Creative Speak: Fonts

Categories: Creative Speak

How do you see what you say?  When you’re doing a project that requires some kind of written words that will be visible to others, you have to think about what those words will actually look like and what fantastic fonts you'll use.

Now, what most people call "fonts" are actually typefaces (all those amazing different kinds of type).  Technically, "font" refers to the typeface styling.  For more info, you can go here and here on the great Wiki.  In this post, I'm just going to use the term font, since outside of design circles, that's what most people call today's topic.

 There’s a lot that could be said about typefaces/fonts, and a lot of wonderful people who have described all sorts of fascinating font factoids and typeface tidbits.  For my purposes, I’m going to keep it really simple.  

Fonts for websites, videos, images, online courses, ebooks, etc. boil down to 2 main groups: ones that are good for decorating and ones that are good for reading.

So a logo, for instance, may include a more stylized font.  Maybe it’s a font that looks like it’s handwritten or painted or straight outta the Old West.  In any case, you only have to read a few words in that crazy but beautiful font, so it’s all good.  

For any lengthy text, you want to go for readability over style points.  If your website visitor squints or can’t tell if that’s a cl or d, you’ve got a problem.  Simple fonts win for reading every time.

As you plan for which fonts you might want to use for a project, you can also take into account a few main font features.

1) Do you like those little tails and caps on your letters?  If so, you like serif fonts (because serifs are what those little letter accessories are).  If you don’t like dressed up letters, go for a sans serif font.

2) What general look do you want to achieve with your font?  Are you thinking typewritten, handwritten, script, or calligraphy?  There is a huge variety of decorative fonts for all occasions out there.  Just remember the readability rule.  Use stylized fonts for very short amounts of text only like logos, a header, short image text, etc.

3) Is there a certain mood you want to convey with your font?  There are very whimsical fonts and stolid fonts and everything in between.


4) What are your preferences on letter heights?  Tall, short, somewhere in the middle?


5) How do you feel about font shape? Are you in the rounded camp, the boxy camp, or another camp altogether?

6) What about the spacing between letters?  Does a gap toothed looking font make you smile with its wide spaces between letters?  Or does one that looks like it had good orthodontia with its tight, little letters make you happiest?

7) How heavy of a font do you want to use?  Do you like your letters to have more gravitas or be a light presence?

Just being aware of these kinds of font features will put you in good stead with designers doing work for you.  You’ll be able to tell them enough important details for them to find a font you will be happy with.  And if you’re a DIYer on a font hunt, just typing in a few key words from the questions above will get you far along on your font quest.

Here are a few more important notes as my fonty finale.  

  • Remember that not all fonts are free and available to everyone who will view your product.  So unless you will be purchasing a font for your project, know that you’ll be dealing with free, open source fonts or whatever fonts your designer or application offers.  
  • And as much fun as it is to be original, using common fonts for website text and the like is a good practice because you want to know how your text will show up for your users.  Less common fonts often get replaced with other similar, available fonts because not all fonts can be used on all platforms, devices, etc.  So a common font increases the probability that your specific font will be the one people will actually see.  (This doesn’t apply to fonts that have been used in an image file, however, because they have actually become part of that image.)

Hopefully, you now feel like a fountain of font-y knowledge...or at least a little more versed in the most important facets and features of font choices.  And as you go forward, may the fonts be ever in your favor!