Typography and You
Today we will be discussing a fundamental building block in the basic pragmatic and aesthetic functions of document design and technical communications: font choice. Although to some, choices in font may seem arbitrary, a matter of taste or preference—choices in font are vital to a document’s ability both to be pleasing to the eye and to be easily legible. Particularly when dealing with longer documents, maintaining both of these aspects of presentation will result in a document that is easier and less tiresome to read, which is ideal for your user. While certain technical documents will be dictated by a style guide that pre-selects the appropriate font and sizing, many times a choice in font will be left open to interpretation, and in those moments it is useful to have a few design principles in your back pocket to understand typography better.
First, let’s discuss three of the basic types of font categories, their characteristics, and their uses.
Serif fonts are globally some of the most popular typefaces, and are recognizable by the linear flourish or flares emanating out from the letters, emulating brushstrokes. These marks are the serifs themselves. Examples of popular serif typefacing are fonts such as Times New Roman, Palatino, or Garamond. Serif fonts endure in popularity in part because they are so easy to read as large bodies of text. While they may not have the contemporary style and clean lines of a san-serif font, your general serif font such as Times New Roman will look best in a long body paragraph like an essay or long email. Serif fonts are especially useful when employed in ink-and-paper, non-electronic print media.
Sans-serif fonts, are—as the name implies, fonts that have been stripped of their brushstroke emulations in favor of a cleaner typeface style that is more congruous with bold statement pieces of texts such as headings and logos. Examples of common sans-serif fonts are Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica. Helvetica has been favored in use in both advertising, and infrastructural signage in part because of its clear and legible style that can be rendered in many languages. Sans serif font allow the designer or communicator more creative control with the size, weight (how thick or thin the typeface seems), and kerning (letter spacing). However, it should be noted that since sans-serif fonts do not guide the eye along in a horizontal fashion like serif fonts do, sans-serif fonts are best employed for emphasis and for short-form pieces of text.
Script typefaces are the most formal and elaborate forms of typeface, meant to mimic calligraphy or handwriting. Script fonts are essentially cursive, and have the most flourishes of any font type. Because of this, they are perhaps the most aesthetically distinctive and expressive of the typefaces, but they are also the least legible and least suitable for bodies of text. Due to all of their flourishes, script fonts also tend to take up the most space on the page. It is important when using script fonts to pay attention to the size and kerning of your font choice, since all of those flourish-heavy letters will often compete for space and attention with one another. The most appropriate uses for script fonts are for cards, invitations, letter head, and other formal and announcement-based contexts for typeface.
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