Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Advice on choosing typefaces

A few months ago I created a presentation on graphic design tips for non-designers. Happily, as a result I've gotten some fantastic questions from people who have gone through the presentation materials and want to know even more.

As anyone who has seen/read my presentation (or, let's be honest, just spoken to me for more than 5 minutes) knows, I have some pretty strong feelings about the usual default typefaces Arial and Times New Roman. To summarize: they are undeniably boring. As a result of this stance, I was recently asked about how to pick new default typefaces (in particular, "fancy" typefaces, but I'll cover that part of the question in a second post). While I didn't recommend any specific typefaces in particular, I did share a few basic tips for deciding on just the right typeface.

In short, what you have to figure out first is whether you're looking to use the typeface that come pre-installed on your computer or instead want to pick up some new typeface options.

Using what you've got

Assuming you're going with what your computer came with, it's important to know that not all computers/software have the same library of preinstalled typefaces, in particular Mac vs Windows. Here's a handy list of what typefaces are available on what operating systems/software.

If you create a document with one typeface and then move it to a computer that doesn't have that typeface installed, then the new computer will try and substitute a typeface it DOES have, which leads to all sorts of wacky and/or ugly messing with your layout. This is one of the key reasons people use Arial and Times New Roman so much: they may be boring, but every computer has them.
My slide, exactly as designed, viewed on my lousy Windows work computer
And the same slide viewed on my Mac at home. Kinda the same, kinda not so much.

So, when you're choosing what typeface(s) to use, try one of the following: 
  • make sure you know what operating system people will be viewing your project on and design for that system's typeface libraries 
  • or publish the file as an image or PDF (these file formats don't depend on the viewing computer's typeface library)

Using something new

So you've decided to go with a typeface that doesn't come preinstalled. But don't forget: the more you go custom, the more work you have to do.

To begin with, you need to find (and possibly pay for) your fancy new typefaces. But where to look?

If you've got any sort of budget, My Fonts is a good place to start. It has a great selection, you can browse their typefaces in a number of ways (including by typographic style!), and most of what they have is at a reasonable price. Other similar option to check out is Veer .

If your budget is next to nothing, don't worry. You've still got options. Check out Font Squirrel for a large collection of free (yet still attractive) typefaces. Also, typeface designers sometimes release a few of their creations for free as a promotion. Keep your eyes out for those as well (I've been collecting every one I can find in my free design assets Pinterest board). If you choose a free option, always be careful to read the licensing requirements. Some typefaces are free, but with a limited license for use. Someone's giving you a typeface for free... the least you can do is use it the way they asked you to.

Anyway, once you choose your shiny new typeface, you then need to install it on your computer. It's pretty easy. Here's the instructions for Windows and OSX

Also, don't forget, the rules for displaying new typefaces are the sames as pre-installed ones: unless you're sharing your file as a PDF or image, you'll need to install the typeface on any computer you want it to display on.

But how to pick which specific typeface to use?

If you're an expert there's a ton of information out there about the design philosophies you can use to sort through the world of typefaces and find what you need. If you're just a beginner, though, you can probably get away with just looking at the examples of good typeface choices all around you, flipping through your options, and then picking something that you feel works with the mood you're trying to create. Just remember to always do the following:
  • Go with a sans-serif or serif typeface if you're using it for a large amount of text.
  • Make sure the typeface is readable at the size you need to make it.
  • Really examine if the mood the typeface creates matches to mood of your project.

No comments:

Post a Comment