What used to be a term only uttered in the hallowed halls of the design elite, has now become part of daily office lexicon. What exactly is a font? Are fonts different from typefaces? And, how do you know if you are using a ‘good’ one?
A font consists of all the characters of one size of one particular typeface. These characters are upper and lowercase, punctuation marks, figures, fractures, reference marks, and small caps. Fonts can include special characters such as foreign accents, mathematical symbols, ampersands, ligatures, uniform figures that align, and non-lining figures. Not all fonts contain all of the aforementioned characters. Some fonts are more complete than others—it just depends on who designed the particular font.
Steven Heller, in The Education of a Typographer, defines a typeface as “a specific design or drawing of the alphabet and various other associated characters in series of standard variations.” These variations are called a typeface family or type family and can contain Italic, Bold, Light, Extended or Condensed versions of the typeface. The key is that the different styles look similar, bound together by physical characteristics inherent in the typeface design.
This brings us to a new point. Not all fonts are created equal.
How do you know if you are using a ‘good’ font? This appears to be simple question, but in reality has had countless essays, blogs, and books written about the subject. Type anatomy, word spacing, letter spacing, line spacing and graphic resonance are just some of the things considered when deciding if your font is ‘a good one.’
For the sake of brevity—here is the cliff note version and a great example of graphic resonance. For starters, you want to be sure your font fits the message you are trying to communicate in a particular design. For example, you would not use fonts that looks like this:
to communicate a concept like modern or sophisticated:
Next, NEVER, EVER use the following list of fonts for ANYTHING. These typefaces have been fodder for countless graphic design critics and should be avoided at all costs. This is, by no means, a complete list. Different designers have their own personal preferences.
- Comic Sans
- Anything with a city name
- Bradley Hand
- Curlz MT
- Wide Latin
These are, of course, my own personal preferences. But, if you dare Google the topic, you will find many of these on common lists.
You want to choose a font that your audience can easily read and complements or clearly communicates your message. Always consider the impact the font has on the design. Is the font the star of the show, communicating the primary message or do you want to integrate image and typeface? The overall feel of the design must be considered and use a font that does not detract from the message.
Fonts can, and will, make or break your design. The best fonts of all are those you choose and your viewer does not even realize it’s there. Kinda like a ninja—super effective in its task, but not overly apparent. That’s my take!