Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top 5 Font Tips for Great Design

I have finally begun to read The Non-Designer's Design & Type Books. I received it a few months ago to critique and have barely touched it. I first looked at it last night.

The opening pages discuss what the author calls the "Joshua Tree Epiphany." He tells the story of receiving a tree book for Christmas. Excited about his new book, he opened it, ready to identify the trees in his neighborhood. The first tree was a Joshua tree. He told himself he'd never seen one of those before. As he began identifying the trees in his neighborhood, he realized that 80% of the houses had Joshua trees in the yards.

The principle he was making from this story is that you tend not to notice something until you are aware that its there. I pondered this for a moment and immediately font styles popped into my mind. Since I have the eye of a designer, I see bad font choices everywhere. It's my hope that after reading this article you too will see it everywhere you go.

Tip #1 – No More Than Three Fonts
This is called the golden rule in font design. Never, under any circumstances, should you use more than three fonts. It is best to limit your designs to two fonts.

As a general rule, you only need one font for the headline and another for the body copy. Occasionally, you may desire a different font for a sub-heading or some other special piece of information. This is where the third typeface might come in. But please, for my sanity's sake, don't use more than three!

Tip #2 Make It Readable
If you go through all the effort to design an ad or flyer, make sure that the message can be read. Placing a picture behind the text or using the wrong color can ruin that message. Not only will your ad be hard on the eyes, but most people will be put off by the lack of professionalism.

I currently work as the designer for a Christian school yearbook. The ad to the right was designed by the company for our yearbook. It's a well-known and loved coffee shop in town, but the words are hard to read, making it an awful ad.

In addition to pictures, font style and color can also make an ad unreadable and unprofessional. Take a look at the example below and see for yourself. You can find these images and more examples like them at Photoshop Cafe.

Tip #3 Fonts Have Feelings
The style of font that you choose will drastically affect the way your message is received. You wouldn't use a block font for a wedding or a script font for an athletic gym. Take careful consideration of what feeling you want to communicate when choosing a font.

Do you want to be professional and authoritative? Choose a standard font like Arial, Helvetica, or Times. Do you want to fancy? Try Edwardian Script or some other script font. Do you need to make it look childish? Try a hand-drawn font. If you need more fonts check out DaFont or FontFreak for thousands of options.

 Here are a few examples to show you what NOT to do:
 There is nothing tough about this club,

 there is nothing peaceful about this place,

and there is certainly nothing reliable about this company.

Though not directly related to fonts, the text that you use is also important. Be sure to use proper English and avoid the use of exclamation points or all caps. IT MAKES YOU SOUND LIKE YOU'RE YELLING!!!

To the right is another ad from our yearbook. No!! body wants to buy from a car dealer who yells at you!! Don't scare away your customers before they ever walk through the doors.

Tip #4 Size Matters
How do you know what is more important if everything is the same size? The average body type is 12 points. The general rule of thumb is 14 pt. font or less for body copy and 18pt. font or higher for headlines. You can also use font size to differentiate the hierarchy of your body copy.

Take a look at these two examples from our yearbook. Notice how the one on the right shows all the text as the same size. I can't tell what I am supposed to be looking for. What's more important, what does the company want me to know? The ad on the left is far better at communicating the most important piece of information. It does this by being larger than the rest and by being bold.

Subway Text HierarchySubway No Hierarchy

Tip #5 More Isn't Always Better
Just because you have 20 features, doesn't mean you should list them. Now I admit, the example below isn't all that fair because Pizza Hut is a well-known brand and everyone knows what they have to offer. However, it still serves its purpose.

The Pizza Hut ad draws my eye, I see exactly what I was meant to see and all the information is communicated to me in a simple manner. The only thing that would make it better is color, and since this too is from our yearbook, you'll have to deal with black and white. The ad to the right wants to communicate all these brands they have in stock and all the different stores they have, but it's so cluttered my eye doesn't know where to go and what I should read first.

Pizza Hut Ad

The Bottom Line
 Great design isn't just creativity and concepts. You could have the best creative concept out there and absolutely fail because you chose the wrong font. Choosing the right font can easily become the most time consuming part of your design. When you find that perfect font, you'll know it and you'll be glad you spent the time to make your ad look awesome.

Do you have any more tips you'd like to share? It could be something that has always stuck with you. Maybe you learned it the hard way, or maybe you learned it by accident from just messing around with designs. Either way, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.


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