The choice of typeface can make or break a project. But with infinite combinations possible and numerous foundries, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Fraser Muggeridge, founder of the Fraser Muggeridge Studio (pleasedonotbend.co.uk) and the Typography Summer School in London, says: “It’s all about emotion – almost subconscious – that type can give off. It’s very subtle. The reader might not notice it, but they would twig straight away if it was wrong.”
Whether designing for the web or print, Fraser prefers to flick through books and catalogues to gather inspiration before heading to online collections. Cure Studio founder James Hurst (curestudio.com) agrees with that approach. “We keep a visual archive of typefaces we like in a clippings book. This helps us quickly define what we need, which helps us narrow down the search.”
Studio Output senior designer Alun Edwards (alunedwards.com) often experiments by setting a project in a number of different fonts to start with. “You’re always looking for a good shape and silhouette to the words,” he explains. “This is especially important if you have keywords that need to look good and not have unusual-looking characters – unless that is desired to add impact.”
As well as making sure a typeface has everything you need, whether it be small caps, different weights, or a quirky ‘@’, experimenting with various fonts lets you immediately spot potential problems. “Look out for strange ascenders or descenders that could clash,” Alun suggests.
While it is important to be aware of the historical nuances of a font, it’s even more important to be practical. Choosing a font with a large x-height will mean you can fit more text onto a page without making it too small to read. Watching out for odd kerning pairs will avoid hours of hand-spacing.
Make sure that a typeface can be licensed for online use before pitching it for a digital project, and remember to test it on different browsers, too. “There are many fonts available for the web that look fine on a Mac but fall apart on Windows, often to the point of illegibility,” says New York based typographer Nick Sherman (nicksherman.com).
“The best web fonts have gone through a process called hinting, which can drastically improve rendering. Even with extensive hinting, though, some fonts simply weren’t meant for the web,” he says.
Both Nick and Fraser say that contrast is important when pairing fonts. “As with cooking, it can be nice to create counterpoints and accents by combining disparate, contrasting flavours,” says Nick. “Also,” Fraser adds, “you want to have two with the same x-heights, or else scale one up so the x-heights match. Remember, it’s not just about typefaces but also about sizing and spacing.”
Finding fonts from larger foundries can be hard if their cataloguing is poorly conceived, Nick says. “But some sites have tagging and rating systems and advanced filter-based searches that can narrow down your options.”