What makes a really good font? How about typography—how do we, as designers, make our type work really well in a composition? Let's take a look at what makes type tick—what makes a good font? How would you describe great typography?
We'll examine those subjects and offer some food for thought. Then, stay tuned from some insights and inspiring works from several type designers. Their works really got me inspired, and I hope they inspire you too!
Ready to dig into some type? Let's get started.
What Makes an Awesome Font?
There are so many wonderful fonts out there to choose from! But what makes a really great font work well?
Ultimately, the answer is going to depend on the project in question—we, as designers, need to arm ourselves with the visual communication skills to make the most informed choice. However, there are a few things we can universally consider, whether we're choosing a font or designing one of our own:
How does the type visually communicate? This is more than what the words literally say. Shape, texture, and line can be very communicative. For example, check out Costa La Vista, a font duo by LeoSupply, below. I find the combination to be bold and energetic. I probably would not use this for something like a sympathy card, but it could work great for a party invite. Why? Because one font has a lot of fun, informal movement, while the other is bold and rather "loud". They could be a great fit for a project with similar communicative goals.
Good Typography Is More Than Good Looks
Great typography is more than a stylish or trendy looking font, and it's more than type that embodies a concept or aesthetic. That's not to say the aesthetic of the font itself isn't important—it most certainly is, and can be very communicative too—but there's still more to digest here.
Personally, I feel that good typography should look and feel natural; it should be effortless for the viewer to consume. For example, if the type looks great but it hurts readability or legibility, we lose the primary function of the type.
It's form, function, and ease of use—it should look good, it should work properly, and the experience should be effortless for the viewer.
We could go on and on about type's anatomy and best practices—that could be a whole separate article—but I, personally, always like to keep these three tidbits in mind:
Legibility—how easy is it to read the type? For example, some fonts might not be as legible at smaller sizes, or too much space between the letters can make words read in a disjointed way.
Readability—likewise, how hard is it to read the type as a group? Does the line spacing or word spacing make the sentences feel disjointed? Or do they flow in a natural way that is easy to read?
Complements—do your type choices complement one another? Or do they fight each other for visual dominance?
However, again, we can't neglect the importance of purpose. Your project and its goals are going to ultimately determine the best approach to these points, and others too.
As an example, take a look at the font Hastron, below, by Vunira. The font has been presented here with a sans serif typeface in a sample composition. Notice how the sans serif is smaller and a "background singer", in the band that is this composition—it is supporting the star of this show.
Looking at an Example
So let's take a look at some strong typography in action.
Generally speaking, when working with type, it's a great idea to keep the Principles of Design in mind—they are typically our primary building blocks as designers. For example, take look at the example by Khurasan, below—notice how scale helps establish hierarchy, not only in the type, but in the entire composition.
Again, that's not to say our type choices themselves don't also communicate visually. They most certainly do! A clean sans serif typeface, for example, could be a perfect fit for something sleek and stylish, like a fashion show. On the other hand, a traditional serif typeface might be just the right fit for a formal invitation. There's no definitive right or wrong answer there—and that's where we, as designers, come in. We not only have to be great at composition, but we also have to think about the communicative aspects of our work.
New to the principles of design? Looking for a refresher? Here's some info that might help you out!
That said, I had the pleasure of speaking with a number of designers about their thoughts on typography and fonts. I think there's a lot of value in listening and observing other creatives; we can learn a lot from one another!
Let's take a listen to some of their insights and opinions—and take a look at their inspiring work too!
Julia Martinez Diana | Antipixel Type Studio
My name is Julia Martinez Diana, I’m a graphic designer graduated from the University of Buenos Aires (FADU, UBA). I’m the founder and designer at my independent type design studio Antipixel, with main focus on display handwritten typefaces. Some of my studio’s most popular type families are Austral Slab & Austral Sans, LeOsler, Escalope, the Aracne collection, and my latest, Pasto.
I have a particular interest in irregular and unique forms, therefore I invest a great deal of time in adding textures and layers to my compositions to give depth, making them interesting and different. This is where the Open-Type features come in handy, most of my typefaces have 3 alphabets that are automatically alternated to avoid repeating characters, enhancing the handwritten feel. Ligatures & Stylistic Alternates are normally included too.
Typography is one of the main components of graphic design. Not only [does] it help present the message, but it's a visual content that complements the graphic universe itself. I have always enjoyed this about type, and my main goal is to consistently create typefaces that by themselves can transmit an idea, a message, and add up to the graphic universe of possible users.
I'm inspired by those beautiful glyphs hidden in every font family. I like to celebrate characters from other languages alphabets, stylistic alternates that let you customize your work, and even icons matching the font style. From an asterisk to an accented character, each glyph has a story to tell.
Firstly, good typography needs to have high-quality glyph construction & traces. Kerning is also essential since good spacing makes reading easier and gives visual order.
Additionally, I believe that language support is very important. At the moment of creating a typeface, I pay great attention to having a large glyph coverage. As a Spanish speaker, I have always given credit to those typefaces that include characters like "á" and "ñ", so it is very important to cover a variety of glyphs that will allow people to use the type freely without having this kind of stepbacks.
For using type effectively, an important step of designing is choosing the right typeface/s since each project has its own personality. It has to be accordingly to the graphic style of that particular design, and be able to adapt to any possible usage amongst the project.
Here are some questions you could ask to evaluate if that type fits or not! Can it be used in small and large sizes, or do I need different typefaces for each instance? Does this type reflect the impact I'm achieving? Does it work along with the illustrations/images? Is the style of the font according to the message of the project?
Creating typefaces is a long and hard process that requires a lot of patience, but it can be achieved! Don't give up!
It is super important to always work with a goal, to know where you are headed! You can start with some references, other designs you've liked, art pieces, color palettes, and anything that inspires you. After you design key characters, use them to create further glyphs to help create a consistent visual universe. Constants are very important in a typeface to help assimilate the information and perceive it as one graphic/type system.
But don't limit yourself, be free, and go with your gut when you sense the characters are working together!
Check out more of Julia's lovely type work here:
My name is Ijajil, I'm a 37 year old graphic designer & illustrator from Jakarta, Indonesia. I am currently working on projects for my client's commission and for Envato Elements, focus[ing] on logo and font design.
I don't have any formal design education background, I'm a self-taught person and I love challenging myself to develop. In 2006 I started my business as a website designer and got local clients under the name KreasiMalam. In 2012 I began to leave the website project and became an Envato author, focus[ing] on logo design and branding, I sold logo templates and corporate identity templates. In 2015 I started learning typography, especially lettering and font design.
Typography is very important in design to deliver a message. Being able to express and build mood from letters is a very pleasant thing. How we give [that] impression and mood [can vary in a] limited number of letters.
Inspiration can come from anything. I really love vintage typography from ephemera and product labels. I always start from scratch; pencil and paper are very effective tools. With pencil and paper you can explore and determine your style and to find out if your design is going to work or not, so that you can fix it easily before continuing to the next stage.
I think good typography is not only beautiful to look at or eye-catching, but can also express and convey the messages of a design, reinforce the meaning of the text, have good proportion and balance.
Good typography can also play a role in taking over attention or leading attention, functional, readable, understandable, can be applied to various media, also can change the feel of a space.
To use type effectively is to be concerned about typography principles such as kerning, hierarchy, spacing, alignment, color combinations, shapes, sizes, and letters combinations. If all of the principles can be fulfilled then good typography will be achieved.
The most important thing for designers is to learn the basics. Learn from calligraphy and hand lettering. Start with paper, pencil or brush. Be patient in practicing these basic things. Practice and repeat until you feel settled. By learning these basic things, you will also be able to find your style and develop it.
You can make a good work but it has to be unique and different, it is not an easy task. Don't think about making works that "sell-out" but make unique and different stuff so people can recognize your works. Be original! Result takes time, so be patient in the process.
Be sure to check out more of Ijajil's work here:
I am a graphic designer since 2010, focusing on passive income selling in the marketplace, and currently I am building a small team to create design assets, and have several stalls in [many] design marketplaces.
Type designers take care of the details, so that we aren’t unnecessarily distracted by them. And good type designers relish those details. My role model from the world of typography is the Arabic calligrapher who wrote the Holy Qur'an by hand for many years,Uthman Taha.
Good typography is measured by how well it reinforces the meaning of the text, not by some abstract scale of merit. Typographic choices that work for one text won't necessarily work for another. Corollary, good typographers don't rely on rote solutions. One size never fits all. But, sometimes I interpret "GOOD TYPOGRAPHY" [as] easy to see, easy to remember, easy to read.
Be yourself, don't be limited by one style, explore everything you want to do, until others know that you made the alphabet and numbers on their computer.
You can view more of Vunira's work here:
Leonard | LeoSupply
I’m a self-taught font designer. Started with design back in 2009, first I started with Photoshop and photo manipulations, that was something I was intrigued by and that was a trigger for the learning of other design techniques in graphic design.
After this, I began watching tutorials, learning, and experimenting. I needed 4 years to come to learning font design, so in 2013, I created my first font. As I didn't stop on fonts, now I have a big collection of created fonts, brushes and designs behind me that I sell or share with other designers.
Typography, as all other art directions, is a way of your own communication with people, no matter what words are on the ''paper'' or ''display'', typography itself gives the message. What I enjoy the most about typography is that you could really change how will people communicate no matter what is on the ''paper''.
I really enjoy exploring, drawing and designing and generally find inspiration all around me but mostly on social media and by studying other font designers. Finding inspiration isn’t hard, what’s hard is transforming inspiration into artwork.
Typography that have wide application. For example, it is scary but also it can be funny. Also, the presentation of the typography is very important.
I don't like to use more than 2 fonts in design work, also when I use 2 fonts, I always prefer high contrast between font styles, for example, Sans Serif Font - Handwritten Brush Font.
Also, don't use fonts that are very common in the designs around you. Try to keep it original.
I would just recommend just to start to draw letters, [create] fonts, work and practice and soon you will know if is that for you. Every start is hard, of course.
Once you learn [to design] fonts you will have a really different approach to design and you will never see letters in a way you did before. :)
You can find more of Leo's wonderful work here:
Syaf | Khurasan
My name is Syafrizal, I am a graphic design freelancer based in Aceh, Indonesia. [I]'ve loved typography from 2013 and just got really serious in this field in 2016. At the moment I have my own studio called Khurasan Studio with a few teams that focus on font design.
I really like the beauty and uniqueness of type and that is what makes me love typography. Every time I see beautiful typography, I always want to [recreate it] and then pour it in digital form. You can see [designers on] social media carve their brushes on the canvas and make a beautiful piece of writing, which is very interesting to me.
And if they can, why can't I? That is the reason I study typography, because I want to be able to be like them. You can get inspiration to make fonts from anywhere, I get inspiration to make fonts through social media, Pinterest, and from the cover of [a] book—yes I often go to the bookstore just to look for inspiration through the cover of the book.
Before I make a typographic work, I first determine the theme for the font that I will make, whether it is the theme of Christmas, children, sports, or wedding themes. So determine the right theme at the beginning of the process, it's very important. Because I often find fonts where the name, theme and form are out of sync, of course the font can be less attractive.
And then the other important thing is the font preview image that must be interesting, appropriate theme, and suitable when combined with the font. The average buyer is interested in seeing fonts with attractive preview images and not too similar to the display of other font images.
If you want to make your own font, do it. [It's not a] problem [if] the results are not optimal because it is a process that we will definitely go through and we will enjoy going forward to be perfect. There is no instant process. You don't need to hesitate and feel inferior to your custom font because there must be someone who uses it and likes it out there, so let's be creative in making your own font.
And you can check out more of Syaf's work here:
What Are Your Favorite Fonts and Why?
Let us know in the comments—what are some of your favorites? What do you look for, when you're looking for new typefaces to add to your collection? And, if you've supported any of the wonderful artists here and used their typefaces in your design work, we'd love to see! Feel free to give us a sneak peek in the comments!
A very special thank you to Julia, Ijajil, Vunira, Leo, and Syaf for sharing their thoughts and their work with us today! I find your works very inspiring, and it's a pleasure to listen to and learn from you.
Again, you can check out more of their work at these links! Please consider supporting their wonderful work:
Enjoyed this article? Want to dig into some more typography? Check these out!
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