Typography dos and don’ts

There really should be a basic Typography 101 class required in high school or university, since so many people don’t know jack about what constitutes a professional, serious, mature typeface. You have failed at understanding font selection if a cartoonish, unevenly-kerned font is your go-to for everything, or if you feel compelled to stick with the default font and never experiment to find out what you like most.

The verboten fonts (all of which I’ve deleted from my computer, or kept only because they’re needed to keep the system running):

Comic Sans. My eyes twitch every time I see this abomination. I’ve even seen it used in the photo display of a local synagogue’s past presidents, and as a several-page homework assignment from the local Orthodox day school. Besides being massively overused and misused, it’s just not designed very well. This font sends the immediate message of unprofessionalism.

Papyrus, fast giving Comic Sans a run for its money in massive overuse and misuse. I refuse to buy any product or patronise any store using this ridiculous, faux-exotic font.

Brush Script, so dull, overused, generic, cliché.

Mistral. There are much better casual script fonts.

Arial, a cheap-looking Helvetica imitator.

Handwriting Dakota, which I actually initially liked until I saw it being used more and more. I’m glad I replaced it with Journal, which is much better-designed and is a much more professional-looking casual script typeface.

Curlz, another eye-twitching font often used on party invitations.

Times New Roman, the epitome of conformism and dullness. This font is so tiny and ugly it almost makes my eyes bleed looking at it. I refuse to worship at its altar like it’s some saintly, perfect, go-to font. It was a good newspaper font at one point, but that was decades ago.

Courier. Seriously, there are much prettier typewriter fonts. It looks ugly, is too big, and is very hard to read for extended periods.

Kristen, a thoughtless go-to font for many elementary schools and daycares.

Waltograph. Never use this font unless you’re designing something Disney!

Lucida Handwriting. I liked this font at first, till I began seeing it more often. That’s the mark of an amateur, choosing a default font that looks like handwriting instead of going to a professional website like MyFonts.

Bradley Hand, another faceless, overused font.

Monotype Corsiva, which only looks like a pretty handwriting font until you’ve started seeing it all over and realised there are much more creative, professional, casual script fonts.

Bleeding Cowboys. Please, step away from this one!

Best serif fonts (which most books should be written in):

Baskerville and Baskerville Old Face
Bell MT (though you might want to increase the size, since it’s pretty small at 12 points)
Big Caslon
Bodoni (which has a large family of variations, as all good, professional typefaces should)
Bookman
Calisto MT
Century
Cochin (another smaller font it might do to size up slightly)
Didot
Garamond
Janson
Palatino (my font soulmate for over 20 years)

Best sans-serif fonts (generally best for subject headings, not fiction):

Helvetica, a classic for a reason (albeit overused in the corporate world)
Skia (Greek for “shadow,” with a fittingly old-style shape)
Futura
Gill Sans
Optima
News Gothic
Quay Sans
Tahoma
Verdana

Typewriter fonts (best for title pages or short papers, but could work for a novel):

Cassandre Graphika, which must be sized down, as its 12 point size is huge! Most of these typewriter fonts I’ve downloaded need scaling down.
Byron Mark II
Lucien
Olympia Congress
Reiner Graphika
Royal Vogue
Testimonial
Underwood Champion (normal-sized, and much more attractive and realistic to a typewriter font than Courier)
King (which unfortunately doesn’t have quote marks)

The calligraphy/handwriting/fancy fonts (best for title pages and chapter headings only!):

Wellingborough, which has a number of variants in its family. It reminds me of a cross between Gothic and Edwardian script.
Tangerine, formal without being too ornate and fancy, or hard to read.
Edwardian Script
Chopin Script
Polonaise
Savoye LET (albeit a bit overused), which evokes a 1940s feels for me.
Zapfino, which some people do feel is badly-designed or not the best script font out there.
Journal
Harrington, which conveys a very 1920s feel to me.
Exmouth
Freebooter Script
Aerolite

A professionally-designed font always has its time and place. A picture book may look best with a sans-serif font; a title page may be best-served by a calligraphy, typewriter, or Gothic-style font; a heading in a magazine article or the font on book swag goes best with a basic sans-serif font; a very long book could do well with Cochin or Baskerville to make it shorter; and a short book might become longer with a larger serif font like Didot or Lucida Bright.

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6 thoughts on “Typography dos and don’ts

  1. I think Georgia is another nice font to use. I’m using it for a test that I have to do at home and electronically submit back to my professor. Actually, he made the test in the font, and I just copied it into a new document so that I could answer the questions.

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  2. Thanks for the breakdown. I don’t really think about what fonts I use. I tend to use Times New Roman since publishers seem to like it, and it was the default on my last computer. Calibri is the default on my current computer, but I don’t like it and just changed it after looking up how to. I loathe comic sans. I used it all the time in my 20’s and got sick of it.

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  3. Interesting post, Carrie-Anne. You know I opened up a new .doc and spent almost a half hour looking at fonts 🙂 lol. That’s good, though. It’s something I’d never before given much thought.

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  4. Pingback: Z is for Zephyr | Alex Hurst

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