When you want to use more than one typeface for a particular project, it is always safe and easy to rely on a single large type family. The various weights and proportions will complement one another, ensuring design harmony and providing suitable options for headlines, sub-heads and text copy. In short, mixing within a single typeface family is easy and gives good results. However, this direction usually produces a relatively bland typographic solution.
For any but the simplest typographic layout, using two different typeface designs will do a better job of establishing hierarchy and creating visual interest. There is a typographic rule of thumb for combining fonts from unrelated families: The more dissimilar the type designs, the better the mix. The rule, however, carries a caveat: one typeface should take the lead, and the other should be a supporting player. Two highly distinctive designs rarely combine well.
The least risky “out of family” pairing is a serif and a sans serif. Select virtually any sans serif, combine it with just about any serif, and you’ve elevated the job above absolute conservatism.
If you want to combine two serif designs, pair very different typefaces from two of the six serif classifications. Try an oldstyle type like ITC Weidemann with a modern type like Bodoni or ITC Fenice, or a transitional like Baskerville with a glyphic like Friz Quadrata. Weight contrasts also help to differentiate. Sometimes two faces from similar stylistic categories can work together if their designs and/or weights used are markedly dissimilar. For example, the delicate stroke weight of ITC Berkeley Oldstyle Book contrasts nicely with the rotund weight of Sauna Black.
Pairing two sans serif typefaces, however, tends to be more risky, because many of them are similar in design – especially to the average reader. The eye, trained or not, is drawn to graphic images that are either in harmony or counterpoint. Strong visual contrasts usually don’t create a problem, but when typefaces from different families that look alike are combined, visual discordance or uneven typographic harmony result (not unlike wearing navy socks with black shoes).
If you must use two sans serif typefaces, keep in mind that only vastly different styles and weights from these families should appear together on a page or screen. A 19th century sans serif like ITC Franklin can work with a geometric sans serif like Futura because the two are distinctly different. But sans serifs that are similar in design – Trade Gothic and Univers, for example – rarely work in combination.
Script designs are also included in this “no mix” category – for a different reason. Scripts come with strong personalities, each design wanting to make its own statement and go its own way. Trying to pair them almost always results in typographic chaos.
- Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs. He is also responsible for editorial content for the company’s type libraries and Web sites.
- Prior to working for Monotype, Mr. Haley was Principal of Resolution, a consulting firm with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He was also executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.
- Mr. Haley is ex officio Chairman of the Board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, and past President of the New York Type Directors Club. He is highly regarded as an educator and is a frequently requested speaker at national computer and design conferences.
- Mr. Haley is also a prolific writer, with five books on type and graphic communication and hundreds of articles for graphic design publications to his credit.