I've been told I can be kind of a font snob. I'll admit it. I am. I have a copy of the movie Helvetica at home. Yes, it’s a movie about a font. And no, I don't think that's weird. Well, maybe not too weird…
I enjoy well-done typography and like seeing the varying uses of fonts in everything we interact with daily. We are surrounded by typography everywhere we look; from logos on products and packaging, to the signs we see driving or in the buildings we work. Fonts are everywhere.
What makes good typography? Let's define typography first. Trusty Google defines typography as “The art or process of setting and arranging types” or “The style and appearance of printed matter.”
But what’s good? It’s probably easier to identify what constitutes bad typography. We’ve all seen it. Ten different fonts on a Powerpoint slide. Font sizes so small you need binoculars to see them. Fonts so garish you can’t remotely read them or are so overused that you harbor an indescribable ill will towards them. I’m looking at you Papyrus, Zapfino and Times New Roman… My list. You are on it.
I don’t blame the end user completely. Many people only think that the fonts preloaded on their systems are the only ones available to use. You can almost feel the internal struggle as they look for something different and see the same old 28 fonts. But I’m writing this today to tell you that help is out there. And there are options.
I could talk about my opinions on typography and fonts for days but I thought I’d distill it down to three big tips on fonts in this blog post to get people thinking.
- I can’t get no serifaction - One of the least understood aspects of fonts is the difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts. For those of you that don’t know serifs are the little dangly things on the end of individual letters. They come in all shapes and sizes and in my opinion can make or break a font. They can make large blocks of text easier to read or in their absence make words or titles have a greater impact. Most importantly is how the use of them together; in the right combination can really produce visually stunning typography. It’s a lot more complicated than picking two fonts you like but the variation and subtle differences can add to any design and I encourage you to pay with that juxtaposition. If you want to learn more, here are two great articles that really go into depth on picking the right fonts. One is from one of my favorite sites Smashing Magazine and the other a great tutorial.
- The larger the better - One of the other things to think of when picking fonts is the use of a font that has a large font family. Many fonts have italic, bold and maybe another variation or two in their families. That can be limiting. But other fonts (like Adobe Jenson, Futura, Myriad Pro, etc. ) have much more diverse variations in their families. Options like extended, condensed, and heavy give users the ability to create subtly different looks within their documents just using the same font for things like captions, sidebars, etc. without the need for a totally new font. The next time you work on a design, try picking a main font with a large font family and using just that. You’ll be amazed by the variation you can get with just one font. And you’ll also be amazed how well it all flows together.
- Open the wallets - This may go against everything you’ve learned on the Internet but paying for fonts, good ones that is, is not a bad idea. Free isn’t always better. The days of searching and finding good free fonts online are waning and likewise the days of having to pay $100’s for professional fonts are as well. There are some great sites out there like Dafont.com and FontSquirrel.com that do have some nice free ones. There is also a burgeoning world of fun, professional and cost effective fonts out there just waiting to be used. There are many smaller font foundries out there selling these professional fonts at very attractive prices and even offering some for free. Places like Myfonts.com and Fontshop.com have great collections of fonts created by some up and coming designers that can really make your designs stand out and not break the bank.
These are just a few tips to get you started and maybe start some discovery on your next designs. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what makes good typography and sign my petition to abolish Comic Sans!
And if you haven’t seen it, I totally recommend seeing Helvetica. It’s a great documentary on the history and legacy of something we take for granted everyday.