episode 26: Typography, Part 2

Welcome to Round 2 of our discussion on typography: how it applies to layout, design, and professional presentation PowerPoint slides. In this episode, Nolan and Troy are joined by the very talented Graphic Design Lead, and Co-Founder of TLC Creative Services, Inc., Lori Chollar.


Lori, can you give everyone a quick introduction about your background and what you do now?

  • Lori: First of all, it’s so much fun to get to be “on” the podcast! And, for those of you missing Sandy, don’t worry, she’ll be back next episode! I have a formal degree, a Bachelor of Science (yes, science) in Applied Art and Design from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (or Cal Poly SLO). Right out of college, I began working in the print industry and eventually ended up running pre-press departments where I was designing for a wide variety of print pieces and an expert at properly prepping design pieces for print. Eventually I went out on my own, with Troy joining me full-time, and it’s Troy who put us on the path to where our company is now with a presentation design focus.


Does everyone understand the nuance of “Typesetting” in the conversation?

  • Nolan: When I hear the word “typesetting,” I think of David Sedaris’s essay talking about the rise of computers and how overnight he dropped his graphic designer friends when they got rid of their fun spray mount and scotch tape. Then, he adds that he fell in with a group of typesetters who would later betray him as well.
  • Troy: I envision hot type like we used to have on display in the lobby of print shop. When you search for “typesetting” or any text related search on image sites hot type is the most common image, but I imagine few designers today have ever seen real hot type letters, let alone used them.
  • Lori: So, this is my formal graphic design education coming out, but the official definition of Typesetting, summarized from Wikipedia:
    • “Typesetting is the composition of text by means of arranging physical types or the digital equivalents. Letters and other symbols are…arranged…for visual display.” So really, this is more of an overarching word, kind of like a verb.
    • “Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point size, line length, line-spacing (leading), letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting the space within letters pairs (kerning).” Now THIS is a word with meat! It’s what a designer does with type vs. someone who just slaps words on a page.
    • I see typography and typesetting a part of the same conversation today. Typography is the design aspect of using text. Typesetting was traditionally the art of laying the physical letters based on the designer specification. But, now with digital design, the two have pretty much morphed into a single idea. A good designer will understand and execute typography well.


Lori, what is your background in desktop publishing apps?

  • Lori: In college I learned how to typeset by entering code into a CRT monitor with a mainframe computer attached to it in the room next door. That would go onto a floppy disk that I then took to an output house in town. I also did a lot of paste-up with wax machines and rollers and non-photo blue pencils. I started desktop publishing Aldus PageMaker (before Adobe acquired it) and then Quark Xpress.
  • Nolan: I learned and used Quark and really liked it, but watched helplessly as they were devoured by InDesign.
  • Lori: I was pretty anti-InDesign in the beginning because Quark was such an excellent program. But then, Quark slowed down and InDesign took over the industry. Safe to say, I’m an InDesign fan now.


What are some of the big philosophical differences between InDesign and PowerPoint. Why do designers do not gravitate to both programs?

  • Nolan: The whole Adobe suite is targeted at professional graphic designers while PowerPoint is targeted at the rest of the world. I think it’s safe to say that while it can be used well by graphic designers, PowerPoint has historically not spoken to them on their level.
  • Lori: It’s almost as if some designers look at PowerPoint as being beneath them. I really appreciate the designer who understands what PowerPoint’s potential is: a blank canvas with a strong arsenal of tools that can be used to create amazingly dynamic presentations. In other words, you can apply your design knowledge and experience to PowerPoint just as you can to Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator. It’s a tool and I would argue that it’s a very powerful tool, if you know how to use it.
  • Troy: A big difference from working in InDesign and PowerPoint is the end product. With InDesign, it is generally a print layout document, whether actual print, PDF, or digital ebook. It is designed to be read and absorbed at the reader’s pace. But PowerPoint not only needs to stylize and layout text using the same professional design principles, it needs to setup text to be read, understood and retained at a quick pace because the presenter controls the pace.
  • Nolan: When Adobe introduced InDesign to compete with Quark, it was a big risk because they didn’t have much experience with type and layout. And at first, it was a bit clunky like creating bullets was a big headache. But they ultimately dominated the industry, and I think they missed a huge opportunity to develop a presentation program.


What are some examples of things InDesign has or does that PowerPoint does not?

  • Troy: The first one I think of is Microsoft Word paragraph styles – which InDesign has with even greater formatting options. If you have not used them, it is difficult to explain their value. Think of the format painter tool with a bunch of preset styles that can be applied to text instantly. The advantage is speed in formatting content and consistency throughout a document, or documents. PowerPoint desperately needs to add these!
  • Nolan: InDesign has a lot of global content control such as styles, but its structure is that you link imagery and graphics, and so you can easily make a change to a JPEG or even PSD file and it will automatically update in your InDesign document. It’s a different way of working with files that is very powerful. PowerPoint has masters, but so does InDesign and InDesign’s have some features that make them more powerful when it comes to formatting a document. I should also point out that Keynote now has paragraph styles.
  • Lori: If PowerPoint had paragraph styles, that would make life so much easier and more consistent! And – yes, Nolan, those are both huge advantages of InDesign. I would also say, and this has a little more to do with functionality, that, for lack of a better word, “instant results” is also a great advantage in InDesign. What I mean is that when you’re working in InDesign and you change paragraph leading, adjust spacing with bullet indents, or adjust character spacing, you see the result instantly. To adjust those things (and many, many others) in PowerPoint, you have to work through a menu and then click “okay” to see the results. THEN, if you don’t like what you see, you have to navigate back to that menu. It is clunky and less friendly to the designer.


Let’s talk about kerning.

  • Lori: Kerning is simply adjusting the space between letters or characters in a body of text to obtain a visually pleasing result. In the old, old days (like before my time) newspapers, for example, would set their type manually, using those little, metal block letters (much like you probably see as home decor these days). The person arranging these tiny metal blocks would have the ability to push the letters closer together or keep them further apart if needed (like a space between words). There’s a lot more detail to this process, but you get the idea. Design programs today and fonts themselves have basic kerning built into them, so I would imagine there are some people out there that have never kerned a letter (or number) in their life.
  • Nolan: Today kerning is mostly thought about, or should be thought about, by the person designing the font set.
  • Troy: I am not certain everyone knows it, but PowerPoint has kerning options. Starting with PowerPoint 2007 the idea of adjusting the space between the letters of word surface with the Character Spacing tool. The top level, and easy option is the presets “tight-normal-loose” on the ribbon. If you dig into the Font pop up dialog and the Character Spacing tab, there is a very simple, almost painful to use, character kerning dialog. Of course, because it is so buried and so painful, that is most likely why few people know it exists.
  • Lori: Can I just pop in here and make a public service announcement? Please, please…kern your numbers when used as a headline or as featured text! It’s 1991…not 1 99 1!


Do Widows and Orphans apply to slide design?

  • Lori: Of course! Text layout is all about legibility and adjusting text to minimize hanging words is important.
  • Troy: The definition of widows and orphans:
    • Widow = less than 7 characters (not words) on a line
    • Orphan = line of text that does not stay in same column as paragraph started
  • Nolan: This goes back to soft-returns and a professional designers fine tuning the layout of the text.


Hyphens, en “E-N” dashes and em “E-M” dashes are professional typography elements that should apply to slide design as well.

  • Troy: There is a difference between them, not only in size, but in what they are supposed to be used for. But Microsoft Office does make it time consuming to format. The Auto Correct tries to help, but the hunt for them in the Symbols dialog is painful.
  • Nolan: So here is what they are:
    • Hyphen: ( ‐ ) is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. It should not be confused with dashes, which are longer and have different uses, and with the minus sign ( − ).
    • Em dash: An em dash is literally the length of the letters “em” in the used font. It indicates a break in a sentence: His friend—also an editor—thought the same thing.
    • En dash: An en dash is literally the length of the letters “en” in the used font. So it is shorter than an em dash, and is used to indicate a range of values: 1999-2017


Tabs vs. space bar spaces – they are not the same thing! One is good, the other very-very bad – do you agree?

  • Nolan: Yes.
  • Lori: Yes! Never, ever use spaces to indent text. When you properly use tabs, you enable future editing to be much quicker, consistent and even have the opportunity to be ultra-detailed and use measurements.
  • Troy: I personally favor flush left, because much of presentation content is single line key messages. It does not make sense to indent a single line, so for consistency everything with no indent is going to be the best option. !


This is somewhat related, but what about when you get a slide from someone and you find there are a few or a whole bunch of returns, spaces, whatever, after the last piece of text in the text box?

  • Troy: This really bugs me, and it makes editing very time consuming. We talked about this before, line spacing and paragraph spacing defaults in PowerPoint are not the best for the audience. Do not use extra returns to separate paragraphs, use the Paragraph Spacing feature.
  • Lori: I am such a proponent of creating well-executed slides, slides that are neat and tidy. A presentation designer might think it’s not a big deal to leave extra returns at the bottom of a text box, BUT, what if the slide design changes and you want to vertically center the text? And, of course, if your text box happens to be set to “resize shape to fit text” then you’ll end up with a text box that’s unnecessarily huge and sometimes those extra returns create problems when you’re trying to select text in another nearby text box. The formatting issues are huge when there is poor execution.


How about the difference between an inch or foot mark and quotes?!

  • Lori: This is feeling like therapy…discussing all these pet peeves! Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, quote marks, whether they are single or double quotes, are almost always slightly curved. Whereas inch and foot marks are straight. That being said, quote marks that face the wrong way drive me crazy! And please, use quote marks for quoting text, not for measurement.


This was covered a bit in the first Typography episode, but let’s expand on leading or line spacing.

  • Lori: I pick up on line spacing almost immediately when I look at a presentation. I can always tell when a presentation is using the default line spacing (single spacing). The PowerPoint default line spacing looks wrong, unfinished, the text feels all lumped into a single block. Good type design will allow the eye to easily group text together and lead the eye from the primary focus, to the next important piece of information and so on.
  • Troy: Single, 1.0, line spacing is the mono-block default. There is no distinction between lines and paragraphs.
  • Lori: Also, all caps text should be customized with reduced line spacing. Properly spacing your text, whether it be line spacing, kerning or letter spacing makes such a difference on slides!

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