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Why Fonts Matter

Posted by on Mar 15, 2011 in BLOG, dos and dont's, fonts, website design | No Comments

If you’ve ever had to do a flyer, poster or web page  – and more so if you’ve worked with a graphic designer for any of these – you’ve probably had the “talk on fonts.” How they can make or break a design. How one font “says” something over another. Some people roll their eyes at this and mutter things like “damn design Nazis” or “these artists don’t understand I’m on a deadline here.” There, there, grumpy executive. I promise these “creative types” are really just trying to help you.


How can a font (otherwise known as “typography”) make a difference? Thecommich asked 2 stellar graphic designers to answer this prickly question. Danni Lim is Art Director for J. Walter Thompson in Asia, and Victoria Montilla is a freelance graphic designer (and – full disclosure – Ampliphi Media’s go-to gal for all things InDesign).  Herewith, a slice of the conversation:

So what’s the deal with fonts? Why are they so important?

Danni: The font sets the tone, flavor, image and style of the writing. It also helps direct your eyes toward the flow of the copy. A good typographer obsesses with the details so that readers don’t have to. 

Victoria: No matter how beautiful things are laid out on the page, if the typography is terrible, people will not want to read the message. A bad font can make something look cheap and slapped on, causing the viewer to become distracted by the aesthetic.

(a note from Thecommich: don’t believe them? Check out these bad font choices).

What makes a “good” font? 

Danni: Consistency in spacing and shape. One of the things they made us do in typography class was come up with a set of 9 shapes that look like they’re from the same family. It was kind of an introduction to us coming up with our own fonts. When a font is consistent, it’s more readable and printable in any size. 

Victoria: For long blocks of text you want to use a font that’s easy on the eye, something like Garamond where the serifs (appendages to the ends of the letters) make it easier to go from word to word. Notice how all books use serif fonts? Sans Serif on the other hand, is good for short, bold headlines.

What are your favorite fonts to use when designing?

Danni: in no particular order (because that would take forever):

1.  Adobe Caslon (oh that italic ampersand – one of the reasons I got obsessed with type. )
2.  PF Champion Script (it’s over-used, but I like it anyway – it prints on paper beautifully and don’t get me started on the glyphs)
3.  ITC Franklin Gothic (It’s consistency is so unbelievably reliable)
4.  Gotham (a little more playful than ITC Franklin Gothic, I’ve been using it more and more
5.  Avant Garde (sophisticated and clean)


Victoria:  

I always seem to go back to Garamond or Mrs Eaves as my serif fonts. They have beautiful letterforms and are so easy to read. Helvetica Neue, Trade Gothic, and Aksidenz Grotesque are my favorite sans serif fonts simply because they have a lot of weights to play around with (light, medium, bold, heavy, condensed, extended, etc.) I like fonts with some variation to it because if they’re from the same family they work well together.    


And finally – what’s some advice you can give to font newbies out there?

Danni:  Read and update yourself. Know all the rules before you break them. DO NOT rely on free fonts. Free fonts are done as a marketing tool or by unexperienced hobbyists. They may be fun to play around with but they aren’t technically efficient or may be missing character sets.

Victoria: The best rule? K.I.S.S. Play with contrast for visual interest – serif vs sans serif; large type vs small type, etc. Also – There are so many free fonts nowadays that people forget there’s an art and history to typography. It’s good to understand how the classic fonts were created and what works well together before venturing into more decorative territory.