Selecting typesizes for effective hierarchy

Selecting typesizes depends on the context of your work and your audience. If you are designing for people in their 20s and 30s, you’d expect them to have better vision than an audience who are your grandparent’s age. And you would be smart to use a larger typesize for the older group. All common sense really.

Harder is deciding specifically what typesizes to choose for levels of information such as major headings, text headings, text itself, page numbers and so on. There are a number of existing systems that can help. Consider the following examples.

The question to ask is, do these typesizes show clear hierarchy? Is there any ambiguity about what is the most important type on the page, the next most important and so on?

Below is the same example with typesizes indicated. But why these numbers?


There is already plenty of information about Fibonacci’s progression of numbers and how these can be utilized for typography. Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam write about this in their book Type and Typography. And Robert Bringhurst devotes a  large section to Fibonacci in his book The Elements of Typographic Style.

The golden rectangle is another useful system and I’ll explain this first.


The golden rectangle

The key to using this approach is to select typesizes that are in the ratio of 1:1.618, which is the proportion of the golden rectangle.

If you select 10 pt type as your base, the next size up would be

10 x 1.618 = 16.18

We can round that to 16

If we want to find the next smallest number we’d divide:

10 ÷ 1.618 = 6.18

We can round that down to 6

The first three numbers in the sequence then are 6 : 10 : 16

The next size up from 16 would be

16 x 1.618 = 25.888

We can round that to 26

And using the same idea, the next two numbers would be 42 and 68. So our series of numbers are

6  :  10  :  16  :  26  :  42  :  68

As you see, the numbers in the example above come from this series.


The Fibonacci method

If you already clicked on the link to Fibonacci, you’ll know that the Fibonacci sequence is created by adding together two numbers to arrive at the next number.

So if we start with 0, the next number is 1. The sequence goes like this.

0 : 1 : 1 : 2 : 3 : 5 : 8 : 13 : 21 : 34 and so on.

If we use 6 and 10 from our golden rectangle series above,  and extend the sequence using the Fibonacci method, you’d get the same result as we did from the golden rectangle which is really pretty amazing.

6  :  10  :  16  :  26  :  42  :  68


Another example

Below, using the typesizes 16, 26, 42 and 68 from our sequence above, I have created another example to show how the idea works in practice. The second square is the same example with the actual typesizes used.

The typeface used for these examples is Futura.

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