In the fall of my first year at UC Santa Cruz, I applied to be a photographer for City on a Hill Press. For reasons unknown to me, I was hired as a production designer. However, I accepted the position, and this decision would tether me to graphic design for the rest of my college experience.
I had never touched Adobe InDesign until my first day at CHP. I spent a good amount of time in the press center clicking on random buttons and praying for the best.
Eventually, my InDesign-related panic subsided into something more manageable. I had become familiar with the handful of tools and features needed to put a page together, and I abstained from attempting anything else.
I’ve since produced pages for print and online, all with my patchwork knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite and zero idea about formal design theory. I have deep-seated fears about answering questions regarding my design process, because ultimately my design process boils down to a series of vibe checks with Yoshi’s Island music playing in the background.
I don’t think I’m bad at what I do. Sometimes it really is about the journey rather than the destination. Maybe you can take comfort in how terrible the journey actually was! What I’m trying to get at is this: you can still make something beautiful with half the required expertise.
As you go through the motions of graphic design, you will inevitably come to a point where you must include text and decide on a font.
Fonts can make or break your design. There are many factors to consider when selecting the perfect font for your project, but we’re only going to focus on one today.
Forget about learning terms like ligature and finial for now — I will be guiding you through the act of choosing fonts based on feeling.
Serif fonts are fonts with serifs, or the little lines decorating the ends of a character’s long strokes. They’re preferred for print since the serifs do something to our brains and make the words easier to read. Everyone knows what Times New Roman looks like. Its monopoly on academia is actually the reason I chose not to pursue grad school! I’m only half kidding.
You might choose a serif font to add an air of pretentiousness to whatever you’re writing out. Change your default Notes app font into something like Garamond. In an instant, you can transform your 1 a.m. rants into evocative free verse poetry. Serif typefaces are good picks for conveying austerity and prudence. They’re fonts a responsible person might decide on. If you pick the right one, you’ll remind someone they once had to read “Moby Dick” in high school.
- Recommended fonts: Baskerville, Palatino
- Use them for: Literary journals, a piece of writing with frequent semicolon use, scented candle labels, that research paper you’re trying not to think about.
Sans serif fonts are fonts that do not have serifs. We are so lucky that whoever made the classifications for fonts was so straightforward about it. They’re preferred for screens and shorter bursts of printed text since the lack of serifs does something to our brains and makes the words easier to read. (I’m sure the psychology behind all of this is very sound.)
I’d say the Times New Roman version of a sans serif font is Arial or Helvetica, depending on whichever typeface was preloaded onto your computer.
Sans serif fonts are fun, modern, and clean. Sans serif typefaces tend to come in more weight variations than their serif friends — hairline, thin, light, regular, demi bold, medium bold, bold, heavy, extra heavy — that lets you scale how much impact you want a particular word or sentence to have with precision.
- Recommended fonts: Brandon Grotesque, Soleil
- Use them for: Tech startup logos, fusion restaurant menus, Instagram infographics, YouTube apology videos.
Monospaced fonts have characters that are all the same width. Mono as in one, space as in space, monospace as in one space. If you’ve ever coded before, you’ve probably seen a version of Courier or Consolas on your text editor. Monospaced fonts come in serif and sans serif varieties, and both come with the added benefit of letting people know you’ve fully assimilated into the Digital Age.
- Recommended fonts: Lexia Mono, Fira Mono
- Use them for: Pamphlets on hacking, spreadsheets, that screenplay that you’ve only finished half a page of, resume headings (if you’re brave).
Script fonts were made to emulate calligraphic cursive handwriting. With all of their flourishes and extra finishes, script fonts often feel like they’re toeing the line between kitschy and classy. Like many good things, they should be enjoyed in moderation. I, personally, would not use a script font for more than four consecutive words, because all of the loops start to blend together around that point. Script fonts are an excellent contender if the overall message of whatever you’re designing is along the lines of live, laugh, love.
- Recommended fonts: Braisetto, Quimby
- Use them for: Wedding invitations, bullet journal spreads, select words in an inspirational quote.
Please feel free to take this advice to heart or disregard it immediately! Certain fonts are strangely personal for many people for one reason or another, and it really is all a matter of opinion in the end. Mix and match fonts to your heart’s desire. Trusting your gut and responding kindly to any feedback you receive is the true heart of the design experience.