How to Select the Right Typeface for Your Project
Selecting the best typeface for a design project, whether it be branding, web design or packaging, can be a daunting and complicated process to begin with. With typefaces there are infinite possibilities, combinations and ways to get it so very wrong, but there are a few basic steps you can follow to help you along the way.
First, though, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the 4 basic type categories you’re likely to come across on your design travels:
- Serif: Serif fonts have small, decorative lines or ‘feet’ on the ends of each letter which are generally thought to have a smarter, more traditional appearance. A common example of a serif font is Times New Roman.
- Sans-Serif: ‘Sans-serif’ simply means ‘without serif’ and generally have a more modern, informal appearance. Perhaps the most commonly known example of a sans-serif font is Helvetica.
- Script: Script fonts are designed to replicate the effect of handwritten text and often have fluid, joined up letters with lots of flourishes. There are lots of different styles of these, some formal and some more casual. Zapfino is a well-known example of a script font.
- Decorative: Also known as display or novelty fonts, these are the more attention grabbing and stylised fonts which should be used sparingly within the realms of everyday graphic design projects. Curlz MT and Bauhaus are examples of decorative fonts.
There are further categorisation levels within the world of type – Humanist, Geometric, Old Style and so on – but we won’t go into those for the time being. If you’re interested in reading up on the full range of type classification, check out this resource from Smashing Magazine.
So, now that you’re more familiar with the typeface categories, you can work your way through the following checklist of steps to ensure you’re choosing the right type for your design project:
What’s the context?
Before you can go any further you need to consider the context of your project. In other words, are you designing a logo, an editorial layout, a business card or a web page for example? A typeface that works perfectly as part of a logo might not work so well in an editorial paragraph, and a typeface that is perfectly visible on a poster might get completely lost when shrunk down on a business card.
It is argued that sans-serif typefaces work best in editorial copy, especially on web pages as they are clean, crisp and easy for the eye to navigate. Whereas decorative fonts, when carefully chosen, can be effective in logo design (but so can scripts and serifs!). Yes, it’s a minefield. What’s more, the specific typeface you choose can also depend heavily on the next point on our checklist; your message.
What’s your message?
Choosing the right typeface for a design project has been compared by many designers with choosing an outfit to wear; it all depends on what you’re trying to say about yourself. What would your chosen clothes – or your typeface – say about you and your brand? Would you be taken seriously? Would you be seen as appropriately dressed for your surroundings? It’s a great analogy and can
Try setting some time aside to brainstorm the key elements of your brand ethos and the end goals of your design exercise. Quite often this will help you zone in on the typefaces which will help push the messages you have in mind.
If you already have existing colour schemes and other materials to work with, taking stock of these will also help you ensure that your chosen typeface will harmonise and not cause any visual disconnect.
Who’s your audience?
Who you’re talking to should also be a key factor in the typeface you choose for your project. Is the typeface you’ve chosen going to appeal to your audience?
Take two extremes: a funeral director and a children’s toy brand. If you’re designing branding materials for a funeral director, you’d be well advised to seek a serif typeface or perhaps even a formal script to ensure you don’t alienate your audience. They will, after all, be looking for a reputable, serious and quality service.
At the other end of the spectrum, the children’s toy brand could afford to choose more informal typefaces from the sans-serif and decorative categories in order to appeal to their youthful, fun-loving target market.
Do some research
With such an enormous array of typefaces to choose from, it’s a good idea to spend a while combing through some of the best ones, select some of your favourites, thus creating a more limited palette to use for future projects. This way you won’t be tempted to try to combine too many varieties and you’re less likely to become overwhelmed by the choices.
Also, if you’re fairly new to design then it’s well worth scouring the web for inspiration and insight into which typefaces work together effectively and which don’t. As a rule of thumb, try to limit yourself to a maximum of two typefaces or fonts in any one piece of design. Any more than this and you risk overcomplicating things. Sometimes simply choosing one or two different versions of fonts from within a font family can be most effective, e.g. Helvetica bold and Helvetica light.
There is a vast choice of internet resources and tutorials out there to guide you along the way; check out the 10 Commandments of Typography infographic which is a great starting point in learning the basic rules.
Ask an expert
Getting your typography design bang on the money can be quite a tall order and is often best achieved through intuition, trial and error and years of design experience. If you’re struggling to settle on a typeface or if your attempts just don’t seem to be working, you’re not alone! It’s well worth getting in touch with a professional design agency who can use their years of expertise and extensive knowledge to guide you through the veritable maze that is typography design.
Another very important thing the experts can help you with – and something many people overlook during the design process – is ensuring that your chosen typeface is available as a webfont, which is incredibly important if your project is primarily based online. A webfont is a font which is specially designed and tuned for use on the web, and not all fonts are compatible beyond your desktop. So if your typeface isn’t web safe then all your hard work will have been for nothing, as online users won’t see it as it was intended.
Here at Design by Day, we can help you with everything from choosing the best typefaces and combinations to making sure the entire design will work well in whatever context you intend it for. Just give us a shout and we’ll get cracking.