for inspiring new products or services based on your customers’ needs or desires.

 

How to Create Marketing Personas (4 Steps)

Creating marketing personas can be a time consuming process. However, if you put your personas to good use, it will be well worth the time and effort. Let’s run through four steps and discuss how to create a persona!

 

Step 1: Gather Information About Current or Potential Customers

The first step in creating a persona is research. You will want to gather all of the customer information you’ll need to create useful personas. Demographics including age, gender, income, family status, education level, and location are a good starting point.

However, information such as their preferred method of communication matters, too. You may reach teens on social media, but have a better time contacting older people on the phone. Determining which keywords your customers find most engaging will also be helpful.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to get at the core of what drives your customers to make purchases. Aspects such as their values, biggest challenges, needs, and desires are critical components for your personas. This kind of information will be the most vital for helping you understand your customers’ motivations.

There are several sources you can use for compiling this information. Facebook Insights and Google Analytics are useful tools if you already have a Facebook profile or a website. You can also use customer surveys, interviews, or in-person interactions with customers to bring together the data you’ll need.

Step 2: Find or Create a ‘Persona Template’

You’ll find lots of methods for displaying persona information. Bulleted lists, short first-person narratives from the personas’ perspective, tables, or even a combination are popular options. Any method is fine, so long as it exhibits your personas’ information in a way that makes sense to you.

You could also create comparative personas by including charts and graphs to note information like what percentage of your customer base each persona makes up. Sliders can denote information such as personality traits, or a willingness to spend.

There are plenty of persona templates to be found online. However, if you’re feeling creative you could make your own, or mix and match parts of templates you’ve found. This way you’ll have an ideal template for your specific purposes.

 

Step 3: Determine the Right Number of Personas for Your Business

How many personas you need will depend on your business, and both your current and ideal customers. Persona marketing is most effective when you strike a balance between enough personas to cover your customer base thoroughly, without introducing ‘decision paralysis’ in a given situation.

First, determine how many problems or challenges your product or service solves. If each of those problems applies to a different kind of customer, you’ll need a persona for each. Niche businesses will probably have fewer personas, since they’re targeting a specific market.

You should also consider which types of customers you most want to appeal to. It’s possible that you’ll be able to identify a very large number of personas you could market to, but if you’re really only interested in targeting a select few, create personas for those types of customers and focus on those sections of your customer base.

Step 4: Humanize Your Personas

Giving names to your personas might feel a little silly, or at the very least, inconsequential. However, the opposite is true. Humanizing your personas by naming them – including details like their hobbies and job titles, and even finding photos to represent them – is part of what makes a persona an effective tool.

Persona marketing works best when it’s used to create a customer-centric brand. Rather than being a profiling tool, marketing personas are supposed to help you see through the target customers’ eyes to better understand them.

Humanizing your personas helps to accomplish this by making your personas seem more like real people. Each will have problems that you’re trying to solve with your products or services. In addition, they’ll have their own preferences, desires, and narratives that will play into how you’re able to reach them.

You can use basic tools and assets such as name generators and stock photos to help with this part of the process. You can even take things a step further and seek out the most common names for certain demographics – like age or job title, for example.

 

How to Use Personas in Marketing

The uses of marketing personas are vast and varied. While most people think of them as useful for developing ideas for marketing specific products, they can also help with lead generation and communicating with customers. They can even provide inspiration for new products or services.

Once you’ve created your personas, you can start creating content to attract more people to your business. Through the use of keywords in blog and social media content, you can help your business rank when customers are searching for an answer to their most common problems, bringing new leads to your business.

Personas can also help you pinpoint how best to contact your customers. For example, knowing which social media platforms are most popular among certain demographics will help you ascertain which platforms to use to get in touch with your target audience.

Speaking of target audience, personas are frequently used in content marketing to craft blog posts, social media posts, and even email blasts. Knowing your audience can help you determine the best tone, style, and language to use to speak to your customers.

Different kinds of promotions appeal to different kinds of people. For example, the frugal-minded may wait for sales, limited-time products, or other discount deals. In contrast, contests and giveaways excite more competitive types. Fortunately, your personas can help you determine which promotions are most likely to motivate your customers.

Finally, knowing the problems or challenges that your customers face can point you toward new product and service lines. Ultimately, finding ways to solve these issues for your customers could open new doors for your business.

 

Conclusion

When you’re able to see your business from your customers’ perspective, you’ll better understand how to appeal to them. Personas make customers’ desires and motivations more clear so you can better create content, products, services, and promotions.

In this post, we’ve explored some of the benefits of marketing personas, and how to create and implement them for yourself. Try following these steps to create your own marketing personas:

  1. Gather information about current or potential customers.
  2. Find or create a persona template.
  3. Determine the right number of personas for your business.
  4. Humanize your personas.

The Basics of Branding

The Basics of Branding


Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.

Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.

The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.

Brand Strategy & Equity

Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.

Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.

The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.

Defining Your Brand

Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:

  • What is your company’s mission?
  • What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
  • What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?

Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.

Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center .

Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:

  • Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
  • Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
  • Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business–how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.
  • Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand.This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. You get the gist.
  • Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
  • Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent.
  • Be true to your brand. Customers won’t return to you–or refer you to someone else–if you don’t deliver on your brand promise.
  • Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can’t do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.