For many people launching a new brand or business, the job of picking fonts can be a daunting process. There seem to be endless choices ranging from conventional-looking fonts to novelty Halloween ones, with no way of understanding how to choose. Picking the right ones for a given project is a mix of rules and visual intuition. It takes years of experience to develop a feeling for it. Here are some of my tips!
Typeface personality vs brand values
Assess the personality of each typeface and think of their appropriateness to the key values of the brand you’re choosing for. Think of the overall context of all elements of the brand together combined with clarity and legibility for the communication format i.e. is it a headline on an article? Is it body copy for a webpage? A designer’s job is to find the right balance. Save those expressive horror typefaces for a seasonal greeting card!
Every designer has a few go-to typefaces that are like a pair favourite shoes: they go with almost everything and seem to adapt to their environment. They are most flexible if they have a number of weights (Light, Regular, Bold, etc) and/or cuts (Italic, Condensed, etc). My particular favourites are are: Helvetica, DIN, Meta, Avenir.
On a visit to Paris a few years ago, I was perplexed and also impressed to see a high use of DIN and Gill Sans for menus, although probably more appropriate for corporate communications than a dining experience.
Each text element on a piece has a different job. As headlines are scaled up, these can be more expressive display fonts. Subheads need more emphasis than body copy and need clarity. Body copy must be legible, yet the character forms lend an overall variety of flavours. It might sound obvious as an example but you wouldn’t a display font for a small price text. It will put people off struggling to read it! Other cues to think of are; if you’re after open and friendly, a font with round ‘O’s and letter forms could be a good fit. If your brand needs to convey a sense of history, heritage or luxury, a serif typeface could lend well – depending on the overall context of typographic structure.
Some very useful tools and resources
If you ever need to identify a font that’s embedded flat into an image, you can upload it to www.whatthefont.com and it will suggest the closest it resembles. If you see a font on a website you fancy for a particular brief, right click and select ‘Inspect’ from the menu, on the right of your browser the developer’s section appears. Scroll down to ‘Styles’ until you see ‘font family’. If that’s a bit beyond you, a simpler approach is to download a browser plug-in called ‘Font Ninja’ which allows you to hover over the fonts on a webpage and it identifies them for you.
A good source of free fonts with multiple weights and cuts is Google Fonts, you can download them for print and otherwise use the web font version for webpages (or your website builder may offer them). If you ever use Font Squirrel or Dafont, be wary of the novelty options! A better affordable source is a creative asset marketplace like www.creativemarket.com where they often do bundles at huge discounts.
Have fun finding what works
Hopefully you’ll find something useful here, it takes practice and experience to choose for each brand. Sometimes you may find one typeface has all the weights you need to flex it nicely. Whatever font personalities end up in your project’s family, each one plays its unique role and bounces off or balances out the others! Enjoy the interplay of all of these dynamics, getting it wrong and tweaking it as you explore!