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The grave matter of kerning

Black and white grass illustration with headline "RIP kerning"

Have you ever felt like your brain is wired a little differently? As a designer, I often find myself wondering if everyone else sees the world like me. Take, for instance, a recent trip to the cemetery. Bare with; I promise this isn’t about to take a dark turn! So, whilst putting down flowers, I couldn't help but notice the questionable kerning in the inscriptions on a lot of the headstones around me.

If you're not familiar with the term "kerning," let me brighten your day. Kerning refers to the spacing between two letters in a piece of text. Not all fonts are created equal. If the kerning is too tight, the letters will look cramped and hard to read. Too loose and you’ll end up with awkward gaps between your letters. It may sound like a mundane detail, but, it can make all the difference to legibility and balance. It can be the difference between good design and bad. In my world, it’s most noticeable in brand marks or headlines. And apparently now in headstones too! Once you notice this kinda stuff, you can’t unsee it. And it’s all around us.

Black and white example of poor typography showing poorly spaced letters in a headline

Bad typography could also cost you dearly!

Aside from kerning, I was also struck by the lack of typographic variety across the graveyard. I did warn you my brain was wired a little differently! Almost every headstone uses the same traditional serif fonts that have been used for centuries. For such an intensely personal thing as one’s final resting place, I was struck by the lack of individuality and personality. Maybe that’s saved for the colourful adornment of wind chimes and garden ornaments or artificial flowers. Part of me is relieved. Imagine spending all eternity beneath a headstone set in Comic Sans. There’s something reassuring and respectful in the sombre carved letter forms blocked in gold. But can they not be spaced with a little more care? As technology replaces some of the traditional stonemason’s craftsmanship of years gone by, I hope good typography can still prevail.

Amongst all that uniformity, some people have still managed to unashamedly stamp their personalities. And they don’t need fancy fonts or gushing words to do it. Whenever I visit, I look out for the grave marker shaped like a pair of trousers, complete with a belt. There’s definitely a story behind that. I hope it makes those left behind smile when they visit. An inside joke only they get.

So, if you’re looking for a designer that will sweat the small stuff, who understands the power of white space and who can ensure your typography stands the test of time, I’m always happy to chat. Or if you just need some dead good design, drop me a message. Puns are optional.

Does anyone else go around wishing they could nudge the letters on shop signage or billboards just that little bit closer or is that just me?


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