Don’t let your type choices speak poorly of your work.
The nuts and bolts: The personality of the typeface (or font) that is being utilized, or how it delivers the message, can also be thought of as the voice of typography/type.
Conventional wisdom says you should never use more than two fonts in a design. There are two problems with that thinking. First, “never” is too absolute and “design” is too loose. But also, it doesn’t explain why only two.
Sure, choosing an appropriate typeface is like setting up friends on a blind date — and we agree that two is a sensible limit. But typefaces, like people, have personalities that don’t always get along. And when you do choose two typefaces for, say, an Italian restaurant menu, you’d better make sure they like pasta.
Choosing a Typeface
There are better ways to choose a typeface than personal preference. Sure, your own judgement is important. But choosing type is like choosing an actor. Bad casting can ruin the show.
Who would be the best person to read your message aloud? James Earl Jones? Steve Martin? Think of dialogue between two people. Choose typefaces to fit each voice.
While type gives text a voice, using a typeface does not improve text. You can’t throw a title into Trajan and expect people to treat it like Shakespeare. Using Papyrus does not make “Barry’s Used Appliances” worthy of the Bible.
And then there’s Comic Sans.
It’s not that Comic Sans isn’t bad — don’t roll your eyes — it just gets used beyond what it was meant to do. It’s a one-note song. A one-trick pony. But people use it like it can make anything casual. If you’re designing a comic book about ancient Egypt for kids aged 3–5, then Comic Sans and Papyrus can duke it out. (Children under six years old aren’t very discriminating.)
That’s why you’ll never see us use Comic Sans, except in an ironic context. Really, the only way to get away with a “bad” choice is to deliberately mix serious and whimsical.
Dos and Don’ts of Typographic Voice
- Do strive for contrast. Serif and sans-serif, bold and light — if typefaces are like voices, then give your audience a little variety to break up the monotone.
- Do consider other factors. Like any T-shaped work, typography is more than choosing faces. Clashing colors, not enough contrast, size, and density can ruin even the best type choices.
- Don’t confuse people. If a typeface is a voice, then many typefaces are a babble. The real reason to limit yourself isn’t just … because. It’s to stay focused. Really, there are no bad typefaces, only bad choices*. So “never use more than two typefaces”? Maybe conventional wisdom should say, “always think about the voice you give your words.”
*Except for Comic Sans.