Selecting Display Type: Factors to Consider
The process of selecting a display typeface for a new project should begin with a bit of fact gathering that precedes the actual font search. Whether you are designing a stand-alone piece — such as an invitation or announcement — or part of an ongoing campaign, learning as much as possible about its intended use before you start will help narrow your typeface selection.
The first factors to consider are general business points.
- Audience: Who will use the product or service being promoted? Age range is an obvious criterion. You may choose differently for children than for teenagers, or for 30-somethings than for boomers. Cultural or socio-economic demographics may also provide typographic direction.
- Brand identity: If you need to maintain brand consistency, then you may be limited to typefaces that are part of the brand standards or that complement the overall identity.
- Media: In our multimedia world, it’s smart to start by asking where your work will be used. If it will only appear in print, you have the most choices. If it’s going to be on the Web (via Web fonts), or in e-books or motion graphics, you will want to select a typeface that is available and appropriate for all usages.
Next you can focus on factors relating to the actual typeface selection.
- Set the tone: “Appropriateness” is the key. Some display designs shout, while others whisper. Some are highly decorative and might be great for wedding invitations, travel brochures, horror book or movie titles; others make a subtler statement, more appropriate for news magazines, political billboards, wayfinding signage, or large-scale charts and graphics.
- Consider copy length: The amount of copy should have a bearing on your choice of typeface. Long blocks of display copy need to be inviting and relatively easy to read. For shorter copy blocks, you have more leeway and can consider a typeface with a bit less legibility and more individuality.
- Anticipate point size range: Knowing the range of required sizes is essential when exploring font possibilities. Make sure thins, counters, and other design details don’t disappear at the smaller range. Conversely, verify that other design details maintain their integrity at larger sizes, especially for billboards, banners, and trade show booths.
- Anticipate weights and versions: Is a single weight sufficient, or will more than one be useful? For a trade show, for example, you may need one typeface or version for the booth and another for smaller type on promotional materials such as t-shirts, mugs and the like. Is an italic or oblique needed for occasional emphasis?
- Allow for a companion text face: Will the display typeface need a companion text face? If so, you may either want to search for a pair that work together — or to select a typeface family with enough weights and versions for both text and display. Some superfamilies include serif and sans (and sometime an informal), expanded and condensed (and everything in-between), as well as titling typefaces. Other families contain optically-sized designs, with different versions for small text, midrange, and display usage.
- Ensure legibility: Make sure the typeface you choose is legible for all intended uses. A font that is engaging for restaurant signage may not work as well on a menu, an ad or a business card.
Explore all potential possibilities. Whether you ultimately choose a serif, sans serif, script, handwriting, retro, or more decorative typeface, it should reflect the message and be appropriate for the intended audience and their viewing environment.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.