The Art and Science of Typography


Typography. It’s an indispensable part of good design. It’s as important as the colors, images and graphics that you use. And done skillfully, the right typefaces can have a significant impact on how your design is perceived.

Both an art and a science, every typeface is unique in its letter shape and forms—that’s the art. The science is that we gain comprehension from it when reading it. So it has to be legible. Conjure up a fancy script that you might see on a black tie invitation. Now, imagine graffiti art seen on a city street. Each have two distinct personalities appropriate for the occasion, right?

It goes without saying that a well thought out selection of typefaces will go a long way in helping to convey the particular emotion or style you’re after. And using a combination of typefaces will improve your project in a few other ways:

  • Makes your design more visually engaging. Using more than one typeface—or different styles (bold, italic, condensed) from the same type family—will create more visual diversity in your project, thereby making it compelling. Think of it as an added layer of texture in your design.
  • Helps to support a content hierarchy. When typefaces are assigned to a specific task, it can provide a sense of order. For example, if one typeface is used for the title, one for headers and another for body copy, it clues a reader in as to when one section ends and another begins. This aids in comprehension and the scannability of your page—particularly important for digital communications.

If you’re new to pairing fonts, look for fonts that work well together and don’t fight each other. Compliment or contrast, but never conflict.

A few tips to get you started choosing typefaces with confidence

  1. When in doubt, stick within the same type family. This is always a safe bet. Look for type families that include a serif and sans serif style or a wide range of options in weights, styles and cases.

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  3. Create contrast with your choices. Contrast can be achieved any number of ways. In the example below (top), two slab serif fonts are paired and contrast is created thru the use of different font weights and title case verse all caps. The bottom example shows two san serif typefaces. The top font has wider, thicker characters; the bottom characters are leaner and lighter weight.

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  5. Limit your number on fonts. Often careful selection of two or three typefaces for one project is plenty and allows for enough variation to achieve a well-versed design. The NY Times ad below is quite simple, but effective, in its use of white space and three very different typefaces to create a compelling message.

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    As you become more comfortable pairing fonts, certain projects will be able to handle more typefaces. The email below from Anthropologie, the women’s clothing store, uses a more complex combination of fonts. As the amount of content is quite light and items are spaced out, the ad does not become too busy.

     
    While I don’t suggest you go to the extreme above if you’re a type newbie, do be sure to leverage typography on your next project as a way to make your creative even more successful.
     
     

    Resources

     
    10 Beautiful Font Combinations for All Your Design Needs

    How to Select and Pair Fonts for Seamless User Experience

    Typographic Doubletakes

    Canva’s Ultimate Guide to Font Pairing

    Choosing and Pairing Typefaces

     
     

    By Donna DeLeo, ETMG Graphic Designer