What the font?

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been barraging our busy designers for a lesson in all things typography. Admittedly, this was partly so I could stop staring at them aghast whenever they started talking in seemingly foreign tongues about Serif or telling jokes about Comic Sans (more on that later). These little lessons in font choice have been more than insightful.

I’ve always made a pretty good argument for why the words on your page matter, but I’d never put much thought into how those words are presented. When conversing in person, we use tone, facial expressions and gesture to convey feeling and evoke an emotional response. If you don’t have the human in front of you, you still need something to convey the intent and emotion behind your words. In a digital world, it's font that becomes that typeface. Font can provide an extensive range of emotions just as body language can. As a full-service marketing and web design agency, we pride ourselves on our ability to help you get your messages across in a clear and impactful way, and font plays an instrumental role in helping us to do this. 

Four fonts to rule them all

There are too many typefaces to even name, and I fear for my life too much to ask our designers to give us a list. However, we can categorise most typefaces into four main groups:

  • Serif – This group features little “feet” attached at the ends of letters. Serif fonts are often considered more formal and traditional. They’re best suited for print as it can be easier to read.
  • Sans-serif – This one is probably pretty obvious. It’s a font without the little "feet". In fact, the font you’re reading right now is sans-serif. It’s considered more modern, informal and playful. Sans-serif is best suited for digital.
  • Script – Scripted font resembles handwriting so it's often used in formal invitations. It can be a little too much for body copy and should be used in smaller doses. 
  • Decorative – These are informal fonts that are often viewed as unique. They're attention grabbing and best suited for headlines.

Reading between the lines: is it a font or a typeface?

Nowadays, the terms ‘font’ and ‘typeface’ are used interchangeably. Technically speaking, they do mean different things. In the not-so-distant past, the world wasn’t digital. Let that shock settle in for a few minutes. Back then, printing materials involved assembling text with metal type. The unique style that we now identify by names such as Times New Roman would be considered the typeface. When you adapted that typeface to be bold or a certain size, it became a font.

The not so comical case for Comic Sans

To paraphrase Shakespeare, a font by any other name would still be as sweet. Comic Sans only gets a bad rap in the design world because it’s been used in the wrong context in the past. Yet, when used correctly on screen, Comic Sans can actually be easier to read than fonts like Grammond. Plus, the British Dyslexia Association recommend using Comic Sans because it’s 'dyslexia friendly'. Also, due to the rounded edges and handwritten aesthetic, Comic Sans appeals to children too.

The new Serif in town

Forget the Batman vs Superman battle. Put a pin in the Coca Cola vs Pepsi debate. The battle everyone's talking about is the one between Serif and Sans-Serif. Readability studies have found that serif typefaces are easier to read because the added strokes make it easier to distinguish each character. Furthermore, some people argue that Serif can help you to navigate the flow of letters, words and sentences because the feet can push you from one letter to the next. This isn't strictly true. 

There aren't any set rules when it comes to font, but there are recommendations. Previously, it was widely believed that serifs should only be used in print. People argued that it was difficult to read serifs on screen because of issues with screen quality. Yet, if you cast your mind back to your IT lessons in school, we bet most of you learned to type in Times New Roman and had no problems reading it. That's a serif font. Plus, screen resolution has come a long way over the last few years which means the readability issues are becoming a thing of the past. 

It’s all about context

A lot of designers liken choosing a font to choosing an outfit to wear, and that’s a good place to start. You wouldn’t turn up to black tie ball in jeans just as you wouldn’t wear a tuxedo to bed. Context matters. Different fonts are appropriate for different things. Your font choice will set the tone for your entire design and will often influence how people react and interact with your design. A lot of the time, people get caught up in what looks good rather than considering the practicalities. Let’s be real for a moment, if you’re looking for the right font to use, you obviously have something important that you want to communicate. Therefore, the readability of your font is undeniably important.

Despite the many different typefaces available, there’s still something distinctly refreshing about a classic typeface that’s used well. Sometimes, keeping it simple is the best thing to do. Yet at other times, a bold, decorative font could be just what you need to get people talking. Display typefaces serve a purpose of their own, and they can make quite the impression when used correctly. However, when used incorrectly, the results can be catastrophic. It can ruin an otherwise great design and make it look amateur or unprofessional. 

In a nutshell, you need to open a dialogue with your designers and listen to their recommendations whilst ensuring they understand the message you want to convey. If you're not sure about something, don't be afraid to ask them, "what the font?". 

If you want to talk typeface, drop us a line. We promise we won’t judge your choice of font too harshly.

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