I remember in school when I had to type essays on the computer, I would scroll through my font list in Microsoft Word to find the biggest font available so that it looked like I had a lot to say. Though it may be a bad example, the point is, even as a kid I was choosing a specific font with the intention of solving a problem and improving the message to my audience.
Typography is a powerful and universal tool that can be used by anyone to enhance their message. If you’re unsure of which font to choose, don’t know the difference or you’ve used Comic Sans in an un-ironic way, (first of all, stop), then allow me to drop some knowledge and share some things to consider next time your scrolling through your font choices.
Sure it’s easy to just choose “Baskerville” from your list of fonts because it’s near the top and looks fancy, but when you understand that:
- John Baskerville created the Baskerville typeface in 1754
- It’s in a Traditional or Neoclassical type style which was Romain du Roi typeface in France during the Age of Enlightenment
- Ben Franklin admired and popularized Baskerville in the U.S. through its adoption as one of the standard typefaces used by the Federal Government
- Much of society criticized Baskerville, they said he was “blinding the nation” with his typeface’s high contrast and thin strokes
- Many people believed that the criticism actually stemmed from his love affair with Mrs. Eaves
- Mrs. Eaves is a typeface created in 1996 by Zuzana Licko as a revival to Baskerville and named it after his lover to honor the forgotten women in type history. (Girl power!)
Armed with background, you can now better understand and appreciate a font’s history, and maybe choose it with intention, rather than by whim.
What are you trying to say to your audience? Your type choice can contribute great impact.
For instance, Modern or Didone (Romantic style) typefaces are classified by precision, cleanliness and extreme contrast, and are typically used for high fashion and luxury brands (think of logos, such as Vogue and Cartier). They offer a complete 180 from their Humanist predecessors – the humble evidence of handwriting is stripped away and a clinical elegance stands in its place. “They are elegant, and like all things elegant, they look unhurried, calm and in control.” But, it’s important to remember; every type has its purpose, time and place. Because of their extreme contrast and their vertical flow, Romantic typefaces generally aren’t good to use for extended copy.
Though a typeface may be beautiful, it may not work in every situation. Choose with purpose and strategy in mind – unlike the naming of our next type style, Slab-Serif or Egyptian, which have nothing to do with the ancient empire.
With the Industrial Revolution, came the age of advertising. Brands competed, attempting to stand out and scream louder than all the rest. And as a result display faces were born – type for large sizes and short copy. Robert Thorne designed the first Fat Face, which resembled a plump Didone. He also coined the term “Egyptian” purely because it was all the rage at the time. Often posters would have half a dozen different styles of these loud display faces on a single page.
Fast forward. The other day I was sharing logo options with a co-worker. Both designs had the same text in black and white, but one logo had a more Modern influence (the other was more Slab-Serif). The feedback: one looked feminine and fancy, while the other felt more masculine and casual. While Moderns have a quiet elegance that shines through their high contrast, Slab-Serifs convey sturdiness through their solid base, stemming from the industrial age. The answer: Typography greatly affects the end message. Ultimately, how does your audience perceive this identity: fancy or casual?
So, how do you select typefaces?
- For body copy, choose a typeface that is legible in a small size and give it space to breathe. You want extended copy to be inviting; a block of heavy condensed text may turn readers away.
- For headlines and large text, be more adventurous.
- That being said, if you’re mixing typefaces, be sure they mix well.
Before you choose at whim, I invite you to consider your message and then consider which typeface says it best. How do you want others to perceive your message? Typefaces are created with purpose and you have the power to use them to their fullest potential.
What is your favorite font to use and why? Tweet us your thoughts @DEVENEYnola using the #DEVchat hashtag.