A Foolproof way to Pick Fonts2

Before we talk fonts, let’s look at these two photos of Yosemite falls:

[caption width="637" align="aligncenter"]Yosemite_1Photo by Anonymous[/caption]

This first one is just ok. The choice of lens makes the mountains feel flat. The sky looks it might have been saturated in photoshop. Overall it's an average photo.

Now look at this:

[caption width="637" align="aligncenter"]Yosemite_2Photo by Ansel Adams[/caption]

Pow! It just hits you. The mountain commands respect because of the camera angle. The clouds are foreboding. And the contrast between the whites and blacks is striking.

It's a better photo.

If you took a random guy off the street and showed him both photos, he could point to the superior image. Most people could. Our culture is very visual and we’ve been conditioned to recognize a good photograph.

But what if you asked that same guy to pick the best typeface from 10 different options? He’d hesitate. He couldn’t draw from any past experiences to have an informed opinion.

Most of us can tell the difference between a hiker's snapshot and something from Ansel Adams. But a typeface? What makes a good typeface is not obvious to a beginner.

Professional designers can see the difference because they’ve developed an eye for it. So what's a beginner to do?

I have a simple shortcut that will help. It’s not meant to be a replacement for learning typography - you’ll still need to do that. But it will get you pointed in the right direction.

The shortcut is to only use fonts from type foundries. That’s it!

The designers at places like Hoefler & Co., Emigre, and Font Bureau eat, sleep, and breathe typography. The craftsmanship at type foundries is consistently higher than any other design discipline. They lovingly fawn over all their fonts' x-heights, serifs and descenders.

Here’s the specifics of the shortcut:

  • All fonts should come from a type foundry
  • The foundry must have a website where you can buy their fonts (this shows they aren't hobbyists)
  • The foundry must be at least 10 years old (They’re more likely to be good if they've been around a while)

If you adhere to these three things you’ll be a lot closer to picking the right font. To use a golf metaphor, you'll get yourself on the green. You’ll still have to figure out which font is best for your particular project, but you’ve eliminated a LOT of bad options in the process.

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