Typography, Fonts, and Design.

May 3 · 6 min read

Written words are parts of our everyday lives as humans. From a tweet, to a line in a book, to reading the instructions of an examination, to following the steps on a website, and to these that you are reading right now. They are all around us and although they seem negligible, we cannot do without them.

Words are also beyond the language in which they are written. Although more often than not, a regular human is more focused on and concerned about the meaning or message from words they come across, a Designer (read super human), knows that words are beyond that, and that is where Typography comes in.

Typography is an art of arranging letters and texts in a legible, clear and visually appealing manner. It is every intentional step towards having an expected appearance of texts. There’s no great design without great typography. In fact, great typography is an element of great design. It is striking a balance between functionality of texts (i.e. being legible) and its aesthetics.

Typography is so powerful that if utilized well, it can influence the decision of the readers in a specific manner. Brand recognition can also be built through typography. For example, there’s a kind of outlook that is associated with the product package of Smiley Socks (a Nigerian socks brand). Usually, when that design is seen on any other package that isn’t Smiley Socks, Smiley Socks would still be in the corner of a person’s mind. That’s how powerful Typography can be if it is well utilized.

The question then is, how do you create great typography? How do you arrange letters and texts in an intentional manner? For a beginner, the endless options of typefaces and fonts can be overwhelming and learning the when and how to use them appropriately could be confusing. But not for long.

Because there are many things to learn about Typography (which cannot be explained exhaustively here), this piece would be restricted to the following:

  1. Difference between Typefaces and Fonts
  2. Types of Fonts
  3. Factors that influence choice of Fonts

A typeface is not a font and a font is not a typeface. Although they have been used interchangeably overtime, especially by non Designers or non professionals and the difference between them is blurred amongst majority, technically, they are different. Simply put, a typeface is a set of lettering with similar design features while a font is a version of a typeface.

For example, Comic Sans is a typeface, and it has Comic sans MS bold, comic sans MS, Comic sans MS italic etc. as fonts. So just like an artiste can put out an album with 10 tracks, but you won’t use the Album title in place of a track, a typeface is also different from a font. A font is a track in the album of a typeface.

Generally, there are five types of Fonts. They are Serif, Sans Serif, Cursive, Fantasy and Monospace. However, the most widely used and accepted are Serif and San Serif. Fonts used in Design today fall under either of these two types.

Serif kind of fonts are fonts that come with decorative strokes or stems attached to the main letters. They are used in more traditional or classic settings. On the other hand, San Serifs are simply fonts without the extra strokes or stems. They are used to depict minimalism and modernism. They are also very easy to read and have become frequently used with computer and phone screens.

With endless options of typefaces and fonts, here are some factors that could guide a Designer in choosing befitting fonts and having great typography:

  • Who is Your Audience?

The audience of a message plays a major role in influencing the kind of font to be used in Designing. This is because, as it has been earlier mentioned, the message in words is not just in the meaning of those words. It is also in how the appearance of such words are expected to make it’s audience feel. To achieve the expected result, then the designer must decide who his audience is and find what appeals to such audience.

For example, when designing for kids, Comic Sans typeface would be more appropriate than using Heveltica. However, a lawyer would find Comic Sans on his business card design quite inappropriate, because it doesn’t appeal to his sense of formality as a lawyer.

  • What is the Purpose of your message?

This is closely related to the first. But it is the other end of knowing your audience. It is one thing to know your audience, it is another thing to be able to identify the message you’re communicating to your audience and what is expected of them. Your choice of Fonts and Typography generally should be able to provoke a certain reaction. The reaction that a designer seeks to get from passing across a message would also influence the choice of Fonts. Do I want them to stop and look? Do I want them to take a second look? Do I want them to feel good when they see this? What is the ‘why’ of this message and how can I communicate it through letters?

  • Creating Contrasts:

In deciding the arrangement of texts, one important manner of creating dynamism and unique typography is in playing around texts with contrasts. Contrasts can be achieved through color, weight, style, spacing and size. It is contrast that makes the Header in big prints and the body in smaller prints. Contrast could be in making a word in a sentence colored for emphasis, it could be the same font with different weights. When contrast is used in different methods, it can be used to achieve great typography. Remember, in the game of typography, Contrast is indeed King.

  • Hierarchy:

This is determining which texts you want your reader to see and read first, and making them prominent through the kind of font or color or any other means. When you want to lay emphasis on a word or a sentence, it can influence your choice of fonts.

  • Consistency:

While it might look like there are so many options to pick from and a designer in a bid to experiment, may want to try out a variety of fonts, it is advisable for a project to have between 2 and 3 fonts. Instead of creating variety through the number of fonts used, a better option is by contrasting the two or three fonts. In picking fonts, less is indeed more.

  • Test the Medium:

Before concluding on a particular design or typography, be sure to test it on the expected final medium, to be certain that it would look like what you desire it to look like.

In conclusion, there are no good or bad fonts, there are only bad uses of fonts, and a mastery of Typography would prevent that in any design. In the words of a Design genius, “typography is like fashion and furniture. With rare functional exceptions, the world does not need new clothing or furniture designs, but people want to look different or evoke a particular feeling with how they appear”.

It is the responsibility of the designer to be able to use seemingly regular fonts to help brands look unique and different and create a calculated experience from the use of these fonts.

This is what Typography is about.

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