Choosing A Good Text Font

The text font defines the project's presentation layer design.

The text font selected for your project determines its presentation design more than any other element.

When I start working with a new client, I work to develop a customized look and feel for that client’s products. I don’t use the same layouts and design elements with all of my clients. I want their documents, ebooks, website pages, online help, or other products to reflect the character of the company and not my personal design style.

Occasionally, the client hands me a style guide that spells out in great detail how to make my projects fit into their corporate library. But most clients don’t know what they want in terms of style and layout. They are focused on content, and trust that I will deliver effective and well-designed information. This gives me room to exercise additional creativity, but it also puts another layer of responsibility in my hands.

Design Layers

Writing projects involve making decisions for the three layer of design: content, layout, and presentation.

  • The content is the stuff I’m hired to write.
  • The layout defines how I organize the writing. It might be paragraphs, bulleted lists, numbered lists, and forms that appear in a print manual, an online help system, an e-learning course, or a web page. Usually, the content dictates the layout. For example, a set of instructions (content) should use a numbered list (layout).
  • The presentation layer includes decisions about fonts, font sizes, highlighting, and other forms of emphasis.

Depending on the client and their budget, I may bring in a graphic designer to assist with the layout and presentation layers. However, for most clients, I design all three layers.

Font Selection Process

Within the presentation design, the fonts selected for text and headlines impacts the client’s design the most. I start by selecting the text font, and then chose a headline font to complement the text font.

  • When starting from scratch, I review the style hints available to me from the client’s logo and branding. I analyze the fonts, and if I can’t use the exact branding fonts, I find fonts with similar characteristics.
  • In general, I use serif fonts for text and san serif fonts for headlines, and keep the fonts simple to increase readability.
  • I stick to commonly available fonts, but occasionally purchase a font for a specific client.
  • When a client needs fonts for both online and in print, I use fonts designed for each medium. The readability issues are different for reading from a computer screen and from paper.

This article from Before and After magazine breaks out seven characteristics of text fonts with good readability and lists their four favorite text fonts. It’s a great resource for learning about font selection and font characteristics.

After I have a section of the client’s project completed (both content and layout), I use it to test possible font combinations (presentation). I audition several fonts and view the results in the appropriate format (print or online).  I always include the company name and product name in this sample and pay special attention to how they look in each font. It’s trial and error at this point, and sometimes it takes me several days of staring at combinations to decide on the presentation design.

Practical Tips

Even if you don’t design information products, you still must choose fonts for your emails, status reports, proposals, presentations, and other writings. Here are some practical tips I can share with you to make that process easier.

  • Use serif fonts for text and san serif fonts for headlines.
  • Choose a font and font size to maximize readability. For print, font sizes should be about 12 pt and for presentation slides, use 28-32 pt.
  • Limit the use of emphasis (bold, italics, all caps, etc.).
  • Consider the age of your audience. Anyone 40 or over knows that a smaller font size can be tough to read, even with up-to-date glasses.
  • Once you find a font set (text and headline) that you like, reuse them. The design time you save can be used to develop the content or do something fun.

Note: Biznik featured this article on its front page on Monday, October 20, 2008. Some comments include links to other related resources you should not miss.

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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