in Design

Understanding And Choosing The Best Typeface

After the introduction of digital forms of character types, the number of available fonts for designers has increased exponentially, so it is impossible to know them all. At the same time, it is good to know the historical background of a typeface, because it can help in harmonizing its text content characteristics. In big lines, types of characters tend to act in the context of contemporary avant-garde, while traditional character types are better suited to literary classics.

Before analyzing the factors involved in selecting the types of characters, first we must see the categories in which the typefaces can be placed. Classification of typefaces is a risky action because of the many features  different fonts have. However, a rough guide can be useful in recognizing the types of characters and learn different functions of the family of characters for text and titles, each with its own criteria for choice.

Characters for text: Old Style, Transitional and Modern

The types of characters for long texts are meant to be read as continuous or  with fewer interruptions. Some typefaces with serifs, as Bembo, Garamond and Caslon, are ideal for continuous reading and became known as “classical” fonts because they have withstood time and continues to be regarded with respect. Also known as Old Style typefaces, these Roman (Latin) fonts have been used since the origins of printing in the sixteenth century.

Choose your font. The types of characters can be grouped into related families and in many different sizes and weights.

Transitional characters have vertical emphasis, bracketed serifs and sharp type and, in most cases, a contrast that varies between medium and strong between the thick and thin touches of the letter. The main examples are Bakerville and Century Schoolbook. Transitional fonts refers to the transition from Old Style, influenced by calligraphy to Modern type fonts, more rooted in geometry than in the drawing.

Modern characters have vertical emphasis, but an obvious contrast between the thick and thin touches of the letter, fine horizontal serifs and in most cases a narrow width. Bodoni is one of the oldest and most well known. In these three groups there are many fonts that cover almost all types of works for books. They can be found in brochures and magazines, although for these publications are often other groups used more.

Large fonts for titles

Large characters for titles were introduced in the XIX century because of the major changes happening in the structure of society. In Britain the Industrial Revolution brought masses of people in cities and there was a need to communicate with a wider audience. Fonts discussed above were designed for books and then limited to a relatively elite sector of the population, so the typographer considered them inadequate for the new billboards and brochures. This period saw the introduction of fonts without serifs, of weak serifs and bold Modern letters, known as “Fat Faces “.  In general, these types of characters rather rude disappeared after 1850, but Ultra Bodoni is a font that continue to be used.

Calligraphic characters and characters without serifs

The twentieth century brought massive development of the characters without serifs, especially thanks to the Bauhaus school in 1920 and 1930. Its philosophy removed the traditional shapes with excessive ornamentation. Futurama was introduced in 1927 and after two years, Gill Sans was launched. In the decades that followed, fonts like Helvetica and Optima in Europe, Franklin Gothic and Avant Garde in the U.S., made popular characters without serifs.

Selecting the fonts

The content and the purpose of the material are key factors in deciding the design of the font that you choose. In the design for informations, clarity is essential and fonts without serifs, with monoline structures are the most commonly used. They are ideal even when the letters  should be small, as in some charts and maps. The font you choose can be influenced by the subject, in such cases, knowledge of the origins of the font can be helpful in making a decision. For example Caslon and Bakersville are English classics. Garamond is French,  Gudy is American, Bodoni is Italian, and so on.

You should not rely solely on traditional fonts. Contemporary fonts with serifs like Minion, Swift or  Quadraat are ideal for modern materials. The design of magazines can be more adventurous, because their readers tend to move more, not read them until the last page. For example, serifs like Century, Serifa  and Glypha are vigorous and attractive. If the text is relatively small, exccentric fonts can bring freshness to the general feeling conferred by design.

The letters for the titles offer more variety. Reading difficulty is a small problem, so you can try experimenting fun. Obviously, one major factor is the feeling that you want to send. In short, no sheriff fonts or weak sheriff font type are more authoritarian. If you write with white letters on a colored background or if you print on small canopy, these fonts are preferable to the sheriff fonts. For a more elegant and subtle approach, fonts with serifs holds the first line. A good method is to select a text font with serifs and a large font for titles. This will give a feeling of harmony while both sets of criteria are met.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.

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