Choosing the Right Font: A Practical Guide to Typography Design

What good is great, punchy copy if no one can read it? When it comes to placing text on a web page or advertisement, choosing the perfect font is as important as finding the perfect words. Typography is based on extremely old principles, yet is something that is continuously changing with new fonts being developed all the time, and the need for fresh design concepts based on new channels for content delivery. Effective use of typography design does not always mean using a ‘pretty’ font – it means making your text stand out with clarity to successfully deliver your brand’s message. Here are some tips.  

Make it readable

This is the most important factor to consider when choosing a typography design. If your audience can’t read your text then it becomes entirely pointless – your message will be lost within the rest of your design concept. It’s an easy mistake to make – the amount of websites, mobile apps, posters, flyers and even magazines that use illegible typefaces and fonts is startling. Character sizing and spacing can also play a big part in whether or not a text is readable, and some fonts are so poorly designed – or not designed with readability in mind – that they become impossible to decipher. It’s also best to avoid novelty fonts – while these may seem unique and exciting they don’t often lend themselves to detailed reading, and can turn the reader off from the copy. 

Know your market

Choosing a typography design is also dependent on who you are targeting. Knowing the wants and needs of your audience is the cornerstone of typography. Something classic such as a sans serif is a reliable place to start, but perhaps your audience would be turned off by something traditional, and would prefer to see the copy in something contemporary or urban. The tone and feel of the text can be greatly influenced by font and layout, and your brand’s personality can be compromised if you choose something inappropriate. 

Platforms are important

Nowadays there are more marketing channels and media formats to consider than ever before. People still consume printed media, and often read texts on computer screens, but the primary channel of communication is on mobile devices, either smartphones or tablets.  Good quality mobile devices are more affordable than ever, so they are widespread across all age groups and markets. The fonts and typefaces you use should therefore be geared toward consumption on mobile platforms – but should also be legible on other formats. 

Size and layout

One problem with reading text from the screen of a computer or mobile device is eye fatigue. Getting the size and layout of your text right can make all the difference for readers, and getting it wrong can have negative consequences. Small text size is a problem for most people, but get the characters too large and you risk compromising the flow and narrative qualities of the message. On a desktop website, a line should be between 50 and 75 characters long, with a 16pt (or higher) font. On mobile, it should be 30-40 characters per line, as the tiny screen further magnifies the problem of eye strain. 

Colour 

We’ve all seen those GeoCities style websites from yesteryear, replete with bright, primary coloured lettering set against an intrusive, repetitive background. At best these sites were unreadable, at worst they hurt your eyes (and were still unreadable). This may be an extreme example of bad colour and contrast, but it does highlight the importance of both factors. Black text on a white background is the easiest combination for most people to read, but obviously designers don’t just stick to that. Alternative schools of thought suggest that black-on-white is too contrasty, and prefer a grey background.

Pairing fonts

Remember, you don’t have to stick to one font – almost all published texts utilise at least two fonts. This creates a dynamic feel and helps to separate different messages within the copy. Fonts shouldn’t compete for attention, but should offset each other in a way that is both easy to read and nice to look at. Choose your primary font first, and make the secondary one work around it. 

If you use the idea of readability as a cornerstone, and make all of your subsequent design choices without losing sight of that, you’re well on your way to great typography for your brand’s message. 

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