One of the keys to effective content marketing is the consistent application of a harmonious brand.
Those who have read my work before will recall me using the term brand umami, since combining brand elements to produce a satisfying whole is akin to the skillful assembly of ingredients to produce satisfying food, a.k.a. umami.
A brand consists of both visual and expressive elements, such as colors, fonts, images, logos, voice, tone, and style.
Today, I want to focus on an oft-neglected member of that cohort: the font.
Welcome to the intricate world of typography!
With more than 1,500 typefaces available via Google Fonts, and over 20,000 in the Adobe Fonts collection, selecting the right ones for your brand can be daunting.
After all, a font is more than just a pretty face—it's a storyteller, a mood setter, and a silent communicator.
Font choices play a lead role in reader perception, leading certain content to strike us as authoritative while other pieces feel lighthearted.
Let’s explore how fonts evoke different emotions, how to choose fonts for a particular application, and some font-related terminology that will help you decipher the descriptions and notes that accompany them.
Typography is like non-verbal communication, but for written content. The font you choose speaks volumes, even before a single word is read.
By understanding and harnessing the subconscious impressions that fonts can evoke, you can align your typography with the message and emotion you want to convey and design with intent.
Whether you're looking to reassure, surprise, or command attention, there’s a font that can speak for you.
Here are some popular fonts and the emotions and perceptions they stir up.
Serifs convey a sense of trustworthiness, authority, and establishment. These fonts are your trusted advisors, with their wisdom rooted in history and tradition.
Times New Roman: Often associated with tradition, reliability, and formality, TNR is the "business suit" of the font world. Commonly used in newspapers and official documents.
Garamond: Expresses sophistication, elegance, and a touch of the classical. Found in many printed books.
Georgia: Combines readability with a touch of modernity, while retaining the classic serif feel. Popular in online publications.
Sans Serif Fonts
Sans serifs are the cool, modern folk next door. They feel current, approachable, and are versatile across platforms.
Arial: Modern, clean, and neutral. It’s the white t-shirt—versatile, straightforward, and understated.
Helvetica: Renowned for its neutrality and cleanliness. It's the go-to for many corporate brands and modern designs.
Calibri: Approachable and friendly while maintaining professionalism. Default for many Office documents, which arguably makes it difficult to choose.
Open Sans: A humanist typeface with a professional demeanor suitable for business communications. Characterized by open letterforms and excellent legibility, making it particularly effective for web design and mobile interfaces.
Script fonts include the handwritten letters of history and the artful calligraphy of today. They add a personal touch, elegance, and sometimes a dash of flamboyance. However, they can be challenging to read in large chunks, so use them sparingly.
Brush Script: Fluid and expressive, it exudes creativity and casual elegance.
Edwardian Script: Evocative of formal invitations, it brings a touch of elegance and refinement.
Display fonts are the drama queens of typography—bold, attention-grabbing, and not afraid to stand out. They're great for headers, posters, and anywhere you want to make a statement (but never for long sections of copy).
Cooper Black: Playful, bold, and slightly retro. Think of vintage posters and groovy vibes.
Bauhaus: Modernist and geometric. It's like abstract art turned font.
Monospaced fonts are methodical and consistent, with every character occupying the same amount of space. They're the grid systems of the font world—orderly and precise.
Courier New: Often associated with typewriters, it carries a vintage, tech feel.
Consolas: Modern, clear, and commonly used in coding due to its distinct differentiation between letters.
Typography is not just about aesthetics; it's a powerful tool that can drastically influence the readability and impact of your content.
The medium, context, and intended audience all play important roles in guiding font choices.
Let's explore a few contexts and the typographic best practices for each.
In a professional setting, it's best to stick with the classics. Calibri, Arial, and Times New Roman are staple fonts that convey clarity and formality.
However, if you're in a creative industry, you might venture slightly outside the norm, using fonts like Gill Sans or Futura to maintain professionalism but with a twist.
Headers and Titles
Titles must immediately grab the reader’s attention. A bolder weight or an eye-catching font, such as a slab serif, can effectively draw the eye.
Fonts like Rockwell can be impactful, but always ensure the font you choose resonates with the tone of your content. A whimsical title font would not be suitable for a serious report but could be perfect for a creative blog post.
Websites and Digital Platforms
Sans serifs, like Open Sans and Helvetica, dominate the digital realm. Their simple, clean lines render crisply on screens, making them highly readable, especially on smaller devices.
You might also consider the Google Font, Roboto, which was specifically optimized for both print and screen, highlighting the industry's movement towards versatile typefaces.
Adverts and Posters
This is where your creativity can genuinely shine! Depending on your sector, product, brand voice, and target audience, let your designer play with ornamental, script, or other unique fonts that wouldn’t be suitable for lengthy text.
A poster for something vintage might benefit from a retro font like Avenir, while a modern tech event might lean towards sleek, futuristic fonts.
The key is ensuring legibility from a distance and immediate visual impact.
Academic and Scientific Publications
Here, clarity and tradition reign. Fonts like LaTeX or Georgia are frequently used due to their clean presentation of both text and complex mathematical symbols.
Standard system fonts are acceptable for informal emails, but for professional messages—especially newsletters or marketing campaigns—more readable fonts that look consistent across different email clients are recommended, such as Verdana or Tahoma.
Finally, here are some key terms to know when discussing and evaluating typefaces, with explanations for the layman: (listed in alphabetical order)
Ascender & Descender: Peaks and valleys of a letter landscape—parts that rise above or fall below the baseline.
Baseline: Think of it as the floor for your words—an invisible line where each of the letters sits.
Cap Height: The height from the baseline to the top of uppercase letters.
Counter: The enclosed space in a letter, like the hollow in the letter 'o'.
Glyph: Any individual mark in a font, be it a letter, number, or symbol.
Italic: Letters taking a stylish slant, usually for emphasis.
Kerning: Adjusting the space between specific letter pairs to make them feel comfortable (actually, to make them more readable, but comfortable sounds cute).
Leading: The space between lines of text. An essential in optimizing readability.
Ligature: When two letters merge into one, the ‘shipping of typography.
Ornamental: Decorative fonts. Ideal for when you want to jazz things up.
Sans Serif: Letters going barefoot, without any tiny projections.
Script: Fonts imitating cursive or handwritten styles, often reserved for special occasions.
Serif: Those tiny shoes or projections at the end of letter strokes.
Slab Serif: Block-like serifs—the bodybuilders in the typeface world.
Stroke: The defining, linear mark of a letter's structure.
Terminal: The end of a stroke without a serif. Not as bad for your brand as it sounds.
Tracking: Adjusting the overall space between letters—like kerning, but for groups.
Typeface: The correct plural for a typography artist's work, versus a single piece within that collection (a font). Sometimes referred to as a font family.
Weight: The thickness of letterforms—from light an dairy to bold and imposing.
X-Height: The height of lowercase letters, exemplified by the letter 'x'.
Typography is an art, a science, and a mode of communication
For more in-depth reading on the subject, I highly recommend this page by Material Design.
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