Imagine this. You have arrived at a beautiful vineyard, with the goal of experiencing their delicious wine. You take in everything around you as they ready your glass. You are anticipating the smells and colors and flavors. When the server arrives they set before you a large ornately carved wooden bowl. It is beautifully carved, a piece of art all on its own. You peek inside to try and decipher the color of the drink, but it is too dark with the opaque walls to tell. When you reach down to pick it up it is heavy and awkward to hold. The smell of the wood mingles with that of the wine. You notice the rough feel of the grain as you bring it to your lips.
I think we would all agree this is not an ideal wine tasting experience. Without the proper wine glass, you miss out on what the wine truly has to offer. Wine glasses were designed to enhance the wine tasting experience by encouraging you to focus on the wine alone.
In the world of design, fonts have the same job as wine glasses.
Fonts are the vessel that we serve our words with. And just like good wine that is served in the correct glass, a font used correctly will enhance the experience, not hinder or distract from it.
Indeed, most will not even notice their subtle dwelling among us. That is the goal of many font choices, to go unnoticed. Think of the last book you read. Did you admire how the lowercase t had a stylish modulated stroke at the base of its line? Did you appreciate the ideal kearning, allowing for easy readability and maximum space efficiency? Or how about the way the serifs seamlessly lead your eye from one word to the next? Probably not. But that simply means that the font was doing its job well. If you had taken the time to appreciate those things, it would have taken away from the text you were reading.
We put so much time and energy into what we communicate. We spend hours carefully crafting our words to share the exact message we want others to consume. Like good wine, we invest in those subtleties that will make us stand out from the crowd…
But once we have that message perfected, we tend to care less about the vessel used to share it. We pick whatever font happens to be on our computer. We don’t pay attention to the letter spacing or paragraph breaks. We choose a typeface that seems “edgy” or “fun” or “different”, not even realizing that we are pouring our carefully crafted message into the equivalent of a horribly crafted wine glass. Our message is hidden in a distracting vessel.
Fonts play a very critical role in our communication. They emphasize certain information and add unspoken messages with their shapes, thickness, and flare. Thick bold typeface informs us of urgency and importance. Thin lined san-serif fonts impress a modern edge and simplicity. Flowing curving scripts connect us to a feeling of femininity and class. They communicate these things so effortlessly, we often don’t even realize they communicated to us in the first place.
So, as we move forward with our communicating, let’s make a conscious effort to choose good fonts. Fonts that subtly add to our message and not distract from it. Fonts that do their job so well, we barely notice them.
How to choose a good font you ask? Here are a few guidelines that should help:
- Whatever you choose, make sure it is readable. If your audience cannot read what the word is, they definitely will not receive the message either.
- Steer clear of using several fonts for one piece (1-2 are almost always enough) and create contrast with your choices. Try matching a serif font with a san-serif or script rather than having similar font types together. If you need part of your message to stand out, use capital letters, size, or boldness to create emphasis rather than adding more fonts.
- Use specialty fonts sparingly. Grunge, cartoon, script, grafiti, and stencil style fonts do have their place in design, but if they are too present, they will steal the show from what you are trying to say. Many of your base fonts (Arial, Century, Helvetica, Georgia, etc.) get the job done really well.