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Marvin Chaulk, Vice-President, Senior Consultant
OPEN Communications

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the opinions and musings behind the expertise

Blog Author: Stephen Wheeler

Finding Your Type — What your choice of font says about you

Stephen Wheeler

Posted: June 20, 2013

Are you about to send out a promotional email to all your clients in Comic Sans?  STOP RIGHT THERE! This is an intervention.  Your choice of typeface should be as unique as you are and reflect the personality of you and your business.  Typography is like fashion.  Some things are timeless (Times and Arial), and some things are tacky (we’re looking at you Papyrus). The important thing to remember is to dress your documents appropriately for the occasion.

So Many Choices
The first problem many people face when choosing a font is that there are so many to choose from.  Many people don’t bother to step beyond the default choices because the selection is just overwhelming.  Others shoot from the hip, simply scrolling through the list and taking the first font that grabs their eye.  This knee jerk response is akin to reaching blindly into your closet to pick out your clothes for the day. So let us pick out something nice for your brand to wear together, shall we?

All in the Family
There are many, many varieties of all shapes and sizes for all occasions, and while there are many different ways to categorize them, we are going to break them down into the four big families.

  • The ‘Serif’ Family
    A serif font is a typeface that is readily identified by the embellishments at the ends of the letters. While they may seem merely decorative, the serif actually serves a useful purpose. When we read, our brains don’t read letter by letter, we see a words as shapes. Serifs help guide the eye from one letter to the next in a word, helping with legibility in long, dense blocks of text.  That is why it is common to see them used in typewritten documents, books, magazines etc.

  • The ‘Sans-Serif’ Family
    Or ‘Without Serifs’ for you non-French speaking folks, it is what it says.  As useful as serifs are in making documents legible, there are times when you will desire the flexibility of a sans-serif font.  The sans-serif allows for greater freedom when it comes to weight and spacing between letters.  While quite commonly employed in web pages and interface design, its true purpose will always be signage.  I mean, can you imagine a ‘STOP’ sign written in Times New Roman?

  • The ‘Display’ Family
    Call them by any other name, display fonts are fonts designed to attract attention.  Display fonts can be serif, or sans-serif or anything you like, the rules of typography don’t really apply to these works of word art.  Display fonts are often designed to be used in logos or posters and signs, anywhere you want to be unique and eye catching.   These types of fonts, while useful, must be used tactfully or the results could be disastrous.  To overuse them would be like trying to have a conversation with a megaphone.

  • The ‘Handwritten’ Family
    It does seem strange that we would invent a system of uniform characters to typeset our documents only to say ‘gee I wish that had a more organic feel to it, like a letter!’  Handwritten fonts can be classy and elegant or relaxed informal depending on the style you choose.  Handwritten fonts are typically selected to fit the occasion and are often used in print items like cards, certificates or anything that necessitates a more personal touch.

The Right Tool for the Job
Now that we’ve gone over the nuts and bolts, it’s time to get down to the task at hand, choosing your font.  Since fonts are the tools in which we build our text, we have to decide if we need a sledgehammer or a gentle tap and in order to do that you have to ask three basic questions…

  1. What is my message?
    How your message looks is almost as important as the content.  Your choice of font will help you convey the tone of your words.  Are you trying to get someone’s attention? Display information? Introduce yourself? Your fonts colour, style and weight can all help reinforce what you want to communicate.

  2. What is my medium?
    Where your words will appear will factor greatly in how they will appear.  The font you use for a booklet is not necessarily the font you’d use for a billboard.  Are your words in motion in a commercial or static on a page?  Are you paying by the word for an ad or by the inch? How much you have to say and the space you have to say it in are very influential factors.

  3. Who is my audience?
    The final consideration in selecting a typeface is who is your target audience?  The font that works great on a garage sale flyer probably wouldn’t fly on your company’s annual report.  What you have on your business card would not pack enough punch on a poster.  Just like picking out what to wear, it all depends on where you are going and who is going to see you.

The Last Word on Fonts
We hope this little introduction to typography has been helpful and able to shed some light on the decision making process designer’s face every day, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.  Beyond the aesthetic hurdles, designers face a myriad of other concerns like licensing permissions and webpage integration which is why design agencies spend a lot of time and money to assemble vast and varied font libraries.  So when you are thinking about your company brand, be sure to put your best typeface forward.