An early appreciation for letterforms and fonts is what got me started in graphic design. I collected a lot of typefaces early on because I thought they were super cool. And I still do. Typefaces can be anything—structural, sophisticated, stylish, serious, swooping, silly, stringy—they transform everyday words into artwork with the flick of a wrist and a click of the mouse. MAGIC.
So why, when we have all the coolest fonts at our fingertips, are there text designs that look like a tragically failed cloning experiment of something that should be super-cool and trendy? Well, I happen to have several answers that stem from that one simple question, so here we are.
To limit myself and my word count, today I’ll tackle the topic of font choice. The right typeface plays a large part in how designs look, but selecting the right one for the job can be a bit of a chore if you don’t know where to start.
Typefaces are designed with historical references, mood (humor vs. luxury, age vs. modernism, etc), creative impact, or everyday function in mind. Simply picking something because it looks cool might seem like a solid plan of action, but it won’t necessarily give you the results you want. When a font’s intended purpose is totally ignored, you can get out-of-place or self-conflicting designs.
For instance, while I love an Art Deco font, their iconic shape and style can shift the direction of your design into Roaring 20s territory real fast. Blackletter fonts have flair, but they’re not always easy to read from afar. And handwriting style fonts may be casual and quirky, but if you pick one that’s too trendy, your design isn’t going to have much longevity.
This knowledge becomes especially important when using multiple fonts in the same project. Mixing an Art Deco typeface with something Medieval probably isn’t a great idea unless you know exactly what you’re doing. That’s not to say you can’t mix and match, but—as the old saying goes—you should know the rules before trying to break them.
Learning about font styles and their origins can be as easy as scrolling through categories on a font website or Googling fonts by their era. Doing a little background check on the style you’re going to be working in (e.g., Victorian advertisements or newly released SciFi book covers) will also do a lot to educate your design-brain and help you make informed decisions. Yep, designers do research, too.
It’s important to note, a highly decorative typeface isn’t always the right choice. Sometimes newbies (Past Elza callout, woot, woot!) use fancy fonts to hopefully disguise yet-underdeveloped design skills. Nobody’s fooled, Past Elza. Nobody.
A functional font might seem like a boring choice, but we see minimalism trending in design for good reason. There’s a lot of beauty in the deceptively simple. Pared back designs can be more impactful. Practicality might be the higher priority.
Choosing fonts isn’t about the typeface alone. It’s just one step in the design process. You could purchase the most perfect script font known to mankind, but if the task at hand doesn’t call for elegant, sweeping descenders, it’s going to be the wrong choice. Good design is about every element working together to fulfill a purpose, so make sure the font you pick supports that big picture.
When it comes to selecting fonts and learning typography, practice and observation have helped me more than anything. There are plenty of fonts to work with. Plenty of designs to study. Plenty of tutorials to watch. Plenty of people to ask for guidance. I hope you’ll feel inspired to give it a try.
If you have any font-related questions or would like more graphic design blog posts from me in the future, please drop me a comment!