Look at all the fonts my computer has… How many can I use?

Here’s where you will see the most abuse of today’s computer technology. Over a number of years of attending creative conferences with other creative directors, art directors and designers around the country, font misuse always gets talked about. Someone usually yells out, “We gave them a great template and the first time they used it, someone used every single (cursing) font and color in their computer.” Then the room usually erupts with I can top that stories, or they need a font sheriff.

There are without exaggeration well over 250,000 fonts for us to use incorrectly. There are literally hundreds of articles just on typesetting alone. Here are a few rules that are pretty common across all articles. Let’s call it, Font Use101.

Stick to two or three fonts maximum on your document.

Use one serif (one with squiggles) and one sans-serif (no squiggles). The third could be a display or wild font to attract attention, usually used in the headline.

Serif fonts are best used for text. Generally they are more comfortable to read and lead to quicker understanding. We want our dealers/distributors and customers to read our information.

Sans-serif fonts are best suited for display type like headlines, subheads, pull-quotes and captions. These fonts can be used to add impact to your layout. This type generally stands apart.

Don’t use too many different sizes. Just as you can go out-of-control with fonts, the same goes for multiple out-of-control sizes. Set a template for yourself. Example: headlines 36pt sans-serif, sub-heads 18pt serif, copy 10pt serif, captions 7pt sans-serif. These are some pretty general sizes, but, on a page, they each hold an area of importance without confusion.

Make sure your font selections are readable. This pertains to not only the font selection, but also the sizes of the fonts used in your documents. If your document is hard to read, it won’t be read.

Ten most common mistakes in typesetting of technical documents according to Charles Poynton:

1)    Inappropriate use and number of fonts.

2)    Lack of consideration for line length and type size.

3)    Gigantic heads.

4)    Mistaken application and font selection.

5)    Failure to use italics for emphasis.

6)    Failure to control line breaks.

7)    Failure to clearly identify paragraphs.

8)    Careless setting of fractions.

9)    Errors in orientation of figures. (Big problem in annual reports)

10) Failure to provide clear title and author.

These are very important if producing internal product support documents. Numbers 8 & 9 could especially cause you and your customers not only problems, but perhaps trust in your company as well.

From Roger C. Parker’s One-Minute Designer, these are his 10 rules of typography in design:

1)    Always fine-tune line spacing.

2)    Avoid setting headlines entirely in upper case type.

3)    Adjust letter spacing. (Tracking and kerning)

4)    Hyphenate with care. (Never hyphenate headlines or subheads.)

5)    Lock subheads to the text that follows.

6)    Master your software’s line-break command.

7)    Use centered text with care.

8)    Reduce the size of sans-serif text.

9)    Avoid overusing bold and italics.

10) Investigate true small caps and old style figures.

We assume that all art directors, designers and production artists are trained to consider all of the above when creating any materials for their customers. It should also be part of their schooling and job description. Today to many add to the craziness by incorporating all the wiz-bang effects the software companies keeps adding, but that’s another topic.

Some of the above may seem trivial, but when you’re battling with a competitor for a market share, one who use trained professionals to do their work instead of green or untrained designers, poor font usage will stand out. Don’t get carried away and remember three fonts are good, twelve gets you talked about at creative seminars.

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