The diminishing role of font originality in interface design.

We’re in the thick of significantly revising our brand and the user experience it offers, and part of that process includes font exploration. Here’s an excerpt from a note I sent to our team just yesterday after weeks of exploration:

I don’t know that selecting a font for our “brand” matters much. We need to select the font that best serves the content—or better yet, gets out of the way.

Recently I’ve been questioning the importance of font selection in the work we produce. Just five years ago we had only a few options at our disposal for body text and non-image title text—Arial, Georgia, Times New Roman, Helvetica, and the like.

In contrast, how many interfaces today use Proxima Nova, Avenir, or Gotham despite the limitless options available because of webfonts? The answer to that question is, in part, that we’re riding a wave at the moment, much like we rode the Helvetica/Georgia wave only a few years ago. In a few more years a new wave will come, and we’ll all latch on to another typeface.

But I believe the other part of the answer is that branding on the web may differ compared to its traditional counterparts. What a website or app can do seems far more important than typeface, color, imagery, and so forth. In fact, a font that intentionally doesn’t draw attention to itself (because the user has become accustomed to it in dozens of other interfaces) is probably a good thing, as it allows the content and functionality to be the real hero. This realization eases any concerns I have about originality when hundreds of other websites and apps are already using the same fonts.

Don’t get me wrong—I still love a good typeface hunt. I’d just rather spend that time building the do.

UPDATE: As proof of the aforementioned exploration, here’s one of the pages we put together weeks ago to explore type options.