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March 24 2011

13:18

How to Choose a Typeface

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Choosing a typeface can be tricky. The beauty and complexity of type, combined with an inexhaustible supply of options to evaluate, can make your head spin. But don’t be baffled — and don’t despair. While there are no easy-to-follow rules on how best to choose a typeface, there are many tried-and-true principles you can quickly learn and apply to make an appropriate typeface choice. If you work systematically through the options below, you’ll have a winning typeface choice in no time. Let’s get started.

What Is Your Goal?

The first thing you have to do in order to choose a typeface is form a strong impression in your mind about how you want your audience to react to the text. This is your goal, and it will guide the process. You might provide this impression, or it might be dictated to you by your client, or it may be determined by your audience. Whatever the case, your choice of typeface needs to strike a good combination of both legibility and readability, while remaining appropriate for the audience and the message. Each of these characteristics requires some degree of independent consideration. As you may already know from experience, it’s easy to go about this the wrong way and get overwhelmed. This problem can be compounded as a design evolves.

Perhaps the hardest part of breaking down the typeface selection process is understanding which parts are more subjective and which parts are more objective. After reading and digesting your client’s text, it is easier to start with the objective aspects of typeface selection because they — by default — make subjective decisions for us. There are no fixed positions on the spectrum from subjective to objective. However, we know that legibility is more easily quantifiable than a mood. Let’s start with the two most objective attributes — legibility and readability.

Legibility

It may seem at first glance that legibility and readability are the same thing, but they are not. Legibility refers to the design of the typeface, as in the width of the strokes, whether or not it has serifs, the presence of novel type design elements etc. It is easy to tell one letterform from another in a legible typeface. For instance, decorative typefaces have low legibility because they are primarily meant to be seen at a glance, rather than read at length. Conversely, typefaces designed for novels or newspapers have very high legibility. You need to design a specific, overall legibility based on the function of the text.

Consider this example where the left block of text is set in Tobin Tax, a decorative serif typeface. Compare it to the same text set in Sabon, a classic and highly-legible serif typeface. Where does your typeface choice fall between these two extremes?

Legibility1 in How to Choose a Typeface

Quick tips for great legibility:

  • Choose typefaces with conventional letterforms.
    Letterforms composed of unique shapes, artistic deformations, excessive ornamentation or other novel design elements cause the reader to have to process what they are looking at first, instead of just taking in the message. Novelty always comes at the cost of immediate comprehension.
  • Choose typefaces with generous spacing.
    Tight tracking causes the eye to fill in visual gaps between the various shapes that make up different letterforms, thus slowing down the time it takes to both recognize letterforms and word and sentence structures. Generous spacing allows the eyes to proceed as fast as the cognitive skills of the reader will permit.
  • Choose typefaces with a tall x-height.
    A tall x-height makes it easy to read lowercase type. The apertures, or openings, of similar lowercase letters like “c” and “e” are distinguished with greater ease if the x-height is generous.

Readability

How your typeface is set, combined with the basic legibility of the typeface, yields a certain level of readability. Readability is the dynamic interaction of the type style, size, tracking, leading, color and other properties all combined into one overall impression. They add up to a certain typographic style which has a quantifiable degree of readability. For instance, you could use a style that has an intentionally low readability that is part of the message. Or you could focus on designing a high readability because your message is complicated, and you don’t want your type style to hinder the audiences’ understanding in any way. In most cases, communication comes before style, so resolve readability first.

Let’s take our previous example of Sabon and alter the readability. On the left, we have taken the text and decreased the font size, altered the tracking and leading, lightened the color, and set the block to full justification. It’s now a mess with unattractive text rivers. On the right, we’ve left the unaltered for an obvious comparison. Changing several independent factors, as you can see, can add up to quite a difference.

Readibility1 in How to Choose a Typeface

Quick tips for great readability:

  • Choose typefaces that were designed for the purpose you are using them for (display fonts for headlines, body copy typefaces for body copy, etc.).
    Choosing a font designed for display purposes, like headlines or posters, means that it will not function very well as a body text typeface where larger quantities of text will be read. Conversely, a typeface designed for extended reading loses its impact in relation to how large it is blown up.
  • Align text to “right ragged” for comfortable word spacing online to avoid “rivers”.
    “Force-justified” text, or hyphenless justification, always creates ugly rivers and awkward spacing which causes the reader to lose the natural flow of the text as the eye has to make various leaps and jumps to complete words and sentences. Currently, there is no proper native support for hyphenation in CSS, but you could use Hyphenator.js for a proper client-side hyphenation online.
  • Make sure your line height is greater than the point size of your typeface for multi-line texts.
    It’s difficult for the eye to track across a line of text and stay “on track” if the lines above and below it are too close to it. Our eyes are easily confused especially when wrapping from the end of one line of text to another. How many times have you read the same line of text twice on generously-spaced lines of text? Probably once — of course if the content is easy to understand as well. Don’t make your readers work harder than they have to.

With the two most subjective factors out of the way, let’s move on to appropriateness.

Aspects of Appropriateness

Some typefaces are more suitable for a design task than others. Appropriateness is something you can learn by both experience with a typeface, and by other attributes of the typeface, including its history and original purpose. Here are four attributes of a typeface you can consider.

Design Intent

It’s very helpful to consider the design intent of the typeface. Many popular typefaces have detailed write-ups and reviews, so it’s really inexcusable to not know at least something about your choice. If a typeface was designed for signage, like Cooper Black, it probably isn’t going to work well set as the body copy of a book. That might be an obvious example, but don’t miss the subtleties in your own choices. Again, it only takes a few seconds to look something up, or flip open a decent typography book to get some basic facts, and you’ll be wiser for it.

Aesthetics

Your typeface should conform to the aesthetics expected by the audience for which the design is intended. For instance, if you are designing a piece for a bank, setting their logo or the text for an ad campaign in Souvenir might be a little too light hearted and free-spirited — not qualities one would want to associate with people who manage your money. However, the stately and stable-minded Bembo might be a better choice for this situation. The more you match the gist of the typeface to the gist of your topic, the easier success will come.

In this example, we’ve created two combinations of typefaces. The first one, Lithos and Souvenir, create an aesthetic more suited to a children’s museum than a bank. The second combination is composed of Clarendon and Bembo, which fits the topic like a well-tailored banker’s suit.

Aesthetics in How to Choose a Typeface

Quick tip for judging aesthetics:

  • Look at a typeface and write down several words the typeface “says” to you about itself, and then compare that to what your design objective for the typeface is. Do they correlate? Be convinced, after this analysis, that you have the right typeface choice. If you are not sure, it would be best to not proceed.

Mood

As you read through these factors, you’ll realize that they overlap a little. Mood, for instance is a dynamic synthesis of what you get when you consider the aesthetics of a typeface together with the readability you’ve designed into your piece, along with, of course, the perceived meaning of the text itself. For instance, with one typeface and one text you can evoke a mood of excitement or panic. The typeface itself first evokes a strong reaction, but the readability of the design and the text itself can take communication to another level.

On the example below, notice how the implied meaning of the phrase “kick back and relax” is dramatically changed by altering the typeface and readability. Mood is very powerful, and it’s a good idea to have a second set of eyes reviewing your work to make sure you don’t send the wrong message. This demonstrates that matching the basic personality of the typeface, and its readability, to the intended emotional response of the message is a sure-fire recipe for success.

Mood in How to Choose a Typeface

Quick tip for pinpointing mood:

  • Think of the exact opposite of the mood you want to create and look at your work on a given design thus far. If you can’t come up with an opposite mood, it might mean you have not created a strong impression of the right mood. Remember, the opposite of neutral is neutral.

Personal Choice

Many times, a typeface just strikes you for some reason as appropriate. Your right brain knows it but your left brain can’t understand why. If you can make it work based on that alone, go for it. You would of course do well to get informed about the typefaces in your arsenal, especially if you keep using them over and over. You may discover that your use of a typeface has nothing to do with its original intent, but it can still look great.

For instance, you might like OCR-A on the cover an album design, though OCR-A was designed specifically for optical scanners so that computers can recognize the words through software. So what if computers are supposed to read it? If it fits the design intent of your project and you can pull it off, do it. Just do it well or choose another typeface.

Quick tip about personal choice

  • Trust your gut but make sure you can quantify, in typographic terms, aspects of your choice so that you can defend your design decisions armed with intelligent answers. You may also find that a defense of  even your most subjective choice goes a long way if it’s clear you did think it out and have a reasonable rationale.
  • Come up with your type selection quality scale.
    You might want to consider creating your personal checklist with type selection details which you can then consider and apply in your typographic choices. This would help quantify your decisions and make them comparable.

A Few Technical Considerations

Don’t overlook the obvious. For instance, if your design job is going to include work using a lot of numbers, you’ll want to make sure you choose a typeface that has the kinds of numbers you want to use. Some typefaces use Old Style, or lowercase numbers. Other typefaces use Lining, or uppercase numbers.

You might be persuaded that large spreadsheets of numbers for technical work are easier to read with lining style numbers because they don’t use the lowercase descenders and are more even on the eye when used in large quantities. But if your design features a lot of up-and-close with over-sized numbers, the Old Style numbers might be infinitely more pleasant. Again, the mood you want to convey plays a role in this choice: Old Style numbers look… old. That could be good in the right context but not so good in the wrong one.

To add to this list, you might consider if a typeface has a full set of ligatures and if it contains true small cap characters. Missing ligatures can look unattractive at large sizes. Fake small caps usually look odd because stroke widths aren’t compensated for. In short, it’s best to choose a typeface that is as complete as possible. And if you choose a free typeface, you’ll find that it is often these critical “extras” that are missing. Make sure that the free typefaces have exactly the features you need for your design and that they are licenced for the work you are doing.

Tips for Choosing a Typeface

Let’s pull it all together with some pragmatic ways to get your typeface choice made. You might want to try these tips, which many designers use to their advantage in one way or another. Be the beneficiary of their wisdom and experience.

1. Plan Your Hierarchy

First, make sure you have a good grasp of the content and typographic hierarchy your design job will dictate. You may realize, after a thorough analysis, you need five fonts (not typefaces) to cover your various heading, sub-headings and call-outs. Can your typeface provide enough variation with bolds, italics and small caps? Or do you need two typefaces to create more distinction in the hierarchy? Three? Use a mind-mapping tool or make a traditional outline to see as much as you can before you start choosing typefaces. Consider this example of a bad and a good hierarchy using the same text. Notice the role white space plays in the hierarchy, too. Use as many levels as you need as long as there is distinction and clear purpose in your choices.

Plan-your-hierarchy in How to Choose a Typeface

2. Consider What Others Have Done Already

You’ll find that the designers before you have already figured out ways to use the typefaces you are considering, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Look around, and carefully consider what others have done already. The site Fonts In Use, for example, features typographic choices made by professional designers in various industries. And don’t dismiss familiarity when you come across it in other designers’ work. Often times “boring” and “familiar” are your best friends when it comes to choosing type. There are good reasons some typefaces get used a lot for certain purposes — they just work, and work really well.

3. Experiment the Easy Way

Here are some tips to help you experiment quickly and thoughtfully with your typeface choices:

  • Set up style sheets whether you are designing for the Web or print, which speeds up the flow of ideas because they are easy to swap out. You could also use Web Font Specimen for this purpose.
  • Play with the hierarchy by changing the size of different elements to create and release tension.
  • Judge the results and change something, but only change one thing at a time.
  • Get a second or third opinion. You might have missed the obvious.

4. Avoid Anachronisms

For instance, if you don’t know the particular history of typeface, you could end up using it in a way that makes you look a little silly. What if you picked Trajan to illustrate the title graphics of an article about ancient Greece? That would be an unintended anachronism since Greece pre-dates Rome, and Trajan was a Roman emperor. The typeface Trajan is taken from “Trajan’s Column”, which is a monument to a military victory around the year 100 A.D. Just having to answer “Trajan” to the question “What font did you set the cover of this book about Ancient Greece in?” will make you squirm just a little. It pays to double check. And sometimes it pays to be neutral by choosing something safe for an academic topic, like Arno.

Avoid-trite-anachronisms in How to Choose a Typeface

5. Avoid Trite Correlations

If you apply this rule rigorously, you are unequivocally guaranteed to retire from your design career as Typographer Emeritus. Let’s just examine this principle by example and let the lessons teach themselves:

  • Don’t use Papyrus just because your topic is “ancient” in some way, especially if it’s about Ancient Egypt. (Better yet, don’t use Papyrus at all)
  • Don’t use Comic Sans just because your topic is humorous. (Better yet, don’t use Comic Sans at all)
  • Don’t use Lithos just because your topic is about Greek restaurants.
  • Don’t use Futura just because your topic deals with “the future”.

Avoid-trite-correlations1 in How to Choose a Typeface

Does this leave room for typefaces will built-in “effects”? Yes, indeed. Just don’t do something so blatantly obvious it took you less than one second to think of it. The tell tale sign you are making a trite correlation is that you have a collection of decorative fonts you frequently peruse in your font manager while pining away for a topic to shoehorn them into. If you have not avoided these kinds of trite correlations in the past, it’s OK. Don’t live in the past, but don’t do it again.

6. Consider an Extended Type Family

If your project is ongoing and diverse, it would be wise to consider investing in a quality extended type family upfront. Why not kill all the birds you can find with one stone? When you choose an extended type family, you get the benefits of having had the type designer do more use-case scenarios than you will likely ever be faced with. Extended type families usually have serif and sans serif versions, along with multiple weights, full sets of special characters and ligatures etc., which ensure that you’ll be able to find the right solution for just about every typographic challenge you could imagine. An extended type family will also give you a very uniform, orderly mood and aesthetic, which may or may not be what you want.

Typeface-family in How to Choose a Typeface

7. Stick With the Classic Combinations

When you are stuck, go with the tried and true, especially if your deadline is tight. If you choose a neutral serif and sans serif combination, you might lose a little “edge”, but at least the integrity of your design and message won’t suffer. When is the last time you called on Caslon or Univers and regretted it? Face it: you’ll never get ITC Avant Garde Gothic and Trebuchet MS to cooperate. Instead, consult well respected typography-related resources. See what professional designers agree on. It’s likely you already have some of the classics you’ll find referenced. Perhaps those same fonts are complete and are of high quality, which makes choosing them in a pinch that much easier. You will fail them before they fail you.

Stick-with-classics in How to Choose a Typeface

8. Use a Limited Palette

You’ll find many opinions on this, but it’s also not a bad idea to consider a limited palette of typefaces you like best from lists of the most popular type of all time. They are the most popular for a reason. Some designers have gone a whole career using less than twenty typefaces most of the time. For instance, you could use the FontShop’s 100 Best Typefaces (in German, also available as a PDF) as a reference. To that list, you should try to add a few newer, and not just classic, typefaces. While you are at it, consider adding one or two unique but highly-versatile modern typefaces from independent foundries, and not just the larger established ones that might be more familiar.

In this example, we’ve combined Bembo with various fonts from Haptic Pro, a typeface family originally designed 2008 by Henning Hartmut Skibbe. Something old and something new, and you can go a long way with a style all your own:

Limited-palette in How to Choose a Typeface

Final Tip: Break The Rules

Break the rules but only after you can name some of them. Knowing the basics described in this article will help you make intelligent choices about what rules to break and how to break them. You might have to go through ninety-nine bad ideas to get to that one great idea, but the process is fun. Remember: knowledge of type gives you the power to express yourself more creatively with it. To “push the envelope”, as the cliché goes, you first need to know what and where the edges are.

Break-the-rules in How to Choose a Typeface

Further Resources

You may be interested in the following related articles and resources:


© Douglas Bonneville for Smashing Magazine, 2011. | Permalink | Post a comment | Smashing Shop | Smashing Network | About Us
Post tags: Fonts, leading, line-height, sans-serif, serif, typefaces, typography

November 04 2010

14:40

Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

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 in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces  in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces  in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Creating great typeface combinations is an art, not a science. Indeed, the beauty of typography has no borders. While there are no absolute rules to follow, it is crucial that you understand and apply some best practices when combining fonts in a design. When used with diligence and attention, these principles will always yield suitable results. Today we will take a close look at some the best practices for combining typefaces — as well as some blunders to avoid.

Combine a Sans Serif with a Serif

By far the most popular principle for creating typeface combinations is to pair a sans serif header typeface with a serif body typeface. This is a classic combination, and it’s almost impossible to get wrong.

In the example below — a typical article layout — we have Trade Gothic Bold No.2 paired with Bell Gothic on the left side. They are both sans serif typefaces. However, they have very different personalities. A good rule of thumb, when it comes to header and body copy design problems, is not to create undue attention to the personality of each font. Trade Gothic is arguably a no-nonsense typeface. Bell Gothic, on the other hand, is much more dynamic and outspoken.

Combine-serif-with-sans-serif in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Putting these two together creates an unwanted conflict in the design. Trade Gothic wants to get to the facts, but Bell Gothic wants to have some fun. This kind of tension is likely not part of the design goal, and should be avoided.

Now let’s look at the example on the right. We’ve replaced Bell Gothic with the stately Sabon. Sabon works very well with Trade Gothic which is a serif typeface. They are both focused on bold clarity with highly-readable glyphs due to their tall x-height. Both typefaces, in this context, are on the same mission, and that makes for a great combination.

Avoid Similar Classifications

Typefaces of the same classification, but from different typeface families, can easily create discord when combined. Their distinct personalities don’t play well off of each other and create a kind of typographic mud if careful attention is not paid.

In the first example on the left side we have a heading set in Clarendon Bold, which is a slab serif. The body copy on the left is Officina Serif which is also a slab serif. Slab serif typefaces are known for their distinct personality, and they like to dominate any area in a design they are used in. Putting two slab serifs together can create a needless and unsightly tension.

Avoid-similar-categories in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Now notice the example on the right side. The Clarendon Bold header is paired with the much-more neutral New Baskerville. New Baskerville is a versatile transitional serif typeface with wide glyphs that goes nicely with the heavy-set Clarendon. At the same time, it backs down and lets Clarendon have all the personality it wants. This combination works quite nicely as a result.

Choosing typefaces from different classifications at the start avoids needless tension in your design and typography later.

Assign Distinct Roles

One very easy way to combine multiple fonts from several typefaces is to design a role-based scheme for each font or typeface, and stick to it. In the next example, we have used Akzidenz Grotesk Bold in all-caps in an author slug on the top. We then use Rockwell Bold for the article heading. Our body copy intro and body copy typeface is Bembo at different sizes. Finally, the second level heading is Akzidenz Grotesk Medium.

Assign-distinct-roles in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

We saved the highly-distinct Rockwell for attention-getting headlines, and fallen back to a conservative sans serif heading and serif body copy combination we discussed earlier. But even in that choice, we have a great variation of size, weight and function among the fonts used.

All in all, there are 4 fonts from 3 typefaces being used here, and they all pull together into a cohesive design, because each roll assigned to a font is fixed and is very clearly defined in the typographic hierarchy. When in doubt, define!

Contrast Font Weights

A sure-fire way to muddy your typographic hierarchy is to fail to distinguish elements in the hierarchy from one another. In addition to variations in size, make sure you are creating clear differences in font weights to help guide the reader’s eye around your design.

In the example on the left, we have a decent size contrast, but not enough font weight contrast. The Myriad Light, when set above a Minion Bold, tends to fade back and lose visual authority. However, we want the reader’s eye to go to the heading, not the body copy, at least initially.

Contrast-font-weights in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

On the right, we’ve set a Myriad Black above Minion, normal weight. It might be a bit heavy-handed but there is no confusion as to what the reader is supposed to look at first.

Create a Variety of Typographic Colors

Typographic color is the combined effect of the variations of font weight, size, stroke width, leading, kerning, and several other factors. One easy way to see typographic colors is to squint at a layout until you can’t read it anymore, but can still see the text in terms of its overall tonal value.

If you squint at the examples below, you’ll notice that layout on the left bleeds into one undistinguished blob of text, ever so slightly more dense at the bottom. However, the layout on the right retains its visual hierarchy, even if you can’t read it. No matter how far away you are from this page, there is no confusion regarding where the title is, and where your eye should go next.

Create-different-typographic-colors in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Clever use of typographic color reinforces the visual hierarchy of a page, which is always directly tied to the meaning of the copy and the desired intention of the message.

Don’t Mix Moods

One often-overlooked typographic mistake is not recognizing the inherent mood of a typeface. Typefaces have personality. They change to some degree based on context, but not greatly. It’s one problem to misidentify the personality of typeface for a particular job, but it’s a double-problem to add another poorly chosen typeface to the mix!

On the left of this example, we have Franklin Gothic Bold paired with Souvenir. The basic feel of Franklin Gothic is stoic, sturdy, strong, but with a refined sense of elegance and mission. It’s not a cuddly, but functional. On the other hand, Souvenir is playful, casual, a little aloof, and very pretty. These two typefaces together come across like a Buckingham Palace guard who is dutifully ignoring a playful little girl at his feet trying to get him to smile. This kind of mixed-mood just doesn’t work very well. Mixing the mood of typefaces can draw attention to the typography instead of the message, which results in a poor design.

Dont-mix-moods in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

On the right, we’ve given Souvenir a more willing playmate. Futura Bold has many personalities, but it’s more than willing to accommodate Souvenir for several reasons. First, both typefaces have high x-heights. Both typefaces have wide glyphs and very circular letter shapes. Both typefaces have a subtle but not overly-prominent quirkiness. Neither dominates the other. They both work, in this example, to create a fun and upbeat mood. There is no sense of undue tension.

Contrast Distinct with Neutral

A clean, readable typographic design requires careful attention to intended and unintended tension. One place to look for unintended tension is with personality clashes among your type choices. If one of your main typefaces has a lot of personality, you might need a secondary typeface to take on a neutral role.

In our example, the left column pairs Dax Bold with Bernhard Modern. This is a poor choice for at least two obvious reasons we’ll examine.

Contrast-distinct-with-neutral in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

First, Dax has narrow glyphs and a big x-height while Bernhard Modern has some very wide glyphs and one of the lowest x-heights among popular classic typefaces. Second, Dax is an informal, modern, and bright typeface. It’s a great fit for a techie, savvy, modern message. Bernhard Modern on the other hand is classy, quiet, sophisticated, and even a touch intimate. Combine the lack of chemistry among those attributes together with the very different personalities of each typeface and you have a poorly functioning bit of typography.

Let’s look at a better choice. The right column pairs Dax Bold with Caslon. Caslon is an old style typeface, but it’s been modernized and sanitized to play nicely with other typefaces. It works satisfactorily with Dax in this context. Notice how you can see the personality of Dax in the headline, but Caslon steps aside and delivers the reader to the message? In this context, Caslon functions quite well as a neutral choice to support the more flamboyant Dax.

Avoid Combinations That are Too Disparate

When too much contrast is created in certain settings by selecting typefaces that are too much unalike, it can create a visual imbalance which works against the overall design.

On the left, we have Antique Olive Nord — an extremely heavy font — paired with Garamond Narrow. The over-zealous contrast and its effects are apparent. In most cases, this extreme contrast goes beyond attention-getting and goes right to awkward. It doesn’t serve the message of the copy well.

Avoid-disparate-font-combinations in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

On the right, the Antique Olive Nord has been replaced by a more subdued Antique Olive Bold. Garamond Narrow could have been replaced with a book weight Garamond, but a better choice — after some deliberation — was Chaparral. Chaparral has a higher x-height than Garamond, and overall is a more modern and subsequently more neutral choice to set against the idiosyncratic presence of Antique Olive Bold.

Keep It Simple — Try Just Two Typefaces

In all the effort to sort through large typeface libraries looking for “just the right combination”, it’s often easy to overlook the sometimes obvious and much easier choice: stick to two typefaces using a classic sans serif and sans combination.

In the example below, we’ve created a clear visual hierarchy, got a high degree of variety, created a strong sense of interesting typographic color, all-the-while increasing readability. But it was all done with just two typefaces. However, we are using a total of five fonts: three Helvetica Neues and two Garamonds.

Use-two-typefaces in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Why does this work so effortlessly? Several factors are at play here. First, when using different fonts from the same typeface, you are likely going to have a high degree of visual compatibility without even working for it. Second, we’ve chosen the tried-and-true combinations of using a classic neutral heading typeface and a classic neutral body typeface.

Both Helvetica Neue and Garamond have distinct yet neutral personalities, and they can weave complex layouts together and around each other because we’ve maintained a strict visual hierarchy. Planning rules and following them, with the right typefaces, can yield great results with a minimum of effort.

Use Different Point Sizes

We saved one of the simplest principles for last: use different point sizes to create contrast and distinction.

In the example on the left, the heading and body copy bleed together into an unsightly blob of text. Use the squint method mentioned above and look at the left example. While still squinting, look at the right and notice the dramatic difference even though it’s blurry!

Use-different-point-sizes in Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

On the right, we have the same two fonts, but in different sizes. Thesis Sans Italic has been bumped up significantly, while New Century Schoolbook has been decreased to a legible, yet more complimentary size.

Using different point sizes helps distinguish the typographic hierarchy and increase the variety of typographic color.

In Conclusion

The fact that there are no hard and fast rules about combining typefaces can make the process of making good choices time-consuming and maybe even a little exhausting. But it’s also nice to have a handy set of principles, as well as an understanding of certain typographic situations to avoid, to guide the process as quickly as possible to a pleasant typographic result.

Further Resources

You may be interested in the following related articles and resources:

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© Douglas Bonneville for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
Post tags: baskerville, bell gothic, caslon, chaparral, clarendon, dax, Fonts, garamond, helvetica, sabon, sans, serif, trade gothic, typeface, typography

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