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By Kristin Ellison | Thursday, August 01, 2013

Why type choice is so important

Type has two primary goals. The first is to convey information (what the actual words say), and the second is to add further context to the information. A typeface helps form that critical first impression about your message; before the viewer even reads what the words say, the typeface offers important clues. This is why it is so important to choose the right one. As you can see above, typefaces are so much more than just stylized alphabets; they have personalities that come across immediately and inform the viewer.

Choosing the perfect typeface

SerifExample above: “traditional”Best for: These tend to be easier to read, and therefore they are a good, and common, choice when setting large bodies of text.Personality: reserved, classic, traditional, authoritative, corporate, scholarly

Sans serifExample above: “calm,” “modern,” “friendly,” “aggressive”Best for: These typefaces are extremely versatile, but are not the best choice for lengthy reading. This is a huge category with many variations, as illustrated above. You must have a keen eye to determine which one communicates the feeling and message you intend. Pay close attention to the weight of the typeface you choose because this can make or break the look.Personality: This is so dependent on the typeface you choose. They can range from calm to aggressive and many places in between, so you really need to calibrate your choice carefully.

Slab serifExample above: “masculine”Best for: These have a lot of personality and make for a strong impact. Use them wisely because they can have an aggressive and loud feel to them, similar to when you receive an email in all caps.Personality: masculine, loud, bold, assertive

ScriptExample above: “feminine”Best for: Script typefaces are more difficult to read so they should be reserved for shorter texts such as a headline or an invitation. They have a more personal feel since they are derived from handwriting and calligraphy.Personality: elegant or casual depending on the typeface, feminine, warm, inviting

DisplayExample above: “chaotic,” “masculine,” “feminine,” “aggressive”Best for: These typefaces depend on their unique form to announce and amplify the content. Display type should be used in small quantities and with restraint. They are designed to be used at 14 point or larger.Personality: As with sans serif, it is so dependent on the typeface you choose. There are hundreds of thousands of display typefaces available today, so you can select from a vast array of very specific options.

It takes time to understand what different typefaces communicate. The best way to get a better understanding is to pay close attention to how each type is used and where. Look at packaging, magazines, websites, and signage. You’ll see patterns and learn what the appropriate choice is for different types of projects.

For more typographic inspiration and advice, see Ina Saltz’ course “Foundations of Typography” along with our broader selection of typography courses.

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