Avoiding Font Crimes: How to Choose the Right Type

If you’re choosing a font for serious text like your e-learning course in corporate compliance or your great aunt Matilda’s obituary, DO NOT use Comic Sans as your font choice. Seriously. If you do, I’ll have to report you as a Comic Sans Criminal. You don’t want that to happen, do you?

Comic Sans Criminal

You need to consider the personality and purpose of the font you’re choosing. Comic Sans falls into the Cursive category of fonts. It’s intended for informal, fun, or children’s communication. For communication that is conservative, you’re safe to choose from the Serif or Sans Serif font categories. Try any of these:

Serif fonts look great in print

  • Times New Roman
  • Georgia
  • Book Antiqua

Sans serif fonts look great online

  • Verdana
  • Arial
  • Tahoma
  • Trebuchet
  • Helvetica

Actually these fonts are a safe choice for any text because they’re readable and available on most computer systems. Choosing Verdana, for example, is like wearing that little black dress in your closet. It’s good for any occasion.

“But” you interject, “I’ve seen some great looking fonts online that aren’t on this list. How do I find those and when can I use them? ”

You can find many styles of fonts on sites like Dafont and Font Squirrel. These sites are great because you can search for the right type by category, try fonts online, download them onto your system, and use them for free. They make great accents to add character to your visual communication.

Suppose you’re designing an e-learning course for Acme Widgets. You want to add some character to the headings, image text, and menus in the course by using a stylized font. Since Acme is a manufacturing company, you could look at fonts on Font Squirrel under the Industrial category for example. The Font Personalities Quiz from Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid E-Learning Blog can give you a clue about your typographic design sense.

When you make font selections, you also need to consider font combinations. You don’t want to mix too many fonts together. Try to restrict your choices to two. As a general rule, if you add a second font to your design, either keep it exactly the same or change it a lot. A Serif font for your heading paired with a Sans Serif font for your body text is a visually appealing combination. For more on how to select font pairs, see Best Practices for Combining Typefaces. The Non-Designer’s Design Book is an excellent resource for typographic guidance.

Another consideration for design choice is contrast. Black type on a white background is always a safe choice. White or yellow text on a black background also works. You can read more about contrast on WebAIM, the accessibility site.

You can avoid font crimes if you make the right choices. Stick with fonts that have good readability. Consider the purpose of your communication and select fonts that set the right tone. Limit the number of font types you use and follow best practices for combining them. Make sure you choose colours that provide good contrast.

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