What Is The Best Way To Learn Using Correct Fonts?
For many novices, selecting typefaces is a perplexing procedure. There seem to be an infinite number of possibilities — from regular, conventional-looking fonts to novelty candy cane fonts and bunny fonts — with no means of comprehending the selections, just never-ending lists of categories and suggestions.
Selecting the correct font is a combination of strict rules and loose intuition, and it takes years of practise to acquire a feel for. Here are five principles for selecting and utilising typefaces that I have created while using and teaching typography.
1. Get Dressed For The Occasion
Many of my starting students approach font selection like if they were looking for new music to listen to: they evaluate the personality of each face and seek for something unique and different that reflects their specific aesthetic style, viewpoint, and personal history. This method is problematic because it puts too much emphasis on uniqueness.
Choosing a font is more like to getting dressed in the morning, for better or worse. As with clothes, there is a difference between fonts that are expressive and fashionable and those that are practical and suitable for a variety of circumstances, and our goal is to find the perfect balance for the occasion. While appropriateness is not a glamorous notion, it is the litmus test that should govern our font selection.
2. Know Your Families: Font Grouping
The clothes example helps us understand what sort of closet we need to build. The next difficulty is to create some sort of framework that will allow us to mentally classify the many fonts we come across.
Typefaces may be split and subdivided into dozens of categories but we only need to keep track of five to have a functional knowledge of the bulk of typefaces in use today.
The following list is not intended to be a complete categorization of each and every type category (there are lots of excellent sites on the web that already do this, such as Typedia’s type classifications), but rather a manageable shorthand summary of important groupings. Let us take a look at two main groups that do not have serifs (the tiny feet at the extremities of the letterforms), two with serifs, and one outlier (with big, boxey feet).
3. OLD STYLE
These are our earliest fonts, sometimes known as ‘Venetian,’ and are the product of centuries of gradual evolution of our calligraphic forms. Old Style faces have minimal distinction between thick and thin (because to technological limitations at the time), and the curving letter shapes tend to lean to the left (just as calligraphy tilts). At their finest, Old Style faces are classic, traditional, and legible; at their worst, they are, well, classic and traditional.
Jenson, Bembo, Palatino, and — particularly — Garamond, which was regarded so flawless at the time of its invention that no one attempted to improve on it for a century and a half.
4. TRADITIONAL AND MODERN
Transitional (mid-18th century) and Modern (late 18th century, not to be confused with mid-20th century modernism) fonts developed when type designers experimented with making their letterforms more geometric, crisp, and virtuosic than the modest faces of the Old Style era. Transitional faces represented a minor progress in this approach, but Baskerville, a classic Transitional font, looked so sharp to observers that it was thought to harm one’s eyesight to stare at it.
In cutting Modernist punches, type designers engaged in a sort of virtuoso display of contrasting thick and thin strokes — much of the growth was driven by a rivalry between two competing designers who cut comparable faces, Bodoni and Didot. At their finest, transitional and contemporary faces seem powerful, elegant, and energetic. At their worst, they seem to be neither here nor there – too prominent and ornate to be classic, too stodgy to be really contemporary.
5. SLAB SERIFS
The Slab Serif, often known as ‘Egyptian’ (do not ask), is a wild card that has come firmly back into favour in recent years. Slab Serifs often feature strokes similar to sans faces (that is, basic shapes with minimal difference between thick and thin) but with solid, rectangular shoes glued on the end. Slab Serifs are an anomaly in that they communicate extremely particular — and sometimes conflicting — associations: sometimes the thinker, sometimes the strong man; sometimes the bully, sometimes the geek; sometimes the urban sophisticate, sometimes the cowboy.
They may communicate a feeling of power, as in the case of heavier renditions like Rockwell, but they can also be very pleasant, as in the current favourite Archer. Many slab serifs seem to convey an urban character (such as Rockwell, Courier, and Lubalin), but when used in a different context (particularly Clarendon), they powerfully evoke the American Frontier and the kind of rustic, vernacular signs seen in photographs from this time. Slab Serifs are difficult to generalise about as a group, but their unique blocky serifs work similarly to a pair of horn-rimmed glasses: they give a distinctive wrinkle to everything, but may quickly become too prominent in the wrong circumstances.
6. Do not Be A Wimp: Decisive Contrast Principle
So, now that we know our families and some classic instances of each, we must determine how to mix and match and, more crucially, whether to mix and match at all. Most of the time, one font will enough, particularly if it is one of our workhorses with several distinct weights that work well together. If we decide to add a second face to the mix, it is always a good idea to follow this simple rule: maintain it exactly the same, or alter it a lot – avoid weak, gradual changes.
This is a design concept known by the formal term correspondence and contrast. The easiest way to see this rule in action is to gather all of the random coins you acquired on your previous vacation around Europe and spread them out on a table together. When you place two similar coins next to each other, they appear nice because they match (correspondence). On the other hand, putting a dime next to one of those huge copper coins we found someplace in Central Europe looks fascinating because of the contrast between the two – they seem sufficiently different.