The more meticulous designers among us know that finding the perfect typeface is not easy. More still, the task of selecting fonts becomes invariably more difficult when a design would be better served with multiple typefaces.
When pairing fonts, it’s important to consider that fonts often have distinctive personalities meaning that certain fonts are better suited to conveying particular messages than others.
The typefaces you use, therefore, play a vital role in shaping your company’s branding and in turn help communicate messages to potential customers. For this reason, designers should not attempt to underplay the psychological role of typefaces given that they are continually subject to evaluation, even if on a subconscious level.
Font Psychology 101
Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman or Garamond, help foster a traditional company image. HSBC and Volvo are among the companies using serif fonts in their logos.
Sans serif fonts, such as Calibri and Helvetica, help to indicate stability and modernity. Google and Microsoft are two prominent companies who’ve elected to use a sans serif font in their logo and branding.
The likes of Coca-Cola and Ford use script fonts help to inject character and elegance.
Display fonts are often tailor made typefaces regularly used by companies primarily targeting younger audiences - such as Lego and Disney - due to their fun and casual undertones. The use of display fonts is ordinarily restricted only to logo designs, as they are often too decorative to be used for body text.
When selecting fonts, you subliminally engage in a series of trade-offs. For instance, medium-weighted fonts are more readable, though lack the strength of their bold counterparts. Moreover, capital letters are more powerful than lowercase, yet not as legible as mixed case.
Similarly, kerning and spacing have a profound impact in eliciting certain messages. Tight spacing is thought to indicate strictness, reliability and punctuality. Though, sufficient spacing between letters is required to ensure that readers enjoy a fluid reading experience.
In short, what’s important is that the fonts you use in your designs reflect your purpose and intended message. Rounded and playful fonts (we’re not looking at you, Comic Sans) may be appropriate when marketing products for children but are a no-go for professional businesses.
How to create font pairings that entice readers
Compiling a selection of fonts with the intention of combining them within the same design or wider branding guidelines is no easy feat. Thankfully, there’s a number of guidelines that designers can refer to in order to facilitate this process.
1. Ensure your fonts deliver consistent messages
What’s key is to select typefaces with similar personalities, which also elicit complementary messages. For instance, attempting to combine a loose script font and heavily-weighted rounded font will not only appear aesthetically disjointed, but also deliver conflicting messages about your company’s ethos.
That’s not to say that designers should restrict themselves to only using one font type in any one design. Far from it. Using sans-serif fonts for headlines and serif typefaces for body text is particularly common for websites that deliver long content pieces. The contrast in style between these fonts helps to stimulate and maintain the reader’s interest. Serif fonts (like those regularly used in novels) tend to be easy to read and the injection of modern elegance from sans-serifs helps to create a stylish font palette that is free from conflict.
When using more dated and historical fonts, ensure that there is consistency between the time period from which the fonts originate. In other words, while serif fonts may be regarded as more ‘traditional’, designers should still be mindful that some serif typefaces are more modern than others.
2. Similar fonts can create disharmony: the case for a visual hierarchy
The simplest solution may appear to just combine similar fonts from the same family. Alas, designers who follow this notion run the risk of creating a typographic disharmony that results in an imbalanced and unsightly discord for its readers.
Such an approach does not allow for any separation or contrast in the text, which is why it’s paramount that designers should look to establish a visual hierarchy in the typefaces they use.
A visual hierarchy provides much-needed balance to text. An effective visual hierarchy is not merely achieved through applying different font weights, text sizes and text formatting e.g. italic and underlined text. Though this helps to enrich the messages you aim to deliver, designers really ought to consider using different font types to achieve a clearly structured and engaging design.
Designers would be well-placed to experiment with letter spacing; clear differences in the kerning used in headlines and body text will ensure that the reader’s attention is maintained.
3. Finally, how many fonts are too many?
While there is no cast-iron rule as to how many fonts should be used in any one design, graphic designers remain free to use as many fonts as they see fit. However, the generally accepted rule among the design community is that a maximum of 2-3 fonts should be used, in order to avoid creating disorderly, overwhelming and incoherent designs.
In the case of web design, page speed is considered a highly desirable trait by web users and search engines alike. Therefore, it’s important for web designers to consider the potentially adverse impacts of using multiple fonts on a website’s performance. For a truly streamlined experience, opting for web-safe and system fonts will go a long way to appeasing page speed conscious web developers.
An Enormous Guide to Font Psychology by Nick Kolenda.
Font Psychology – Use The Right Typeface for Your Logo by Aashish Pahwa.