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Avoid a Font-O-Rama

FontaramaWe’ve all seen documents that use more fonts per square inch than legibility (let alone aesthetics) can handle, resulting in a garish “font-o-rama.” This not only looks unprofessional, but it serves as a barrier to marketing success. Good typography equals good communication.

Graphic designers understand that type often obeys the law of engineering, “form follows function.” That is, a typeface should be appropriate to what the typesetter designed it to do. At the same time, that form needs to be aesthetically pleasing. The basis of good typographic design is balancing the “logistic” requirements of the document with what is pleasing and attractive.

For example, Bell Gothic was designed in 1938 to improve the legibility of phone directories, as well as provide economy of space. Frutiger was designed to make airport signage easy to read from a distance. Interstate, which was derived from Highway Gothic (the official font of the U.S. Highway Administration), served the same purpose for U.S. highways. Courier inspires a sense of nostalgia.

When choosing a font, think like a designer and choose a font appropriate to the task at hand. It’s like clothing. What we wear should be appropriate to the weather as well as to the context (formal versus casual), but also be attractive. Just as with clothing, some fonts look dated and scream “1970s,” the typographic equivalent of a plaid leisure suit.

Typefaces, like anything else, go in and out of fashion. While it’s tempting to think that no one really pays close attention to fonts, there is often an unconscious visceral reaction to bad type, not unlike the unconscious reactions that we have to poor color combinations or out-of-date clothing.

Understanding how font choice affects the perception and reception of a document is one of the crucial elements to good design. You should not treat it lightly.

Every font tells a story—is it the story you and your client want to tell? Or do you want people to say, “Your mother dresses you funny”?