Choosing Fonts

Lets face it we’ve all started out before. For some, we’re past the start of our professional designing debut, for others you might be Just Starting Out. For those just starting out I am providing a series of tips every designer should know. This week it I am focusing on part 1- Choosing Fonts.

Choosing fonts for a project can be a hard concept to grasp for many designers. “What font should I use?” Is a common questions among designers just starting out. The sheer task of choosing fonts to use can be harder than correctly laying out the text for the design. But it all comes down is the Smithee formula created by Alan Smithee, the Smithee formula is simply:

Choosing Fonts - Formula

Simply remember that the formula changes as it assumes you know the current Papyrus Sucks variable (Psv) and then the Font name (Fn) becomes known.

Here is the truth, there is no secret formula to help you in choosing fonts for your project. What it really comes down to is keeping the basic rules in mind and picking the font that is right for the job. So what are the rules?

What should you look for when Choosing fonts for your project?


To have or have not, that is the question?

In the world of typography there are two primary types of fonts Serif and Sans Serif. Take a looks at the letters below. Same letters (Bb) but shown in two different type faces.

Choosing Fonts - serif-san-serif
Pay attention to the ornamental or flourishes at the ends of the strokes of the letters. These end strokes are the serifs. If the font has them then it is a serif font. If the font doesn’t have these marks at the end of the strokes then they are sans-serif. The sans comes from the french word for without.

Choosing Fonts - serifs

Both fonts have there most commonly used version. such as Times New Roman (serif) and Helvetica (sans-serif). You should know the difference between the two and how they can be used together.

Note: Readability misconceptions

Along with many other elements of typography there are many misconceptions and false ideas that have become the “rules.” One being that serif fonts are better for readability. You will do yourself a service by unlearning this “rule.” Alex Pool has a great write up in relation to font legibility you can find it here.

Know your favorites and when to avoid them

Choosing Fonts - Gotham

Every designer has their favorites, a font or group of fonts that they really enjoy using. When it comes to choosing fonts it quickly becomes their go to pick for projects. While its not a bad thing to have a favorite,the problem comes in when every project has the same look. This is what causes trends. When everything looks the same then nothing is different.

An example is the use of Gotham. A gorgeous font that has a wide usage following. It is used a lot and seems to be growing. I don’t know how many times I see designs come back from young designers using Gotham. Again nothing wrong with this but when I ask them why it is often answered with “I really like the way it looks, its one of my favorites.” Using this as a reason is a sign of an inexperienced designer.

How does the project feel

The feel, mood or target market for the project can help you determine the proper font face to use. By reading the projects brief (link to brief post) you should be able to gain insight into what the desired target or result should feel like. Altering the mood or feeling can be as simple as choosing between the light or black option of the font.

Look below. If you’re designing a something, such as branding, for a cosmetics line which weight of fonts would you use? The Light Condensed font face version is softer and lends itself to portraying a lighter (no pun intended) feeling. If you were to use the Black font face it could portray a sense of thickness that is not typically desired when one thinks of cosmetics. But there is always the possibility of using the Black font face as a headline for impact, if it is used with a lighter color.

Choosing Fonts - cosmetics

Remember a large portion of choosing fonts for a project comes down to practice, and exploration. On your next project think hard about the font that you use, open yourself up to going out side of your comfort zone. When you go through choosing fonts solely because they are preinstalled on your machine your doing your self and your client a disservice. Nothing will show your inexperience faster then not understanding your font choice, and being able to explain to your customer why you used a the fonts you’ve chosen.

I hope that you’ve found this helpful. Do you have any comments or questions related to you fonts, let me know in the comments below. Be sure to come back for the next part of my tips for Designers just starting out.