Typography – Rhythm

Derived from the Greek word for “flow”, rhythm is an essential attribute of all art forms. It is moving force connecting the elements within a composition. While the principle of transition is based on maintaining flow, providing for gradual change, rhythm is the heartbeat of flow. At the same time rhythm is a subtle, poetic trait.

In music, rhythm refers to a definite, orderly movement that can create various moods from excitement to sadness, depending on the tempo. Although different instruments nay play different notes of varying duration and intensity, the composer weaves the individual rhythms into a whole. The graphic designer, can also employ several rhythms simultaneously using different lines, shapes, colors and textures, each compatible with the other.

Rhythm is a state of movement that is generated from within the composition. It need not to be formal, but it must convey the graphic designer´s intent.
All rhythm is supported by secondary forces – undercurrents that often go unnoticed, but nonetheless energize the overall dramatic intent.
In typography these secondary forces  are the eddies found within the shapes of letters.

Wang-Hsi-Chih - grass styleThe beautiful grass-style writing of Chinese calligraphy, developed by Wang Hsi-Chih in the Han Dynasty, suggest the simple, pure rhythm inherent in the speed of line.


A different kind of rhythm is found in the Dada artists´combination of letters and words into abstract groupings. Although this Dada poetry in nonobjective as language, it has visual and acoustic rhythm.

Typography rhythm, Raul Hausmann, Dada, Sound Rel, from 1919In the example here, you can see the typographic rhythm set up through the use of space, position, an size.

The simplest form of rhythm in typography involves the continuous row of lines of type on a page. Here the supporting elements of the design must be close to relate visually, maintaining the continuity of movement.

The type is united into a solid mass, with letter, word, and line spacing directing its flow. Just as you can change the rhythm in music by altering tempo, you can add space to increase speed.

You can also extend the lines of type, but if they extend too far, it becomes difficult for the eye to pick up the next line and the continuity is disrupted. Obviously the graphic designer must visualize the type´s next movement to maintain rhythmic flow.

Although rhythm appears to be a continuous flow, it must in fact end. The point of conclusion must not be abrupt, but rather fade, as if the rhythm were passing rather than ending.

Typographic Rhythm by KasperAaberg, graphic designer

You may also like