Have you said that exact phrase? If you haven’t, you’ve probably heard someone else say it. At the very least, you’ve had this thought. It’s so whimsical and playful, right? Well, it’s also easy and childish: reserved for quickly designing a lemonade sign for your child’s road-side stand. Now before you think I’m expecting professional work from non-designers, let me stop you. It doesn’t have to look like you went to school for Typography, but you can put more thought into your work. Comic Sans is not the only abused font. Oh, no! Ever hear of Trajan Pro? Or maybe Papyrus? While watching Avatar for the first time, I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw Papyrus used as the subtitle font. I never expected Hollywood level artists to touch it as it tends to be a first choice for natural or organic text. These fonts are the first to come to mind, but there are several others on my list of fonts I RARELY use.
The cool thing about typography techniques and rules is that they can be used for anything from magazine articles to a flyer hung in your workplace. No matter where good typography is used, it looks more professional and clean than if you disregard it. I’m not going to dig into the entire subject of typography, but I would like to share a few tips when it comes to selecting a font.
First, I will quickly cover font selection for body copy. There are three main categories font families can fall into: Serif fonts, Sans Serif fonts, and Stylized fonts. The main differences between the first two are the little serifs (or “tails,” “tips”) on the text. Serif fonts add the little tails to the font whereas sans serif fonts are simple and clean. In the case of body copy, serif fonts are actually faster and easier to read. This is because the serifs create straight and clear lines of text across the page, allowing your eyes to simply flow through the copy. Sometimes you may choose a sans serif font for body copy. For relatively small amounts of reading, this is okay. Nobody will have difficulty reading the copy, but if you have a large amount of text in a sans serif font, your reader may actually lose interest part way through the reading. The longer the reading, the more you should consider using a serif font. Stylized fonts can look hand-written, grungy, artistic, etc. They really have no place as body copy, but can be awesome if used as title copy as they stand out and can positively contrast your selected body copy.
Selecting a font for a title, or headline is a bit trickier. You must ask yourself a few questions about your project: What is the feel you are trying to achieve? Is this a classy invite to a black tie gala? Is it a flyer for a company picnic? Is it a fun Christmas card that your family sends to friends? Your font selection should reflect the design of the entire design. Classy fonts tend to be light and crisp. They can be serif, sans serif, or stylized. If you want to have an aggressive or in-your-face feel, you would look for a font that is heavy, bold or perhaps even grungy. There are hundreds of fonts out there that fit all three of those attributes. The list could go on and on with examples of different design goals and the fonts that can be used to accomplish those goals. My main point here is that you need to evaluate your design or project to decide what you want your text to achieve. Once you have established the attributes you want your text to have, you go about the selection of your font.
If you see certain attractive fonts used often, you should avoid using them. Of course, if you evaluate your text and decide one of those fonts really fits your goals, use it. Just make sure you are doing so because it is what’s best, not because it’s the easy option or the popular go-to. I imagine the part in Dead Poets Society when John Keating explains why to refrain from using the word ‘very’. “…Avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose…” (Kleinbaum, 1998). The fonts that I mentioned at the beginning of my post can be treated much like the word “very”. It’s too easy, even expected. Be intentional.
Kleinbaum, N. H. Dead Poets Society. Starfire, 1998. Print.