Morgan Branding
Morgan Branding

branding + graphic design + web design

Designer Resources

Type Tip: Optical Alignment

August 12, 2014

EyeNow that you’ve read our intro to kerning, it’s time to take your letter spacing game to a new level. With the proliferation of programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Indesign, it’s never been easier to kern and align type, and while it does a good job overall, sometimes it needs a little more love. In comes Optical Alignment, or adjusting the alignment of letters past a mathematical formula to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Let’s take a look at this fake headline that is aligned by the presets within the font:


This headline is left justified and aligned left using Illustrators distribute tool. Ilustrator has aligned everything by the left side of each section of type’s bounding box. Turns out it looks okay at first glance, but there is still some refinement that could be done. If you’ll notice Illustrator has focused on aligning the bounding boxes of each piece rather than the content inside, it’s close but not quite. Here are some issues:

The A, despite being aligned still gives the allusion of more space due to the angle.

The dotted rule has had it’s end point aligned but not the actual end of the last dot.

The tail of the capital S is slightly wider than the spine, which also creates some space issues.

The capital T has a sliver of extra space on the left.

The entire date line is still not aligned. The bounding box adds a slight amount of space.

While using the alignment and justification tools as a starting point is a great habit, Optical Alignment is essential. Imagine if that headline were on a billboard, those minute space differences add up to inches and feet, which equals a messy product and potentially an unhappy client. Boo. So how do you fix it? Here are some handy tips:


Squinting allows your eyes to blur the image and reduce it to shapes rather than letters. This allows you to identify issues without the context.

Ask Someone Else

Tunnel vision happens when you’re cranking on a project, call a boss or coworker over to give it a second pair of eyes.

Watch for Curves and Angles

Letters like O,Q,C,A,V, and T will all give you some extra trouble as their curves and angles will shift type.

Eyeball It

At the end of the day, just eyeball it until it feels right. There is a lot of value in objective geometry in design but it needs to feel right. Your goal is to entice your audience on your platform or product not on your glaring type mistakes.

So let’s look back at our headline, now that we’ve addressed the issues, we can optically align each section so it feels more balanced, and we end up with a more polished, cohesive block of text. So next time you’re setting up some type, use alignment and justification but also give it a little love. Your type and your client will thank you for it.

Here is the final with the same red guideline.



Here is the final without the guideline:




A Beginner’s Guide to Kerning.

August 5, 2014


Kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters to achieve a visually pleasing result. And unless you’re a designer—stet that—a designer with a good level of experience or education, you’ve probably never paid much attention to kerning. Well, let’s change that. Looking at the photo above, can you see what’s wrong? If so, you’ve already got a good eye for proper spacing!

Although a subtle detail, proper kerning can really polish your design and show off your ability to manipulate type. Better yet, it can save you from an embarrassing kerning mistake.

Consistency is Key

The most important aspect of kerning is keeping things consistent from one pair of letters to the next. However, this isn’t a purely mathematical thing. It’s visual. You need to make the letters look optically equidistant. This will require different pairings be kerned independently of previous pairings. Two letters with verticals right next to each other, such as “MM,” would need to be kerned differently than two curves, such as “OO.” To achieve consistency throughout the word or headline, it’s good to note that similar types of letter pairings will have similar spacing throughout.

Kerning Tips

  1. Take care of leading and tracking before kerning. This gives an over-arching desired aesthetic to work with before getting into the more detailed letter spacing.
  2. Kern your type upside down. Yep. Flip that headline upside down and kern it that way. This helps you focus on shapes and negative space without being distracted by familiar letterforms.
  3. Kern in groups of three letters. Sometimes working with just one letter pairing can be deceiving as you work through a word or headline. By grouping you’ll generally get better results.
  4. Less is more. It’s better to under-kern letters and overdo it. Too tight of kerning can make things difficult to read, or create one of those kerning blunders mentioned above.
  5. Use different kerning for different type sizes. Larger headlines can withstand tighter kerning than smaller sub-heads. If you’re working on a poster, optically kern your headline and sub-head so the look the same, but aren’t necessary kerned equally.
  6. Lastly, practice. Here’s a fun and practical kerning game: Kern Type.

Back to the “Ready.” image. Everyone say, “ahhh…”


5 Tips for Organizing Email

July 23, 2014

One of the best ways you can up your productivity and overall organization is staying on top of your inbox. Keeping a tidy inbox and organizing emails will help you find things when you need them, stay on top of details, and ensure you’re responding to people in a timely fashion. So, here are some tips to help you out:

  1. Categorize Everything: Start by creating top-level folders like Projects, Finance, and Employees. Depending on your needs, these can be whatever you need them to be. Then, create sub-folders as needed. For us, we create sub-folders for every project that we work on. This allows us to access job-specific details and direction quickly. When new emails come in, file them.
  2. Delete. If you’ve done your job filing, those pesky emails that remain in your inbox should either be responded to, or deleted. If you’ve been waiting to respond to an email for months, make a decision to respond. Then, delete. That old saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” rings true here, too.
  3. Respond quickly. It’s important to respond to emails quickly, then either file or delete. Stop telling yourself you’ll respond later. Do it then, or trash it.
  4. Write good subject lines. Don’t use vague subjects such as “Document” or “Needs.” Good subject lines will not only help the person on the receiving end, but will help you organize and find stuff later. For us, we always include the job name for every email, as well as other details like the design round or job status.
  5. Set aside email time. Although it’s important to respond quickly (see #3), it’s also good to not react to every email that comes in right away. Set aside time(s) each day to address and organize email.

Simple Answer: 5 Tips to Get Great Client Feedback

May 22, 2014

We received an email from a designer that was having a rough go with a client. He had produced several rounds of designs for a postcard and none of them were making a great impression, and he wanted to know how we procure good feedback from clients. Certainly it’s a skill that serves any designer well, and is something that can take a little time to get the hang of.

We all come across design design cycles that prove difficult. The client may be looking for something specific, but isn’t able to communicate exactly what they want. It’s not uncommon to hear things like, “I don’t know. I just know I don’t like it.” The reality is, that’s okay. That’s why they hired you! They’re not able to formulate the visual solution to the challenge in front of them, and they need you to make that happen. Here are a few tips to help you get great feedback:

  1. Call rather than email. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. A lot of times a client will reveal a great deal more through casual conversation than they will in an email. Plus, it’s another chance to build a sincere relationship.
  2. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask as many as you need. I’ve never had a client express any concern over asking too many questions. In fact, this probably shows a level of care and concern for the project that will help build trustworthiness. A real good general question to ask is, “what things do you like; what things don’t you like?” Sometimes they’ll reveal they do like most of the design, but just hate an image.
  3. Talk about end-goals. This is something you should always talk about during the beginning of the design process. Talk about objectives and what the thing needs to achieve. But, feel free to revisit later and re-assess. I’ve found that revisiting goals can illuminate what’s really needed and/or what’s missing.
  4. Don’t get frustrated or snippy. Remain calm and collected, and speak with kindness and respect. If necessary, start the conversation with something like, “Hey, I wanted to call and discuss the last round of designs so that we can better understand what to do on the next round, and do our best for you.” Above all, don’t get defensive or nasty. All feedback is good, regardless of how it comes across.
  5. Take notes. Even if you only have one client or project, write everything down. Not only can this spark additional questions during conversation, you’ll have the necessary information to review later, ensuring you’re not forgetting something important…or some small detail that must be on there.

Client Feedback: Give It a Second

May 12, 2014


It can be tough to spend hours on what you feel is the best approach or solution to a design problem only to receive feedback from a client that takes you back a few steps. There are times when an entire design may hinge on a large, crucial element, and the feedback is something like, “I love it, but I really don’t like that ‘thing’ you’re using.” And that can be frustrating indeed.

My suggestion: give it a second. Take as long as reasonably necessary to digest feedback, and refrain from firing back an antagonistic or defensive email. When you give yourself the space to calm down and let go of attachment to your designs, you provide a forum to respectfully discuss issues raised. The conversation you have will not only give you important information that will inevitably save you time on future rounds, but will get everyone on the same page. Plus, any chance to have a chat with your clients builds rapport, which is never a bad thing.

And now a comic relief moment: Louis C.K.’s “Give it a second.”