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Choosing a Font — RULE 2

Today, the second of four rules on how to select typefaces.

But first, just in case anyone thinks that we’re exaggerating just how much thought has been expended on this subject— by people who know far more than we do—here is just a small piece of a beautiful flow chart designed to help in the decision making process. This chart was created by Julian Hansen and is availalbe online, in its entirety, here.

Flow Chart thanks to Julian Hansen

Do not go CRAZY with fonts.

It really is a good idea to restrict yourself to two or three typefaces on a single project. This is not as limiting as it may at first sound. Remember, a typeface offers a variety of font styles (italic, bold, condensed) so working with all the fonts of two typefaces actually gives you plenty to work with.

Yes, yes, it is true, there are a very few exceptions to this rule but only an experienced graphical designer, with innate talent, should even try incorporating more than three typefaces on a single project.

When deciding which fonts to combine in a single manuscript or display piece be sure the different fonts are different enough that they produce contrast, but not too much, and not too little… Balance is essential. On one hand, two totally clashing fonts can produce too much contract. That is not good unless the very thing you’re trying to convey is conflict. On the other hand, the use of two very similar fonts is problematic for another reason. Two fonts that are very similar can produce a sense of confusion as the eye notices the differences but on a more unconscious level than a conscious one. This disrupts the act of reading as the mind is pulled away from the meaning of the words a bit to try and figure out… what is different here?

Newspapers are a good example of how to mix a limited number of typefaces to good effect. One practice seen in newspapers regularly is the use of a serif typeface for the body text and a san serif typeface for the headline. Newspapers are also a good example of something we’ll look at in tomorrow’s post, the all-important matter of legibility.

One last point—We want to be sure and repeat one of the links we provided in yesterday’s post. The site was created by a graphic designer, Marko Dugonjic, and is quite lovely, in addition to being very useful. This site allows you to select fonts and see how a small text block produced with that font will look on the screen. Better yet, you can see three text blocks produced with three different fonts, next to one another so that they may be compared easily. Here’s the link.


3 Responses

  1. Rather like the way you combine, here, the two ways to tell a story: show and tell. Using both in combination is, of course, how literature is really done.

    Nice post!

  2. Glad I no longer have such momentous decisions to make. This labyrinthean flow chart reminds me again that old age has its own rewards.

  3. Good post. Looking forward to seeing you write more articles about this subject.

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