WRITTEN BY: KADE O’CONNOR
Why is choosing the right typeface and using it correctly important?
Would you wear ripped jeans and flip flops to a job interview? Do you think you’d make many friends wearing a suit to the beach? Of course not! You may be clothed either way, but you choose what to wear everyday based on who you’ll meet and how you’ll want to present yourself to them. Typography, similarly, helps ‘dress’ your materials appropriately for their purpose.
Using type correctly while adhering to some basic design principles can ensure effective communication between you and your clients, colleagues, and prospective employers. Not only will your message be unambiguous and accurate, but also approachable by the public.
What considerations are there in choosing typefaces?
A good place to start is to empathize with your viewers. How do you want your audience to feel as they read your collateral? Think about what aesthetics are popular amongst your peers and competitors; is there an archetype you can model after, or even explicitly be in opposition to?
One helpful rule is to limit yourself to only two typefaces, choosing a display typeface for your logo and headings, and a reliable family to depend on for body copy. This pairing should also share a common feature but otherwise be quite different. Here at the AroundCampus Group, for example, we use Eurostile Bold in our logo and Univers (47 Lt Condensed) for body copy. While Eurostile and Univers are both sans-serif, there’s not a risk of confusing one for the other because Eurostile is so distinctive. On the other hand, it would be a very bad idea to match Helvetica with Franklin Gothic; with only subtle, minute differences, seeing them together can irritate the viewer, and serves no purpose.
Utilizing a robust typeface family allows for incredible versatility while maintaining consistency across elements. These families will include many weights (light, medium, book, black, bold, etc) and/or cuts (oblique, condensed, shadow, etc), and the digital age allows us to have limitless font sizes. You can hardly go wrong using a clear, versatile family like Helvetica for almost any situation.
How do I use the typefaces I chose?
There are many graphic design principles to keep in mind when laying copy, and it can be overwhelming deciding what looks “right”. The 3 most key concepts are hierarchy, consistency, and contrast. Prioritize these and good design will follow.
- Hierarchy creates flow in a design and draws the eye to important information. Create a structure for your content that organizes information in an intuitive way. Elements of equal importance, section titles for instance, should be consistent and uniform in style. However, different types of elements should clearly contrast; a different section title should not be mistaken for the next article heading altogether. Ultimately, you want the design to naturally encourage the viewer to follow the elements in the order you desired.
- Consistency will make your work look polished and greatly affect the clarity of your message. This can be especially important to keep in mind when combining copy from various sources.
- Contrast will help you emphasize and separate elements. Clear divisions also make it easy for the reader to jump to a specific topic of interest, quickly. Notice the use of bold in this post to divide sections and highlight select terms.
Now that you’ve got the Big Picture concepts, we can touch on the fine-tuning aspects of typography. Even though digital fonts have preset spacing, you’ll want to manually adjust the leading, tracking, and kerning from time to time.
- Leading is the vertical spacing between lines of text. If you’ve ever had to submit a research paper “double-spaced”, then you’ve already had some experience changing leading. Professors like the extra leading to reduce their eye stain while reviewing many assignments; the breathing room improves readability.
- Tracking, meanwhile, describes the spacing between characters within a line of text. I most often adjust tracking when I want a title and subheading to occupy the same width of space while keeping a desired font size.
- Kerning specifies individual character spacing, and shouldn’t be confused with tracking. Characters with tapered shapes, like V and A, often require fine kerning adjustments in order to optically appear equally spaced with their neighbors.
I highly recommend delving further into typography, as there is only so much I can cover in one blog post. Check out this Do’s and Don’ts table for tips going forward!