Ever admired the sturdy, classic capitals stamped across Time magazine, or the curvy vintage nameplate on the cover of the Rolling Stone? Does the fanciful feel of New York magazine or the luxurious look of Vogue entice you to open it up and dive inside? If so, then the typeface of that magazine has done its job. Though typeface — the style of printed characters on a page — might sound like design jargon, it plays a starring role in how a story, design and publication are received by its audience. Each comes with a family of fonts in bold, italic, condensed and other forms. With the right fonts, designs can tell a story, express ideas, evoke emotion and engage readers. With the wrong ones, they can distract or confuse readers, enough to prevent them from finishing an article or picking up a publication ever again.
When selecting typefaces for Web or magazine projects, our designers consider everything from the amount of text to the message, emphasis and style of a publication. Many of these typefaces are chosen early in the process and draw from a family of fonts, which are used throughout our publications repeatedly to create continuity.
Whether debuting in one design or appearing in several, “fonts should complement the overall look of the magazine and appeal to the audience in style and readability,” designer Lynne Boyer says. Margins and page size also determines which font works best, Lynne adds. Weight is another factor. If a typeface isn’t flexible enough to be used at different weights, it probably lacks the versatility you need.
Selecting a Style
With all the typeface choices out there, how do you know what to use when? First, you need to know what’s available. Here’s a glossary of the basic kinds of typefaces:
- Serif: Traditional style with serifs or small lines extending from the end of a stroke.
- Sans serif: Cleaner style lacking the small extensions of serif fonts.
- Script: Similar to the style of old-fashioned calligraphy with elaborate flourishes extending from strokes.
- Handwriting: Similar to script fonts but less ornate. They range from stylized to grungy.
- Futuristic: Letterforms may be simplified or unusual to the point that legibility disappears.
The heart and soul of every design starts with its body copy — the style used for most of the text — and readability should be your first concern. Look for something that blends in, and is pleasing to the eye and easy to decipher when scanning through long lines or blocks of copy set at 14 points or less. A serif font is usually your best bet — though you should avoid anything with bold or distinctive serifs or oddly shaped characters. Think about your audience. If your readership is older, you’ll want something wider with ample spacing between letters. For a teen-focused Web page that uses a smaller point size, the clean lines of a sans serif might work better.
Captions offer a little more room for creativity — as long as you find something that reads well at a smaller point size and meshes with the other elements of the page. For pull quotes and callouts, go with a font that will stand out a little more and draw the reader’s eye, like a sans serif in a vibrant color.
Headlines are where the real fun happens, designer Ben Stewart says. They offer the “most playful use of different fonts and give us an opportunity to try out new typefaces.” The key is finding a font that displays nicely at a large size and works with the tone of the story or the spread — something strong but not too overpowering. Layouts with a traditional or classic feel lend themselves better to serif faces, while sans serifs create a crisper, informal look. Script faces can bring a sense of luxury to a design, while handwriting faces add a personal touch. Even harder-edged, angular futuristic faces have their place in edgy designs with an ultra-modern or progressive message. Don’t be afraid to use fancy or unusual typefaces, but save extremely decorative or elaborate ones for shorter headlines and avoid anything too trendy. Also, try to keep headlines written in all caps in a sans serif font for readability’s sake. But remember to steer clear of any kind of formula! Experimenting with fonts and using them in unexpected ways is what produces striking — and exciting — results.
Testing It Out
Whether you plan to use a typeface or font once or stick with it often, you’ll want to test it out, especially when it comes to more permanent choices like body copy. “It’s important to put fonts to the test because once the decision is made, you’re stuck with it for a while until another redesign process rolls around,” Lynne says.
Serif faces printed on low quality printers or textured paper can lose detail in thin strokes and delicate serifs, so it helps to print the fonts you’re considering out at different sizes in graphs of varying lengths. Using headline and body copy fonts too similar or incompatible in style (such as two different serif or sans serif faces) can cause them to lose their impact, so try to mix and match. A serif body copy with a sans serif headline, for example, offers a good contrast.
Keep in mind that some typefaces and fonts work better in print than on a computer screen. “The Web is a completely different animal from print,” Ben says. “In print, you can pick the best typefaces, print them on paper and send it to your audience. With Web fonts, it’s up to what a reader has on his or her machine.” Typeface selections are limited, but Ben recommends fonts like Arial and Verdana for Web projects, since these can be read easily online and are loaded on most computers.
What are our favorite fonts at Hammock? Here are a few of our designers’ top choices. To brush up on your font knowledge, check out this periodic table of typefaces.