Using Type

11 Picking the right typeface

Choosing the typefaces, you use in a project is not an easy task. It isn’t as though there is a rule that says, “Humanist sans serifs are used for all text type” or “Blackletter is required anytime your project calls for <insert requirement here>.” Selecting typefaces is a learning process that you will get better at in time. Here are a few steps that should help get you started.

Read your text

I know that seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many designers don’t read the text they’re working with. Reading the text gives you an understanding of the content, its meaning, potential limitations, and may spark some ideas.

Have an objective

Define what your design needs to accomplish. Are you creating a website, textbook, magazine, poster, logo, menu, etc.? How will you know if your design is successful? Do you need people to read for long periods of time, visit a website, remember your name? Know that goal before you move forward.

Define requirements and limitations

There are endless ways the content might impose requirements or limitations on your typeface selection. Here are a few that you’ll run into frequently:

Are you designing for print or digital or both? How large is the design? How close will people be to it? Does the design focus on reading, getting attention, or both?

Will you need specific numerals, like old-style or tabular? Are there any special characters or language requirements that might limit your typeface options? How many heading levels are required? Do you have very small text, like a disclaimer? Does emphasis need to be brought to parts of the body copy?

Is your design about a specific era or geographic location? Are you able to respect the culture of the design through typography without being cliché?

Pick the text typeface

Text type should have familiar shapes and average proportions. While these are good guidelines, don’t follow these rules blindly. Use your eyes and reassess after you’ve set some of the type. An effective typeface for text type should have:

Pair with a display typeface

For display type, you’ll need something that pairs well with your text type. Depending on its context (e.g., billboard, online banner ad, article title, small subheadings, etc.), you could have room for lots of creativity or very little. This is also your best opportunity for cultural/historic references (with taste and respect). And don’t shy away from big titles; this is your chance to play with type.



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Typography Handbook Copyright © by David Piechnik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.