An Exercise in Aesthetics
“The most popular typefaces are the easiest to read; their popularity has made them disappear from conscious cognition. It becomes impossible to tell if they are easy to read because they are commonly used, or if they are commonly used because they are easy to read.” –Zuzana Licko
What does your font choice say about you? If you are under the impression that this small character does not, in fact, communicate volumes about the document being composed or the person who is composing it- then you are wrong. Strange as it may be, a variety of assumptions can be made about a document based solely on what typeface is used. What you compose digitally communicates various details about your intent, level of experience, and quality. True, a font is a mere representation of a character in a word and part of me pleads- no demands that this- this cannot be the most important thing. But my lamentations fall on deaf ears, and with good reason.
The labor that has gone into the study of fonts and their associated meanings borders on intellectual compulsion. (True- the argument over Helvetica vs. Arial is funny but still too esoteric and inconsequential to really be of serious interest). Regardless of where design falls on your hierarchy of concerns, the fact remains that you can’t ignore the importance of the design of your document. Familiarizing yourself with some basic knowledge on formal vs. informal fonts, what fonts are printer friendly or best viewed online; all the while preventing you from committing the most egregious faux pas- representing your work and ostensibly yourself with… Comic Sans.
How to Choose a Typeface:
So what makes a font good or bad? And how do you know what font to choose? First the font has to be legible (seems like a given, right?) Readability is very important but the quest for the perfect font does not end there. You want your audience to be able to read what you are writing but you also want to connect the message of the document with the personality of the font. This is best explained visually:
I hope this makes the idea of appropriate font choice a little more clear. There is an implied meaning in the design of a font and you want to make sure that this implied meaning matches your intended meaning. Beyond the idea of the content matching the purpose, there are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing your font.
Serif fonts are those that have a structural detail at the end of the character. Serif fonts are used for printed works and body text because it is supposed that they the increase readability by increasing the space between letters. There is some question as to whether this claim is valid, for more information visit this page: http://alexpoole.info/blog/which-are-more-legible-serif-or-sans-serif-typefaces/
Serif fonts are commonly used in books, newspapers, and magazines.
Sans Serif fonts are simply fonts that do not have a structural detail at the end. San serif fonts are typically used on web pages or for headlines and titles of works. San Serif fonts are also good to use for business correspondence.
Now that you have some basic knowledge on how a particular typeface can set the style and tone of your document you will be better equipped the next time you are composing a document. Remember that you want the typeface to lend its personality to the document, not overpower it. So play around with it, try out a few different options and see how they look. Finding the right font is part following these guidelines and part following your own aesthetic preference.
Michelle Hendrix is studying English Literature at the University of South Florida. She plans on teaching high school English.