Breaking Down the Fundamentals of Font Design

Your messaging is only as effective as the delivery platform: Purpose built font design really helps.

The design industry is constantly doing battle. Content, copy, text—they bombard audiences from every direction around the clock. So how do designers attempt to reach targets being inundated with messaging? One important way is through font design: the art and science of choosing the right combination of font and style to make a message command attention.

Need help finding the right font for your audience? Bigfish design professionals are a font-tastic resource!

What is the Difference Between Font and Typeface?

Font and typeface are terms that are pretty much used interchangeably. The difference? According to online graphic design thinkspace, Canva: “The typeface is the design; the font is how that design is delivered. typeface + style + size = font. A font is what you use; a typeface is what you see.” (Canva Site) This sentence is spot on. A font is the end result of choosing a typeface (such as Arial, Futura, Helvetica, Times New Roman), styling it, and sizing it. Often, what differentiates a good design from a bad one is the way type has been treated.

Font Styles Revealed

As described in Canva’s article, there are various font styles to choose from. Examples include: Serif, traditional characters with small line attachments at the end of each stroke, Sans Serif, modern and geometric characters without “serif” attached to the end strokes, Scripts, cursive/handwritten text, and Display, vastly decorative and attention grabbing.

Why choose specific fonts when designing?

There are several project-dependent, and even case-by-case reasons. Ideally, you want to choose a font that resonates in alignment with your design’s message and purpose. Headlines or display type, are generally short and discrete, not meant to be read at length. As such, they serve as an anchor for viewer eyeballs. That’s why designers choose bold or all caps styles for headlines that can catch the attention of a viewer. As Canva says: “Display fonts can make a big impact when used in the right way, but when used incorrectly, they can make a design look busy and amateurish — or completely unreadable.” This is never more true than in the case of headlines.

Alternatively, body fonts work in a different magnitude compared to display fonts. Body fonts are intended to be used on text that is meant to be read at length. We’re talking paragraphs in books, websites, magazines, newspapers, etc. Choosing the right font in this instance is just as crucial as choosing a headline font. Canva again: “One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is not realizing what various font categories are most suitable for—for instance, body typefaces versus display typefaces.”  In this category, fonts should be easy to read and easy on the eyes. They should not be overly distracting because the intention is to give readers the ability to skim, scan or peruse text with ease.

Understanding just these two categories begins to expand a designer’s capacity to create full-fledged design projects. Yet understanding these two categories merely scratches the surface. Exploring more type families allows for a greater range of styles to choose from depending on a range of purposes. That’s what skilled designers are paid to do: Understand how and when to combine font styles.

And not only that. Variables like size, letter spacing, and character similarity are important when combining fonts as well. Seasoned designers have learned to establish a hierarchy, take advantage of a font’s personality, and imbue them with purpose. They  limit the number of fonts in a single design as well, to avoid a mish mash. In other words, experienced designers give each font a job: Your chosen fonts will need to be different enough that they create a clear visual hierarchy that shows viewers where to look and what’s important.

Bigfish designers are masters of this craft

We approach each project paying close attention to harmonizing the combination of brand voice and brand style. Yes, this definitely includes finding the right set of fonts and using them deliberately. Our Strategy & Branding services include projecting your brand in a way that specifically speaks to your customers. It’s this simple: Incorporating the perfect font design will improve the way you deliver the right message to the right audience.

About the author

Motion Graphics Designer

Sebastian is tuned into everything digital, from audacious tech start-ups to trending apps and [...]