post 20, fonts are not decoration

March 8, 2010

Fonts aren’t merely adornments or ways to jazz up your text. Fonts communicate emotions. Fonts are your tone of voice. Typography is generally at the core of all my designs. It sets the mood. It is the soul. Typefaces are as unique as people, some are polar opposites, others extraordinarily similar, and each speaks to you in a different way: seductive, fun, serious, complex, straightforward, mysterious, ridiculous… is this understanding that elevates design.

I am not a modernist who believes the world should only be cast in Helvetica–though it might do much to cleanse the visual noise out there, it would be akin to saying everyone should wear plain white crew-neck tshirts and levi 501 jeans – for everything, all the time. This is not the case, one does not wear a three-piece suit to mow the grass. Choosing a font is in essence “suiting up” your design, it’s casting an actor for a role.

Let’s choose a word, “hey,” it’s simple and we probably each use it everyday.

Notice as you read the same word set in these different typefaces, it sounds different in your head. One is casual, one is loud, another flirty, one fun, etc. We haven’t changed the word, only the font and by only changing the font, we change the meaning of what we are saying.

As a designer, I have thousands of fonts and add more to my trove constantly. Good fonts are worth paying for; but for most home pc users, you are limited to what your system came installed with, though there are some free sites out there where you can find some additional fonts to download and install.

Think about fonts before you use them, especially at work. Think about your email signature (good tip: if you’re the CEO, don’t set your signature in Papyrus) and comic sans is not a good font for your memo or report. Choose classic, serifed fonts that are easy to read, like Times New Roman, yes it may be boring, but it’s professional and tidy and easy to read – it’s the black suit of the font world.

Outside of work, pay attention to fonts and where you do have the ability to choose them–wedding invitations, your christmas letter, even the font of your blog–select the one which best fits the tone of what you are saying.


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