Fonts and Stuff

Elise Bowen

August 6, 2013

Much of my job as a designer is about bringing imagery and type together to communicate a message in the best way possible. Whether it is designing a new logo, website, mailer, or a business card, choosing the right type can help your audience understand the message you are trying to send as well as solidify your brand image.


There is more to the world of typography than “fonts.” I think the way most people use the word font is actually referring to a typeface. A short history lesson: Before digital type there was metal type. To print anything each letter was cast or carved out of metal and placed by hand one letter at a time. A font was a set of those metal letters in one size and one style. For example a set of all the letters in 14 pt Baskerville was a font and Baskerville is the typeface. The definition of font today has been compared to an MP3 and the typeface is the song.

Stephen Coles adds:

“When you talk about how much you like a tune, you don’t say: ‘That’s a great MP3.’ You say: ‘That’s a great song.’ The MP3 is the delivery mechanism, not the creative work; just as in type a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.”

Typefaces come in many different styles widths and weights. Helvetica Bold, Italic and Condensed make up the Helvetica type family (you can think of a type family as an album). Some font families are vast and can include serif and sans serif versions as well as decorative and body text styles. Others are loners with only one style available.

When it comes to choosing the right typeface for your project here are a few graphic design tips:

First and foremost is readability

If it cannot be read, it won’t communicate, especially when it comes to advertising. Don’t use a decorative face for body copy. Pay attention to kearning and provide the white space the copy needs for easy reading. Print your design at full size to make sure all the type is set well.

Consider the project

Too often a project suffers because the designer is seduced by trending typefaces or type treatments. The type choice should be made according to what solves the problem best for the project. Sometimes the type should be an invisible crystal goblet and others it is all about the type.


A layout with the same weight, size, and style of type is not only uninteresting to look at, but it can also be difficult to navigate. On the other hand, having five different weights, styles and sizes can be too distracting and detract from your message. Use different type styles and treatments to your advantage to create the contrast needed for hierarchy, but don’t go overboard. Learning how to combine typefaces harmoniously can be difficult and takes time to understand but here are some tips on how to be successful.

Find a good workhorse

Find a typeface that works well at a larger display size, as well as smaller body copy, and will support layout hierarchy. This can be your go-to that can take care of a multitude of projects. Currently my go-to’s are Helvetica Neue, Gotham, DIN, Archer, Georgia, and Minion Pro. Each have their own implications for use. It is also helpful when your workhorse has a full type family with many different weights and styles. That way you won’t have to worry about the rigors of mixing typefaces.

There are far too many tips, tricks, and rules to name here. Some of my favorite go-to references for typography include Robert Bringhurst’s book, The Elements of Typographic Style, and Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type book and website.