Fonts—also called typefaces—can be pretty mysterious. Some people find that analyzing and choosing fonts comes to them very naturally, while others struggle to see the differences at all.
“Design” is much bigger than fonts, and wherever you fall on the spectrum of typeface appreciation, you can still be a great designer. If you’re struggling to choose or pair fonts, here are a few tips that might help to get you unstuck:
- To help learn about typefaces and how they’re constructed, start by picking combinations of simple, contrasting fonts—in the image below, we’ve chosen Futura (top) and Times New Roman (bottom). Compare the same word or sentence in each typeface, and just spend some time zooming in close to observe the differences in how each letter is drawn:
- When choosing a typeface, consider what you want that typeface to “say” in the context of your project. One of the main reasons to choose a particular font is to convey a message, emotion, or make some kind of statement. For example, would you describe a particular typeface as loud or quiet? Basic or fancy? Complex or simple? Organic or geometric? Explore these associations and see if they can help you decide. Which of the following options do you think would be the best choice here for “Flowers By Irene”?
- It’s a good rule of thumb to use a maximum of two fonts in any project, unless there’s a very clear and compelling reason to use more.
- Beware—there are a lot of very bad free typefaces out there. Make sure you’re choosing from a decent set of options so that you don’t end up battling with a font that simply isn’t very good. Google Fonts is a reputable place to start.
Finally, remember that keeping things simple is pretty much always a recipe for success. One way to simplify is to choose just one font for a project, and create variety by using different “weights” of that font. For example, we could use Helvetica Bold for headings and Helvetica Regular for body text. Using this kind of approach, you’re pretty much guaranteed to achieve a harmonious result.
One of the twentieth century’s great designers, Massimo Vignelli, famously used only six typefaces in all his work: Garamond, Bodoni, Century, Futura, Times, and Helvetica. Vignelli explains his approach in The Vignelli Canon (it’s available for free).