When it comes to typefaces, the selection is overwhelming. Overwhelmingly overwhelming. For a designer, it can be very difficult to pick the best typeface to serve the content. So difficult, that often times designers find themselves not necessarily choosing the typeface that most enhances the content, but instead just trying not to get in the way of the actual message.
Smashing Magazine released an article on the art and science of choosing an appropriate typeface. They elaborate on where to start the process, and how to stay sane while rifling through thousands of typeface options. It all starts with having a goal in mind—how you want the audience to react to the text—but after that, heed this advice to steer you onto the right course.
Legibility vs. Readability
Not the same thing. These are the first two factors to consider. Legibility refers to how easily the typeface can be read, whereas readability is how your typeface is set. So, you can arrange a very legible typeface in a very non-readable way (if that’s the effect you’re going for). Legibility and readability come into play most when you’re dealing with a lot of content that needs to be read. A headline… not so much. If you’re going for something really legible, keep conventionality in mind. Something cute will always catch the reader’s eye… in a bad way.
Not all typefaces achieve the same result—pretty straightforward. But how do you go about sorting them all out? A few things to think about:
Design Intent: Most typefaces have detailed write-ups that tell you exactly what they were intended for. I don’t have a PhD in typeface design or anything, but these might be worth a look.
Aesthetics: People want what they expect. Nobody goes to a Tom Hanks’ movie to see robots blowing each other up. In the same light, work within the expectations of the audience when choosing an aesthetic typeface—the constraint will actually help spark creativity once your typeface is chosen.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to choosing the right typeface, but these guidelines should be enough to get you going. Smashing Mag delves a little deeper into the subject if you’re ready to take the plunge.