in Design

What’s in a Font?

Although some typefaces might not look a day over 10, they may actually be pushing 500 years old!

Since the first printed word nearly 600 years ago, typography has undergone many changes.  In this modern day and age we are bombarded with typefaces galore and hence, it may be difficult to choose the right font to use under the right circumstances.  Let’s first have a look at the broad classification of different typefaces:


Old Style


Old style fonts are, like its category suggests, the oldest typefaces in use today.  It can be identified by the distinction between broad and narrower strokes as well as having serifs (ascenders) of a wedge-like shape.

It has been said the era of “old style fonts” is the most exciting time in the history of typefaces.  Times New Roman, Minion, Baskerville and Bodoni are to name but a few Old Style Fonts in use today.


Where should we use it?

As with any serif-type font, use it with large blocks of texts such as news reports, data sheets and books.  Avoid using any serif typeface online, stick to using it for the purpose it was created for – PRINT!




This group of typefaces is human inspired and created during the 19th century to emulate handwriting.  When printing large headlines, humanist fonts are easier to read than serif-type fonts. It is characterized by the sloping stroke of the “e” and very low contrast between thick and thin strokes.    Myriad, Verona, Jenson and Lynton are a few examples of fonts in the Humanist group.


Where to use it?

Use this group of fonts for headlines rather than body copy or text.





These sans serif fonts are based on strict geometric forms and follow the reasoning that “less is more”.  Geometric is a very recent addition to our font groups and were only created during the 20th century specifically with advertising media in mind.  The strokes used in this typeface is mostly even in width and the overall shape of the letters are almost perfectly circular.  Avant Garde, Univers, Century Gothic and Futura are a few examples of geometrically styled fonts.


Where should I use these?

These types are beautiful, exceptional and attention grabbing.  It is therefore advisable to think very carefully where you are going to use them.  Be spares.  Use Geometrics only for short sentences or single words printed or displayed large.




Transitional typefaces are basically a modernized version of Old Style and unlike the previous, it is less based on emulating human handwriting.  Characteristically lower case letters are stressed vertically instead of slanting left or right and the contras between thick and thin strokes are emphasized far greater than the great grandfather Old Style.  Bookman, Cheltenham and Clearface are a few examples.


Where should it be used?

Transitional fonts work great in modern designs where a serif typeface is needed.  It also works well for headlines or sub-headlines.


Slab Serif


These are the square, bulky oaks characterized by square serifs and no contrast between stroke widths, introduced by the typewriter.  Clarendon, Rockwell and Courier are examples of emulating typewritten fonts.  Be careful when using Slab Serifs.  It can quickly become overpowering and hard to read, even when printed large.


Where should I use it?

We’ve moved away from the typewriter, guys.  We use printers and personal computers along with Wysiwyg publishing software.  Use only in warranted cases.



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.