You might not realize it, but fonts play a very important role in how a design (of any kind) is communicated and interpreted. Just like colors, photography and any other graphic elements, the fonts that are carefully chosen to be paired together can make or break a design — and allow it to stimulate certain feelings or express an overall style or personality.
The terms “font” and “typeface” often get used interchangeably in today’s online world, but a typeface is really the family of fonts (think of the popular sans serif “Montserrat”) while fonts are actually the individual variations within the font family (think “regular/roman” or “bold” or “italic.”)
A bold and harsh font that is “in your face” might be perceived a bit differently from one that is lighter, simpler and cleaner. In the same vein, a font that is more youthful will communicate a message in a more playful or energetic way — making you automatically assume that it’s connected to a school or child’s activity. Handwritten fonts can give a design a more “personal” touch, while an elegant script or calligraphy-style font is the perfect choice for formal invitations and events.
Fonts, just like any other elements of design, evoke different emotions because of their integration into the overall typography of a design (think of typography as the way type is arranged and structured to look.) Their individual point sizes, styles and weights can be applied to words for emphasis or to draw attention, placed into longer blocks of copy for easier reading, or often pulled out into sidebars to display statistics or quotes attributed to someone.
Because fonts play such an integral part of a design (whether it’s for an entire website, sales page, brochure, business card or social graphic) it’s important to know how to choose them, how to pair them and where you can find them.
1. Choose a serif
A serif typeface has little lines (or strokes) added as embellishments at the ends of characters. Times New Roman is a generic example. These are good to use when reading large blocks of text (like you often see in books) and are great for professional and traditional purposes. Popular and more sophisticated serif styles used in design today might include Garamond, Baskerville or Sentinel. You want something that can be used for headings or subheadings and is easy to read, especially in large blocks of copy. You will also want something that can be used to help break up the copy and will give someone’s eyes something else to rest on and look at. A big tip is to choose fonts that come from “families” — basically meaning that there are different variations of each (like regular, bold, italic, etc. mentioned above) — this way, they will be more versatile to work with.
2. Choose a sans serif
A sans serif typeface doesn’t have the serif strokes coming off its characters. (Hence the “sans.”) Arial and Helvetica are common examples. This style of font has a cleaner, more modern look and feel. The same tips for choosing a serif also apply to choosing a sans serif. They are simply two different styles of fonts that can be used together, to balance each other out. When we talk about pairing fonts, we are usually referring to teaming up a serif with a sans serif. For example, I often use Museo or Playfair Display as the serif options within my studio branding, while Museo Sans or Open Sans are my sans serif go-tos. It’s just a good rule of thumb to have both that you use consistently within visual branding or even an individual design.
3. Choose a script
A script typeface is, as you might guess, “script-y.” It’s meant to look like cursive handwriting, or on a fancier level, even calligraphy. It’s meant to not be overused, but is great for accenting pullout or highlighted words in a headline or quote. I like to use one to complement my pair of serif and sans serif fonts in a brand to give designs a personal, classy and sophisticated touch. I also use it sparingly within social graphics or printed on my physical shop products, again, to give my visual branding an extra “splash” and dimension.
4. Pair fonts that evoke a certain personality or emotion
Now, choosing the right serif, sans serif and script options to complete your design’s font collection is majorly dependent on what your brand or design is representing, communicating or promoting. Who are you, what do you do, what are you about and whom do you serve? How do you want to make those people feel? Think about the experience that you want them to have when they come into contact with any aspect of your brand or this particular design. The typefaces that you use within your logo, website, marketing materials and social media graphics need to tell stories and represent your brand accurately. So, consider if you want that style (and in turn, the fonts) to be light, modern, sophisticated and soft — or big, heavy and bold. Or, something entirely different! Fonts and the right combinations of them can provide you with major impact — and look and feel. Again, they evoke emotions and express specific personalities.
5. Choose a web-safe font for additional applications
A lot of platforms like Canva and website builders like Squarespace or Wix give you the ability to access a variety of fonts that will display correctly on a desktop screen, smartphone or tablet — meaning that what you see in print, should be consistent with what you see in digital. In the past, when a website was being developed, only certain fonts were considered “web-safe.” What one person might see on their screen when viewing a design might not be what someone else would. Regardless, it’s still important to have a back-up option that can be used and considered safe for any digital/electronic applications… not only for websites, but also emails, e-newsletters, e-books and more. For some brands, they might stick to using a universal option like “Arial” just to ensure that anyone can view or use it. To quote Google Fonts: “We believe the best way to bring personality and performance to websites and products is through great design and technology. Our goal is to make that process simple, by offering an intuitive and robust directory of open source designer web fonts. By using our extensive catalog, you can share and integrate typography into any design project seamlessly—no matter where you are in the world.”
Google, I couldn’t agree more. When you choose fonts that can be used seamlessly across print and digital mediums and you can use them consistently, it allows your brand (or any design) to simply look more professional. Google Fonts is a great resource for only only web-safe fonts, but professional fonts in general.
Now, where can you find the other serif, sans serif and script fonts mentioned above? Check out this post — where I offer resources for downloading free/trial fonts, as well as purchasing premium versions and licenses.