When I was still in college and wondered how to choose a typeface, I would do some research on a typeface and find something like “this typeface has been designed for easy reading”. That would suffice and I would pick the typeface. Today I laugh about my past ignorance, because there are so much more reasons to pick or not to pick a typeface.
How to choose a typeface: feeling and emotion.
Because let’s face it, how many typefaces have you seen where the legibility is super bad? Perhaps the new dropbox typeface would not fit a government website, but overal most typefaces are readable enough for most cases. So over the years I learned that another factor is more important when picking a typeface: what feeling and emotion does it convey?
By mastering this skill it will help you make a lot of other design decisions. Because besides the questions “is this design user friendly?”, you should also ask “What feeling and emotions does this design convey, how does this feel? And does this fit the brand it’s designed for?“.
Some examples of how a design might feel: energetic, casual, powerful, friendly, caring, serious, childish, happy, sad, daring, qualitative and much more. Each element that you add, a color, a shape or typography, changes how the design feels.
How to choose the right typeface for your situation
Let’s take a look at some typefaces and analyse them.
Example 1 – Anton
Anton has a rather large x-height, meaning it’s rather tall. Creating an analogy with for example sound-waves, helps you realise that hard sounds are tall as well. Meaning a type with a large x-height is more powerful and energetic. Sport brands often use a typeface like this, because it matches the subject really well.
Example 2 – Centaur
Centaur. When i look at centaur, the imperfect characteristics stand out to me. The “c” which has variations in it’s width, or the serifs which seem to be different each time. As if it comes straight from 1460. It could fit a museum really well for example.
Example 3 – Playfair
Playfair is a free Google Font which is used quite often lately. It’s a serif typeface with rather large contrast in the stroke width. It elicits quality and would obviously not fit a cheap clothing brand. But the nice thing about this font is that it seems kinder and more playful than other serif fonts. This is partly because of the large dots found in the tails and ears (the bottom dot in the Y and the top dot in the R). This typeface would perhaps be suited for a company that wants to express quality, but still want to stay friendly and approachable.
By taking a look at the characteristics of a font, the era it dates from, or what other companies use the same font, you get a better sense of wether a font is suited for the occasion.