April 19, 2010 4

How to Choose the Right Typeface

By Ian in Design

It has often been said that the most important thing is not what you say, but how you say it. While this rings true in personal relationships, it certainly is true in the world of advertising and design as well. Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message”, and even though he was talking about communication mediums like TV and radio, this is again true for advertising and design. Essentially, it is not what the company or ad is saying but how they get that message across that truly speaks to the consumer. And one great medium for communication is typeface.

With the right font, companies can shout their message loud and clear about who they are, what they’re selling, and how that product will make you (the consumer) feel. It’s not just about choosing the right font though. There are many ways you can vary that font once you’ve chosen it. Italics, bold, underlining, drop shadow, changing the height and width. All of these manipulations add to the message. Between these options and the thousands of fonts available today, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.

The first choice you must make is if you want serif or sans serif. Most fonts fall into these two main categories. The serif fonts have small features at the end of strokes within letters, and the sans serif are – well, sans these features. Times Roman is a popular serif font, whereas its nemesis Arial is a popular sans serif font. Once you choose a typeface path, you can start to narrow down what font is best based on its feel. Some fonts are standard, some are bold, some are ornamental. The one you choose will tell your audience if you are classy and elegant, or if you have more of an in-your-face vibe.

For example, look at this font:

It would be hard to imagine this message being said with a font that was ragged or gothic looking. It is a thoughtful quote that is being presented, not a hard sale on discount mattresses. The subject matter of the quote is beauty, creation and art. When you think about what the message is, the look seems perfectly matched to it. Of course this quote needs a font like Badona that is rounded instead of rigid, flowy instead of stagnant. And the font’s airy quality also speaks to the message, a quality that is achieved by the variation of bolding, size and spacing. Art and creation are ever-changing – so shouldn’t the font describing these topics be too?

Companies with a different objective will of course have different fonts in their ads. For example, look at this ad:

Notice the name of the perfume is written in a cursive, slanted font. This gives the perfume more of an elegant feel. Then the font changes. Most likely, the designers knew that having all the copy in elegant cursive writing might be a bit much.  So they went with a font that was both bold and inviting at the same time (the “new magical fragrance line” being written in all lower case levels gives off more of a friendly, appealing vibe).

Some ads have done some pretty interesting things with fonts. For me, the Absolut Vodka campaign comes to mind. Using the font AND product name as seen on the bottle is a powerful way to create brand recognition. So powerful, that this campaign idea has been ongoing for almost 30 years. Seeing an Absolut ad gives the consumer a distinctly different experience and feeling than seeing a Canadian Tire ad might. At times I feel the use of their bold font within their tongue-in-cheek ads is so recognizable and engrained in our collective memory, that visuals are barely needed. If you saw the Absolut font with no accompanying visual on the side of a bus, you wouldn’t just recognize it. You would feel it.

About Ian:
Hi, I'm Ian T. I'm a York grad and a copywriter for Eden Advertising. I'm the master of procrastinating. I like to use parentheses (sometimes). I love the LCBO because wine makes me happy. I don't blog, I capture moments in time.

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4 Responses to “How to Choose the Right Typeface”

  1. Andrew says:

    Great article! I love typography, very fun to work with it ;)

  2. Good article, Each and every point is good enough.Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.

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  4. Emily says:

    Excellent Article! I personally really like your post. This is a great website. I will make sure that I stop back again!.