How do you choose the right font?

Legibility, accessibility, flexibility, are among the many factors you need to take into account when picking a font for a new project. But how do you start? Here, seven designers share their advice..

Keep a list

Mindy Wagner

"I keep a running list of fonts I'd like to use some day, and when a new project comes up, I revisit it to see if there's a good fit," says senior designer Mindy Wagner.

"Lately I've been loving Adobe's Typekit integration. It's great for exploring a range of options. You can test a typeface fully and make a better case as to why clients should pay for a font. It makes the purchasing decision feel like less of a gamble.


Content is king

Jessica Hische

"The first thing I do is ask myself: what kind of content do I have the most of?" says lettering artist and type designer Jessica Hische. "If it's mostly paragraph text, I'll start with a workhorse text face (something that works well at text sizes and comes in enough weights and styles). If my site is mostly imagery and I just need a font for captions and headline, I'll look for those kinds of fonts first.

"Generally, I'm always after something that is well made (by a skilled type designer and either created for the web or adapted well for the web) and stylish. If it utilises bleeding-edge browser capabilities (like allowing me to access OpenType features), awesome, but it has to look good in worst-case-scenario situations as well."

Keep things simple

Alastair Campbell

Accessibility director Alastair Campbell comments: "In terms of accessibility, there is some general advice that certain typefaces – like Verdana and Tahoma – are designed to be readable.

"However, it is what you do with it that counts. Don't use too many typefaces in one page, don't capitalise everything, use good contrast colours, and avoid moving text. If you aim for good readability for all, you are unlikely to create accessibility barriers."

Finding versatility

Kai Brach

"In order to provide a rounded experience to readers of my print magazine and visitors to my website alike, I've chosen the same fonts for online and offline," explains web designer Kai Brach.

"The initial selection was made with cross-platform availability in mind, specifically looking for a very versatile set, with many weights and styles that give me a number of options in the different use cases (for example, Regular for white on black, and Light for black on white)."

Start prototyping

David Hughes

Digital product designer at Monotype David Hughes says: "I'm not going to lie – I find choosing type for screen really challenging. There are so many variables to consider, as well as influencing factors that are way beyond your control as a designer.

"What type of screen will people be reading your content on? What operating system will they be running? What speed is their connection? Bloody hell, even screen brightness is a factor. The best advice I can give is: get out your drawing tools and start prototyping, either by hand or with tools like Typecast.

"Test your prototype in as many different places as possible. Load it up on a bad mobile connection to see the impact when your web fonts don't load. Set appropriate fallbacks and of course, choose typefaces that were designed (or updated) for modern screen use. Eric Gill didn't create that typeface for your shiny Retina display.

Two perspectives

Sophie Shepherd

"I evaluate fonts from two perspectives: emotional and technical, " says senior designer Sophie Shepherd. "On the emotional side, I find a font that feels right with the content. Do the letterforms set the right mood? Is it easy to read in the context it will be used?

"Once I have a few options that fit the bill, I test them technically with questions like: How do they perform across multiple devices? What service is loading them in, and does that jive with the other fonts we are using? Is there room in the budget? Do we need to support multiple languages? How large is the font, and how will that affect performance? It’s rare that a font passes every single test, so it's always good to prioritise them based on the project's needs."

Finding the right personality

Inayaili de 
León Persson

Lead web designer Inayaili de 
León Persson
 says: "As an in-house designer, I have to follow our brand guidelines and design patterns, so there isn't much I can do in terms of which font I'll use for the next project!

"It's an interesting challenge, and something I now don't really think about. Our font has so much personality and the different weights make it versatile for different solutions.

This article first appeared in issue 265 of net magazine.

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