In a digital world with thousands of fonts at your fingertips, it’s tempting to opt for chocolate chip with sprinkles when French vanilla may be the better option for delivering your message.
In real estate, the top three criteria are location, location, and location. When it comes to font choice in visual communication, whether that be an ad, flyer, or social media post, the top three criteria are readability, readability, and readability. Think about it… if your audience can’t read your text, they’ll overlook or dismiss it, meaning a failed opportunity to communicate. That doesn’t mean you should never use a cool display font or anything fancy or different… it does mean that those choices should enhance your overall layout’s chance of successfully communicating your message. Display-type fonts are sprinkles, not the ice cream or even the chocolate sauce.
When it comes to choosing the right font, there are a few things you should consider.
Tone and Personality
- Choose a font that fits the tone of your story/message. A handwritten font could be better for a flyer to parents about a school event. A formal script may be the better option for an event invitation. Corporate communications should often be clean, strong, and business-like in their look.
- Is the gender of your audience something to consider in your selection? If the audience is largely female, such as an ad for a women’s dress shop, a more curvaceous font can work. For a predominantly male audience, such as an ad for power tools, a font exhibiting boldness and strength may be your best choice.
- When there is no reason to consider an audience’s gender for a message, as is the case in most instances, opt for a font that does not suggest a particular gender.
- Often companies have brand standards that guide what fonts should be used, and in what ways.
- Spatial considerations can also be important in font selection. When it’s necessary to fit a large amount of copy in a small space, a condensed font can maximize the font size for the space.
- When space limitations mean your font point size will be small (10-point or less), consider a font where the x-height (height of the lower case letters) is a higher percentage of the cap-height (height of an upper case letter). In many fonts the x-height is between 50-60% of the cap-height [excluding ascenders and descenders]. Readability is increased in fonts where the x-height is between 60-70% of the cap-height. Set up several blocks of small copy in different fonts and look at them in the way they will be presented and at 100% of the final size. If copy for something printed, print it out and look at it while holding it in your hands as one normally does a flyer. If on screen, evaluate it at 100% (it’s actual size as it will be shown). If for social media or another use that is likely to be viewed on a phone, email the typeset copy block to yourself and look at it on your phone. Can you easily read it? If not, consider a different font.
- Often a layout requires several copy items to communicate key details in the message. It might seem like choosing a different font for each type of copy block would help the reader segregate information, but the opposite is true. Using several fonts in a document adds visual clutter that works against comprehension.
- In many cases, best practice is to use one font family for headlines, sub-headlines, and side titles, and a separate font family for copy blocks like body copy or key details. Use the different weights (e.g., bold, regular, light, etc.) available within the font family as needed to separate the types of information.
- Some designs are intended to be read from a distance, like billboards. Lightweight or thin fonts are poor selections for greater viewing distances. When selecting a font for optimal readability at a distance, print out several options, tape them to a wall and walk several feet away to judge the best options.
- Too often, ALL CAPS is used to distinguish one part of the message from another. This method should be used very sparingly and only for a small amount of copy. Larger copy blocks in ALL CAPS can be harder for the viewer to read. Consider a bolder font in upper/lower case or sentence case as an alternative. Setting blocks of body copy in all caps is not advisable, but if you must, add extra leading (line spacing) to aid readability.
- Your layout will determine whether flush left, justified, or flush right is the best option, but flush left is the most readable of the three for audiences who read left to right. Although justified copy blocks create order in a layout, extra space is added or subtracted between words to make the lines appear even. The inconsistent or unexpected word spacing in justified copy can slow the reader’s eye.
Contrast is everything
- The most readable text is that with the greatest contrast; black on white or white on black is the highest possible contrast, but not the only option for high readability.
- Color works as long as there is good visual contrast. For example, red text on white stands out well, while red on black does not (and, red on black is also very difficult for the color-blind reader). Yellow text on black offers high contrast, while yellow on white is very difficult to read, especially from any distance.
- When using colored text on a colored background, consider a fatter, bolder font to add weight to the colored font. If readability is still an issue with colored text, consider adding a white or black outline for greater separation from the background color.
I outlined a lot of important considerations you should make when choosing the right font. Here are your key takeaways:
- Select a font with a personality that matches your message and is suitable for your audience.
- Minimize the variety of fonts in a layout.
- Make sure readability and comprehension are prioritized when choosing a font, capitalization, copy layout, and color. Aesthetics are important in any design, but if the message doesn’t get through to the viewer, pretty won’t matter.
- Test the font for readability in the medium where and how it will be used (e.g., print, social media, website, at a distance, etc.).