This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.
1- How do you choose the best font for a particular design feel? I mean, how do you choose certain types of fonts depending on emotions expressed by the words?
2- Can you recommend some resources for professional fonts? Or do you recommend rather a process when searching for a particular font? Or, do you recommend creating your own fonts each time?
In the rare cases where I used fonts testing logos,) I made some of them unique by tweaking their shape, but not all the letters. I am curious about how you manage that part.
I hope you don’t mind if I flip the answer around, as the resources and process are easier to explain than the how I choose part. (But no worries, we will get to the How in a little bit!)
You probably know me well enough by now to guess the answer on this particular part of the question, but it’s still something I would like to mention first: no, I would not ever recommend creating your own fonts each time! And, just so we are on the same page, by “font” I mean a complete set of characters – letters, symbols, numbers, punctuation, ligatures…
Not unless you are a font designer. Or not unless the client actually requires a unique font for their personal use only. (And you better be a font designer in this case. Or outsource it to one. Which is exactly what I would do.)
It is also something that would likely add months to your project timeline. Creating a good, functional font means studying all possible letter, number and symbol combinations, taking into account the white space around each one – and a million other little details, which I confess I can only imagine because – in case it wasn’t clear – I am not a font designer. Nor would I ever attempt to play one.
(I know it’s easy enough to create font sets with DIY software nowadays, but that doesn’t mean those fonts are good enough for commercial use. This is also why there is such an overabundance of fonts that don’t look quite right when used for anything more than a single word. But more on that later.)
On the other hand, if you are talking about creating custom lettering as a wordmark, that is a rather common practice. And something I do as well, when it’s appropriate.
For example, sometimes that wordmark might be based on specific shapes that somehow relate to the logo. Other times it might be based on someone’s handwriting, as in this example:
The custom lettering is just for that specific word or phrase – not the entire font.
I generally find that when the custom lettering is rather elaborate, there is no need for additional symbols – the wordmark becomes the logo. Those are usually quite effective and memorable – but also not easy to pull off with longer names.
The bigger part of logos I have designed use an existing font, tweaking some or all of the letters – much like you mention. It’s often the most appropriate solution when there is also a symbol to be incorporated – but can also work as just a wordmark when the tweaks to the letters have some significance and work as a symbol themselves.
As for resources to find fonts, I have built up quite a good library of them over the years, so that’s usually the first place I look. However, I am always on the lookout for more. Fonts are not difficult to find — websites like Fonts.com and MyFonts.com have thousands of them, and going to specific font foundries from there will give you plenty of more unique, quirkier options. (HouseIndustries is one of my favorites.)
Of course, these are all paid options. And good, professional fonts are usually not free. However, if you are looking for some free alternatives, I would avoid websites that have billions of free fonts — browsing them is extremely tiring, especially considering the fact that about 90% of those are not well made – which is something you might not notice on first browse, but rather after downloading, installing and trying to set a paragraph or two in that font. My resource of choice for free fonts is FontSquirrel – they only feature well-made, professional quality fonts. Of course there isn’t as much choice, but that is actually a good thing.
Keeping an eye on those “Best of free fonts” round-up articles from various design websites (SmashingMagazine is a good one, and so are many of its networked sites) can also give you some additional free options.
Now as for the how I choose fonts part, it’s one of those things that is really difficult to explain.
I think it’s a mixture of intuition and experience. I have worked with so many different kinds of fonts for different kinds of styles, that by now I instantly know whether something will work.
In the beginning, it’s a lot of trial and error.
Asking someone more experienced for advice and feedback can help. So can various books on the topic. One such book is The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It goes into a lot of detail on type setting (the old-fashioned way, not with computers), and it doesn’t really bring up the more modern typefaces, but it does give you a deeper understanding of how those letterforms are created and what each style entails, a foundation you can build upon.
There are many more modern books on the topic as well, and there are a number of websites that talk about typography. Googling “good typography” or similar topics will bring up plenty of them.
The information is out there, as with everything. But trial and error is still the most important part. Once you have tried choosing the perfect font dozens of times, and gotten feedback on why this was or wasn’t the appropriate choice – that’s when it will start become second nature.
Call it experience, or call it intuition – or a mixture of both.
All I know is that you can only make use of it by practicing, failing, and trying again and again.