Starting From The Font

By Josh Hunter

Why font choices are an important part to consider when designing your branding.

When it comes to picking a font, it can be a tricky process. Merely understanding the ocean of fonts that there are out there and how they are grouped is simply perplexing. Luckily, typography teacher, Dan Mayer, put together a handy article called ‘What Font Should I Use? 5 Principles for Choosing and Using Typefaces’ with hints on how to make sure you’re picking the correct font for your style. Font choices can convey everything from company values to an idea of an item's cost, so it’s important to get it right.

Dan opens the article with reference to his time as a teacher of typography and says that most of his students first pick fonts for their originality and uniqueness. He dismisses this as problematic due to making it focusing too much on the aspect of individuality rather than practicality. Dan goes on to refer to picking a font as similar to dressing for an occasion - some fonts you can use all the time and some are simply too expressive and should be used sparingly when you are looking to add more personality. Dan argues that fonts that get used the most should have plenty of weight and cut options so that you have selection and variation within the fonts, depending on the occasion, allowing them to adapt to their surroundings. The chameleons of the font world, if you will.

The article proceeds to put fonts into five different categories, as to make it manageable for beginners looking to get an understanding of font families. The 5 that Dan breaks it down to are: Geometric, Humanist, Old Style, Traditional/Modern and Slab Serif. The article goes into depth on each font style and breaks them down into what they are good at representing and what they are bad at representing, with examples for each category. A short summary is;

1. Geometric Sans:

Minimalist with strokes that are, usually, all the same weight.

2. Humanist Sans:

Less consistent than Geometric with a mixture of thinner and thicker weights on the strokes and is designed upon handwriting.

3. Old Style:

As it suggests in the name, our oldest typefaces that have been had years of development from calligraphy.

4. Transitional and Modern:

A modern take on the Old Style with sharper and more precise points that contrast both thick and thin weights across their letters.

5. Slab serif:

Simple and with little noticeable difference in weight across the lettering but with rectangular serif additions.

Once Dan has identified the importance of picking a font carefully and then broken them down into categories, the article continues onto how to, and if at all, mix these fonts. The article argues that, generally speaking, one font will do. But, if you have to mix them, make sure they are almost completely different. Sharing one common feature, such as when they were made or similarities in their stroke size, can help to tie the fonts together whilst everything else makes them easily identifiable as different. Small differences can distract audience into looking to see if the fonts are actually different, whereas completely different fonts are identifiably different and therefore less likely to distract your viewer from wondering.

As some of us are painfully aware, there are some incredibly festive font faces out there that can occasionally be overused and instead of making something like festive, like intended, they look tacky instead. Like with spices, Dan points out that a little can go a long way. He references to this style as ‘Display fonts’ that should be used sparingly to add a touch of flavour to your design.

Dan then goes on to sum the article up by saying that although these are ideas on how to use and select fonts accordingly, they are not rules. Sometimes you will find fonts that break all conventions such as two geometric sans fonts that compliment each other perfectly. He references back to his original point about dressing and says that, just like dressing yourself in the morning, there are no rules on how you should dress - just suggestions.

Although possibly not the most concise article about font choices, definitely worth the read with some great tips and a gentle introduction into the world of fonts. With plenty of references to real life examples putting his theories into explanation and no confusing or aggressive word choices, it’s simple enough to understand and visualise.