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Project typography - Osom tips and tricks

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By Adam Bogusiak

9 min read

What should you keep in mind when choosing the perfect typography for your project? How to pick the ideal typeface that will appeal to your audience? This article will help you master these elements while building your clients' brand identity!

Although in the last few years there has been a dramatic increase in demand for typography, with new typefaces (or their continuous novel updates) appearing like mushrooms after the rain, some fundamental rules of typeface selection, for communication with the target clients, remain the same. Many of the conclusion mentioned in this article, although may seem trivial at first, often surprise the customer. While great emphasis is placed on the appropriate selection of colours, choice of fitting photos and illustrations for the page, the font, that itself plays an integral part of the design, is actually treated with less relevance. Our experience shows, however, that it is the appropriate typeface that gives the projects their unique character and showcases the whole effort of the designer. So what should you consider while choosing your next Font?


All your answers await below!

Project typography – The Know How

 

Phase 1 – Choice of appropriate typeface

For the purposes of this article, we will assume the situation when a client comes to us who is just creating their brand identity or whose existing brand book does not state a specific typeface for printed or digital materials (or defined only one area of the designer's activity, e.g. print, which, contrary to beliefs, happens quite often).

After the workshop stage, where we get to know client, as well as his ambitions and concerns, we proceed to create a “Moodboard” in which we showcase our Typographic proposals, specifically selected for the given project in hand, which, in our opinion meet the needs of the client.

Two critical points to bear in mind while choosing your Typography:

1 – Brand ID reference

Firstly, we need to refer to the already mentioned brief or conclusions we came to during the workshop. For example purposes, let's assume that our client sells a product aimed at young people, which spend a vast amount of time immersed in the digital world and following new trends. In such a case it would not be wrong to consider fresh, not necessarily perfectly legible, fancy display typefaces. Of course, we are talking about using such typefaces for titles and headlines, and not for large sections of plain text that can be found, for example, on web pages. And vice versa is also true, if we want to reach a wide target audience, especially older people, it is not a bad idea to compose a serif font for headlines as well as a clear, legible sans-serif for regular text. The typeface should be clear and somewhat "conservative".

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2 – Readability

Here we come to the second, although in the hierarchy perhaps even more important issue - readability of the text. In the English language we interchangeably use two terms, readability and legibility, both essentially defining how 'easy to read' the text is for the human eye. However, some theoreticians (and practitioners at the same time) mark a distinction between the two terms. They indicate that a good font should be characterised by both good legibility, i.e. fast and precise recognition of the character and its shape within the typeface, as well as readability, i.e. the ease of reading page of text, regardless of its content. Without going into more details, let us stick to the term -  readability.

It is not hard to guess that for a simple page of text you should not use unusual or fancy typefaces (except in the case of artistic projects, where being "viewer friendly" is not a priority). It should be pointed out that we are left with two categories of typefaces to choose from, serif and sans-serif. The exception, which I mentioned above, is the use of an additional typeface for headings or titles. This one, because of its size, will automatically be more legible, even if it will not be characterised by the best readability. Therefore we often offer the client the use of two typefaces:

  • the "identity" one, i.e. the display one, resulting from the brand identification, or
    just giving it character
  • to be used with large text lines.

So let's conclude - communication with the recipient in the form of a long text we must not
use unreadable fonts. In this case, the choice of display or decorative fonts would be a mistake. On the other hand, messages in the form of titles, mid-texts and quotations offer a wider range of possibilities. In this case, we usually recommend fonts from a wide variety of genres to clients - from handwritten through to fresh, trend-setting hybrid fonts (with elements of serif, sans and various embellishments), and also decorative fonts to already mentioned sans-serif and serif fonts, also used for headlines.

3 – Other properties

Having narrowed down the choice of font families to serif or sans-serif, let us move on to the other components of a well-chosen font. Let us start by saying that after choosing the typeface, it should be checked for legibility in various applications, both in ready digital graphics, in physical print (unless the client operates only in the digital area) and "live" on the Internet. As it may turn out that a font which performs well as a bitmap on a static graphic (e.g. layout for a social media post) may appear to look much worse as a Webfont.

The subtle differences between letters within typefaces have a significant impact on the legibility of a given typeface. For example, let's take the canonical typeface "Helvetica", almost the archetype of a useful, legible typeface. "Helvetica" continuously inspires typographers, but often the new typefaces having grotesques references to the original and do not work as well in texts. 

It's worth adding that, it's been proven that the best fonts to use for long texts are the serif fonts (the only comparable in the situation are very high quality sans-serif fonts) because the horizontal serifs in the letters of such typefaces make it easier for the eye to move along the line of text. Of course, the legibility of a typeface, even an imperfect one, can still be improved by slightly wider "tracking" (spacing between characters) or a higher "leading" (distance between text lines), but this is unnecessary additional work.

What else impacts our choice of a well chosen font?

Once we have made our initial choice of typeface character and genre, we should turn our attention to a few other important aspects to take into account. Let's start with the size of the character base within a given typeface, and the related issue of multilingualism. 

Assuming that the client wants to take his product to the most diverse corners of the world, it is worth taking into consideration whether the desired font (or rather font family, as the more varieties the better (sic!), has characters, or if you like alphabet, for various languages. The absolute minimum would be for the font to support; German, Spanish or Eastern European languages. The ideal font would also support Cyrillic and Arabic characters.

The next important decision is the choice of the OTF font family, which in contrast to the old TTF standard (which is still in use), have various additional encoded parameters such as special characters, decorations, glyphs or ligatures.

Last but not least, variable fonts have recently become very popular. These are nothing more than a family of fonts contained in a single file. In many respects (ease of use, lighter weight, easy operation from the css level), proves to be a very convenient alternative. Let us add, that most often these variable typefaces are supplied in a package with all available variants as separate .otf or .ttf files.

To sum up, the ideal typeface would be one that is easy to read in print and on a desktop, which is multilingual, has a wide range of special characters and is saved in OTF format with a variable version available, which would make the work of developers much easier.

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Phase 2 - Free or Paid font?

Having got to the stage where we have a near-ideal font for our purpose, the next challenge is to choose the specific font family from among the available commercial and free options.

Free Fonts 

Let's start with the free fonts. They offer a very large and continuously expanding range of styles. Catalogues of fonts, such as; 'Google Fonts' or e.g. 'Font Squirrel' contain several hundred different fonts, sometimes very rich in variants, multilingual and well constructed for reading large text pages.

So, what's the problem? 

Well, free fonts mean that our brand ceases to communicate in a unique way. Admittedly, we can still find a relatively unknown and hardly used font - We at Osom Studio regularly follow typographic releases and find such gems.

However being free and widely available, it is only a matter of time before these good, free font families will become popular and lose their uniqueness. This was the case, for example, with such typefaces as 'Poppins', 'Open Sans' or 'Montserrat', which used to be unknown and nowadays occupy high positions in the popularity rankings. https://fonts.google.com/analytics

Paid Fonts 

As we all know, every leaf has two sides, so let's take a look at what the paid fonts have to offer. Paid fonts, although certainly not as abused as the best of the free ones, still do not always guarantee uniqueness. Some examples are 'Futura', 'Helvetica' and 'Bodoni' (each of them having free alternatives), and yet they are also already well-known, even overused typefaces. In order to avoid this problem, more and more often customers decide to buy a custom font created and licensed especially for them (custom fonts solutions are used by e.g Empik or mBank) or - and this is a cheaper solution - they buy ready-made fonts directly from typography studios (Foundry) or through intermediaries - internet shops like 'MyFonts', 'Fontspring' or 'Youworkforthem'.

In recent years, another way of buying fonts has become established itself on the market - the purchase of entire packages (so-called bundles) at extremely attractive prices. This solution is targeted at various graphic portals, but the most interesting "bundles" usually appear on the Design Cuts website. Within the packages sold by this supplier (usually priced at around 30 dollars for a dozen or so font families), we get productions of many respected typography studios, such as 'Latinotype', 'Type Type' or 'URW Type'.

However, it's worth reading the licenses of these commercial fonts, just because a font is available at a discounted price does not mean that the client may make the font available to third parties (ideally, in order for both parties to obtain the same font, both, the client and the contractor must purchase the same font and have a separate license installed). The topic of licensing is, however, a different issue that deserves a separate blog post.

 

Summary 

Typography has been neglected for years. Its dynamic renaissance in recent years makes it one of the main elements building brand identity today. A well-chosen, unique typeface can be a very important element distinguishing a customer's page from the competition and, most importantly, a clear tool for communication with the target audience (even if we assume that the majority of recipients do not notice the subtleties that determine the quality of a typeface). 

Our task at Osom Studio is to understand and bring to life our client's expectations. Using our findings, knowledge and experience to select an optimum style of typography that most accurately reaches the recipient.

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