NHS Designs



Graphic Design Typography

Choosing a Font

Letterforms are more than simply characters to be read. Additional information arises out of the associations that are attached to various styles of type.

For example, you can easily see the difference in the character of the typefaces used in a Wild West "wanted" poster and those used for a traditional wedding invitation. Successful designing with type is all about making the most of those associations to make your visual point.

wanted poster wedding invite

Source: Graphic Design Foundation Course by Curtis Tappenden, Luke Jefford and Stells Farris


Finding Meaning

The first thing that you do when you receive copy (text) for a design job is to read it for sense. Whether it is a 20,000-word book or a single word logo, ask yourself "what does this actually mean?" If you can't answer this question yourself, how can you hope to convey the meaning successfully to others?

The typographic treatment sets the overall mood of a piece: clean, traditional choices for straight information delivery may suit a corporate report. On the other hand, more funky stylized fonts might work better for a poster promoting modern dance.

The huge range of typefaces available on the market is almost overwhelming. You can make a bit of sense of this by remembering the broad categories mentioned earlier. They are typically separated according to function, as many type foundries do as a matter of course.

Source: Graphic Design Foundation Course by Curtis Tappenden, Luke Jefford and Stells Farris


Creating a Mood

Let's look first at a single character of type to understand the power type can give your design. When set in various faces, even a single letter - such as a lowercase a - can evoke different feelings, depending on the design of the typeface.

moods of a

When the letterform is flowing and curvaceous, the feeling conveyed is softer than the feeling communicated when the letterform is angular and hard-edged. A whimsical letterform will convey a lighthearted mood; one that is elegant will communicate sophistication.

As another example, choose two words with contrasting or even opposite meanings, such as peace and war. After seeing each of these words in the various typefaces, which face do you think is most appropriate to the meaning of each word?

peace and war

Source: Design Basics for Creative Results by Bryan L. Peterson


Further Understanding Mood and Meaning

The content of the material and the purpose of the design are the main factors in deciding your choice of font.

In information design clarity is essential, and it is telling that sans serif fonts, with their simple structures, are used for road signs. Sans serif is also ideal when type has to be a small size, as in some diagrams and maps.

modern sans serifs bus sign

Which font you choose can be influenced by the subject matter; in such cases a knowledge of the origins of the font can help in coming to a decision. For example, Caslon and Baskerville are classical English, Garamond is French, Goudy is American, Bodoni is Italian, and so on.

classic serif fonts

You do not have to rely on the classical fonts; contemporary serif fonts such as Minion and Swift are ideal for modern material.

modern serifs

An effective mixture: below, a serif font for the word "Relaxing" and a contemporary sans serif for the word "snazzy" nicely reflects the shift in moods.

magazine spread

Budding designers need to develop a strong sense of how the different fonts create emotional, psychological, and historical resonances within
the reader.

moods of fonts
Click on image for a larger version.

Source: Graphic Design School by David Dabner


Quick Tips: What to Consider when Using Type

  • What font will best communicate the feeling of your message? Does your font harmonize with or detract from your message?
  • Will two or more different fonts be more effective in displaying the concept than one? Consider using a serif face with a sans serif face, for example.
  • What type size will best convey the idea of the design? Is the size appropriate for the audience? Does it complement the other elements?
  • Is the type properly placed in the format to have the most impact on the reader? Are the shapes of the body copy pleasing or are they unattractive?
  • Is the font one that needs to hold up well over a period of time (a classic), or is a more current, trendy font a better choice?

Source: Design Basics for Creative Results by Bryan L. Peterson


To Buy or Not to Buy, and a Legal Consideration

Adobe products such as Photoshop and Illustrator come preconfigured with many fonts for free, so long as you don't copy them to another computer.

Others you can obtain online for free or for a price. Fonts for sale usually cost around $20-30 for a set of roman, italic, bold and bold italic. Complete families like those for Futura and Bodoni can cost hundreds of dollars. The price includes a license to use the font.

Be careful "borrowing" commercial fonts from friends! If you use a particular font in a printed piece and you don't own the license for it, you may be violating copyright laws and could get into legal trouble.

Fonts are a type of software. Using a commercial font for which you do not own a license is called "typeface piracy".

Typographers are artists who put a lot of time and effort into creating fonts. It is their right to determine whether they will share their copyrighted work freely with others, or will require a purchased license.

Be sure you are on the right side of the law.


Take Quiz 5: Typography 2

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