How to Pick the Right Font: 3 Tips



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“What font should I use?” This is a genuinely difficult question for anyone with a computer at this point. As of this writing, there’s at least 360,653 to choose from on alone. In reality, the figure is incalculable when you include custom typography. With so many options at your fingertips, how do you choose? Here’s three tips to help get you started.

Bauhaus School of Design

1) Less is More

The Bauhaus school pioneered the idea of simplicity way back in the early 20th century, and we’re still seeing the effects today. Such is relevant in the current trend of flat/material design. The unifying thread throughout the years has been a simple one. Don’t overdo it. Just because there’s a font made of candy canes, and it’s coincidentally snowing outside, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

Massimo Vignelli, one of the worlds most accomplished graphic designers, famously stated in his classic book The Vignelli Canon (PDF), “I don’t believe that when you write dog the type should bark!” He later went on to say, “Personally, I can get along well with a half a dozen.” Keep in mind, this is the man who created the New York City Subway map, a landmark in Modernist Information design. As such, avoid decorative fonts for anything other than a title or heading.

There’s also the issue of how many. Ideally, your project should contain no more than three different typefaces. Two is even better. One is best. If you’re having trouble adding emphasis or differentiating elements of your projects, use a bolder or lighter style of the same font. Anything beyond the magic number of three means your piece will become disjointed, and therefore difficult to discern.

Serif, Sans-Serif, Script and Decorative

2) Know Your Options

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s jump into the styles from which you’ll choose. First, we must start by saying there’s dozens of possible classifications that fonts can neatly be organized within; however, we’ll save you from a rather lengthy history lesson and break it down into four base categories. For a more detailed look, head on over to the Fontology section of

A. Serif

First on our list is serif. Initially adapted from the handwriting of Italian Renaissance scholars, serif fonts are the result of a gradual shift from calligraphic roots. You’ll notice the slight projections, or “serifs” at the top and bottom of the font. This is what separates the font family from the next on our list.

B. Sans-Serif

“Sans” in French means “without”. Therefore, “without serif” is the literal meaning. Though the first recorded instance of a sans being issued dates back to 1816, it took another century for it to gain popularity. This font family is easily recognizable in comparison to its progenitors as being stoic, modern and minimalistic.

C. Script

Next up is script. Meant to mimic cursive handwriting, script is a unique classification that ranges from black-tie formal to car-wash informal. Common characteristics of the typeface include an extreme angle to the right, low x-height, adjoining letters and lengthy ascenders and descenders, in the style of penmanship.

D. Decorative

Lastly, we have the decorative category. Far and away the largest of the bunch, decorative encompasses everything that doesn’t fit into the first three, and should be used very sparingly, if at all. In this division, you’ll find fonts that resemble time-periods, states-of-mind and, you guessed it, candy canes.

3) Dress for Success

We’ve all heard to dress appropriately for the occasion at hand. Picking a typeface is no different. Donning a nicely polished set of oxfords is a smarter choice than a beat-up pair of chucks when attending an interview. The same can’t be said for your afternoon jog, though. Snag your running shoes out of the closet!

When choosing a font, you must know your audience and the purpose of your piece. Keep in mind, grabbing attention doesn’t always require a crazy style of typeface. A Larger, heavier version of your body font will likely do just as well, if not better. With that, you get unity among your elements, and a clearly defined style to boot.

Above all else, remember the purpose of the typed written word. To be read. If your project appears difficult to discern, or worse, illegible, then you’d better have some fantastic pictures to compensate! That last part was a joke, don’t make your project illegible…

A good suggestion is to find a handful of fonts you like, and see how far they can take you. Honestly! Try it out for a month or two and you may be surprised with what you find. Doing so will remove a large amount of guesswork, thereby speeding completion, and ultimately help you focus more on form, composition and color. Happy designing!


web design and development in canton, ohio

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