Design Tip 7- A simple trick on choosing the right typeface

Type plays a huge role in what we do as designers. And there are so many facets to typography that it can take many years to get proficient at using it. One common struggle is learning to choose the right typeface for a project. When you start out, there are a lot of options and it can be overwhelming.

Don’t try to be original; just try to be good.

PAUL RAND

Different typefaces have different characteristics and are made for different applications of use. What I like to do is to categorise them not only by characteristic but also by which industries they can work in. Consider what typefaces will work for certain industries; Fashion, Corporate, Retail, Entertainment, Sports etc.

You will be surprised that each industry will have an underlying theme of typefaces that are used. When you start out, learn by copying and then build on from that. See why bold condensed typefaces are so commonly used for sports brands. To quote Paul Rand “Don’t try to be original; just try to be good”. You may want to look familiar and trustworthy to a user immediately. Something that they have a connection with based on past experiences. So that you're leveraging on repetition and exposure that they've had throughout their lifetime. Consider Vogue and Harpers Bazaar; both utilise thin sans serifs and modern serifs such as Bodoni and Didot. They have their own brand identities but also share some similarities.

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This aesthetic communicates a familiar association to the user straight away. Now the key is to discover these patterns of play for different industries and the typefaces used for each. This is a great way to begin learning about typefaces and their application in different commercial jobs. 

Tip: Magazines are an inexpensive way to be exposed to typefaces used for different industries. I find them to be more polished than the examples you can find on the web. I have a bunch of magazines related to fashion, cooking, lifestyle and various other industries. It's a great thing to look over as you start a new project. Next, is to source books, and then finally, the web. Use tools such as WhatFont to find out what typefaces are used on different sites. Start categorising type, so that you start to notice characteristics about certain typefaces and why they work for particular industries. 

I know what you're thinking, "won’t that make the work derivative and boring?" Only if you make it so. Consider this, tomato and basil is a tried and tested combination; it works brilliantly together. Yet not all tomato and basil combinations are made equal. The right ratio of tomato and basil, how well you season it with salt and pepper, can take it from being palatable, to being mind blowingly delicious. How about if you cook it into a sauce? Then it takes on a whole new property and flavour. Add in a Michelin starred chef and they take that same combination and take it into the stratosphere. 

You start by learning recipes. Pairing typefaces to specific industries is like learning a recipe. This is a good way to be exposed to different typefaces and combinations when you're starting out. See what works for the industries that you work for and create folders for them. Put your references and notes into each folder so that when you start a project, you can refer to that particular resource. For example, under fashion, you could have Bodoni, Didot, Tiempos, Playfair, Gotham Thin, Helvetica Neue Thin etc., based on the above example. Of course, you may not always have the budget to purchase these fonts, so from there you can deviate to find free alternatives to these typefaces. There is a great guide on Typewolf for finding the best free alternatives for different fonts - https://www.typewolf.com/free-fonts.

Start building up your catalogue and soon you’ll be able to mentally pick them without going to your references. Once you have a thorough understanding then you can break the rules and go against the grain of certain industries. But before then, learn the basics of what works. Happy typefacing.