Making the Most of Fonts

by Beverly Vaillancourt, PowerUp Design

“Give me 26 lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

The 26 letters of the alphabet, Franklin’s lead soldiers, today come in an array of shapes and sizes, all available as a quick find with a few keystrokes. Finding the right font is part of the fun of designing. Fonts add energy to a design and can create a particular mood. So which font should you use? It’s not always an easy decision. Let’s take a look at the choices.

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Choosing the Right Font

Now for six important points to consider when choosing from the wide array of fonts. Keep in mind that fonts add tone to your writing. The correct font helps to convey your message. Choosing a font that is at odds with the tone you are trying to set, creates discord for the reader, and a quick bounce off your site. With all the choices among the categories and then among all the font styles within each category, choosing the right font can be a daunting task. Here are a few pointers:

  1. TONE Think about what you are trying to communicate. Are you selling yard tools, art, beach clothing, shoes? How do you want to present the product, event, or information? These are important factors when picking a font. Decide if you want to convey a tone of seriousness, fun, or somewhere in between.

  2. AUDIENCE Think about your audience. While you may love a serif font, it may not be suitable or interesting for your audience. It’s a matter of empathy. Become your audience when you choose your font. Think of spacing, size, and readability.

  3. FIRST GLANCE Remember that the average viewer gives quick glance to a page. If the page doesn’t engage the reader, it’s a quick click to some other site that is far more interesting. Choose a font that will capture attention but not overwhelm for that very quick first look. Think 2 - 3 seconds worth of glance before your audience decides to continue to engage with your page or look elsewhere.

  4. SIMPLICITY Keep it simple. Don’t mix a variety of fonts. Choose two, perhaps three, but when it comes to font variety, less is best. Fonts should never be extremely different unless you want to highlight a title for a specific attention grabbing purpose. Instead, use font size, boldface, and italics for emphasis. The same is true for font colors. Stick with a simple color scheme. Text that screams at the reader never sets a welcoming tone.

  5. PURPOSE Determine the font’s purpose. What are you trying to communicate? Is the font choice used to entertain, sell a product, explain a service, tell a story? Make the font work for you, not the reader work to read the font. Change the size of the font, the color, and the weight to capture reader interest. It’s better to use the same font and change aspects of it than to mix fonts.

  6. CREATIVITY Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different designs. Every design starts as a failure and moves from there, so be comfortable with trying something new. Step away from your work for a day and then take a new look at it. Ask others for their opinion. If you don’t like it, change it.

Now that you know the basics, start thinking about fonts from the perspective of your audience, whether you are designing for yourself or for a client. Evaluate several website pages and advertisements.

  • What type of fonts are they using?

  • Do the fonts set a good tone?

  • Do the fonts keep you engaged or do they create a distraction?

  • Are they easy to read?

  • Does the page seem cluttered with words?

  • Are different types of fonts mixed? If so, does it work?

  • What is the purpose of each type or size of font?

  • What improvements would you make?

When comparing fonts within a category, look for little differences. Those little differences make all the difference! If the program you are using doesn’t have just the right font, go online and search for free and licensed fonts. Bottomline, though, keep it simple. Keep it clean. Let the font engage the reader from first glance and then use its attributes to create a visual experience for your viewer.