A typeface is one of the most significant elements of the overall design process. With over 20,000 typefaces available more being created every day, where does one begin?
It is for the designer to bear the responsibility of two things. Firstly to not prevent the reader their reading pleasure, but to aid and support it. Secondly, is a responsibility to the typeface itself. Good typefaces are designed for a purpose, but not even the very best typefaces are suited to every situation and often differ from signage to business cards.
Deciding on which typeface to use is like searching for new music to listen to. The personality of each font must be judged and looked at for something unique that conveys a particular preference and personality. For better or for worse, picking a typeface is more like getting dressed in the morning. Just as with clothing, there’s a distinction between typefaces that are expressive and stylish versus those that are useful and appropriate to a situation, the job of a designer is to try to find the right balance for the occasion.
To choose: Sans or Serif?
Too much time is spent on the attempt to prove that one is visually better than the other for readability in design and print. Save yourself the trouble and ignore the attempts and inconclusive findings of such long-winded talk and decide for yourself. We all read most easily that which we are most familiar with. Good typography is an exception to the ‘rule’ where rules are made to be broken. Some of the best typographers are those that create their own set of rules within the boundary lines.
Honour the content:
Good typographers don’t consciously think about this, it is instinctive by nature. It is absolutely critical to take time and think about what a typeface is being used for.
Know the content:
When setting text, whether it be for a novel on World War 1 or for a single-word headline, the content needs to be read. The content will lend a hand and be a guide to giving vital clues to the choosing of the right typeface or typefaces. A designer needs to understand the full theme of the text, it is vital for the overall design and final choice of typeface.
Who is the audience?
Who will read this skillfully set text? Doctors, lawyers, designers, children? If it’s not obvious from the text, then it is important to find out who the target audience is.
What does it look like?
If the final design destination is paper, then it needs to be printed and proofed on paper to see what it will look like before it goes to print. What is seen on screen can vary greatly to what is seen on paper.
Remember that typography is an art and that many of the decisions that are made, including type choice, are subjective yet will effect everyone who reads the type. When unsure of a typefaces readability and its success in in a design, ask others (designers and non-designers) to read the work. And always seek out examples of inspiring typography.
Credit due to Mr Julian Hansen for his great ‘So You Need A Typeface’ info-graphic (poster can be purchased here).