“Does typography actually make a difference? Can’t I just choose a font for my website and call it a day? I love script fonts - what’s wrong with using one as the font on my business cards?” If you’ve ever experienced one of these thoughts, this blog post is for Y-O-U, my friend.
Selecting your brand typefaces is one of the biggest decisions you will make for your business - not exaggerating! Much like your brand colors (which, if you missed it, I detailed last month), your brand fonts have the ability to say something to a potential client or customer without actually “saying” anything at all.
Before you dive right into choosing your typography, it’s important to have a clear vision of your business’ mission, ideal client, and “special sauce.” To neglect this step is kiiiiiind of like having dessert before dinner - sure, you can do it that way, but then you miss out on the stuff that’s really GOOD for you. For this reason, I take an extensive amount of time with all of my clients to determine exactly what makes them different and to nail down what they want their branding to convey. This ensures we are on the same page when it comes to making the big decisions - like type!
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? In order to select a brand font, it’s important to understand the primary styles of typography. While no two typefaces are the same, below are five styles you’ll commonly encounter: Serif, sans-serif, decorative/display, script, and monospaced. (Note: These are just a few type classifications and each have several sub-categories beneath them, but knowing the basics is a strong starting point for determining your brand look and feel!)
Serif fonts are classic typefaces often considered more traditional in style due to their Latin origins. Serifs are distinguishable by the “feet” found on each individual letter, which were (fun fact!) designed to serve as anchors and reference points for straight-lined text back in the day. They have an “air” about them that resonates as conservative, trustworthy, and established.
Commonly recognized serif fonts: Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond
Best uses: Anything! Serif fonts are ideal for any project ranging from Headings to Body Text and even logos.
Sans-serif typefaces represent a more modern take on the serif font. While still a classic style, sans-serif fonts eliminate the “feet” at the bottom of each letter, evoking a more contemporary and sleek feel. Sans-serif fonts are ideal for simpler, minimalist-driven brands.
Commonly recognized sans-serif fonts: Tahoma, Arial, Montserrat
Best uses: Similarly to serif fonts, sans-serif fonts can be used for just about everything. They are clean-lined and easy to read, and are prominently seen in printed headings and sub-headings.
Decorative, or Display, fonts are usually much louder in nature. They have a more ornamental and eccentric feel and are best for “attention-grabbing” scenarios.
Commonly recognized decorative/display fonts: Cooper Black, Impact, Algerian
Best uses: Decorative fonts are best when applied to headings, logos, or other places you want to “call out” - just be sure to use them sparingly. A good rule of thumb is to limit your decorative font use to 5 words or less.
The script category has grown tremendously over the past few years, particularly in the Creative Industry. Scripts, as I’m sure you can guess, are traditional cursive-style fonts with a slight slant. These fonts typically run smaller than a serif or sans-serif, largely due to their condensed nature.
Commonly recognized script fonts: Lucida Handlettering, Alex Brush, Allura
Best uses: Script fonts often convey a more whimsical and romantic feel. Due to their more condensed nature, script fonts should never be used as the primary text in large amounts of copy or in small spaces (including business cards!).
As the name implies, a monospaced font has a fixed-width style and are best described as what you might picture when thinking of an old typewriter or early 1990s computer. They are often used in technological and scientific industries for their symmetrical features.
Commonly recognized monospaced fonts: Courier, Droid Sans, and Anonymous Pro
Best uses: Because of their equal spacing and line height, Monospaced fonts make it difficult for the eyes to process individual words and are therefore a less than ideal choice for body text. However, Monospaced fonts can be great for headers, and (despite their uniformity) have the ability to add very specific characteristics to a brand identity.
When it comes to mixing typography, I follow a few general “guidelines” or best practices:
For the most part, stick to two font families for the bulk of your brand materials. More than this can look clutter-some and disorganized. A third may be used sparingly or in special circumstances.
It’s hard to go wrong pairing a serif and a sans-serif font. In fact, it is more challenging to find complimentary fonts within the same categories (for instance: Two sans-serif fonts that look appropriate together).
Remember: Each of these fonts should have multiple styles and weights housed beneath them, so while you “only” have two brand fonts, you’ll have plenty of variety in the form of semi-bold, italic, thin, etc.
Take a step back to distinguish what fonts you personally like and what fonts speak to your brand style - sometimes this results in two completely different answers, and it’s important to make the decision that is best for your business!
Once you have your type categories narrowed down, there are a few additional factors to consider before landing on the perfect one:
Historical significance: Does your brand have a special meaning behind it? Would a historically curated type add depth and character to your brand? (For instance: A type derived in Venezuela might be a really great, storytelling tie-in if your business is named after your Venezuelan grandmother.)
Character styles: Pay attention to the characteristics of each letter. Type designers are very particular about the little details, so even the smallest aspects of the font - such as the curvature of the ‘R’ or the tail of the ‘Q’ - can tell a unique tale!
Variations: I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth saying again! Font families with multiple styles will give your brand the most variety (and, quite frankly, the most bang for your buck!). Does the font offer various weight styles? What about special glyphs? Will this one font family actually offer a multitude of options for your brand down the road?
Case style: Be careful when choosing fonts that are only offered in specific case styles (that is, all uppercase or all lowercase). Unless this is specifically related to the message you want to convey in your branding, it might be wise to opt for a style with more options.
As you can see, there is a lot more to typography than what meets the eye! Choosing your brand fonts is not a decision you should make on a whim - typography can tell a story just as much as any other element of your brand, including your logo! Careful consideration
Have a specific question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be happy to answer it!