Fonts. They’re everywhere. In brochures, magazines, blog posts. They’re the basic ingredients of good design. And they really do have the power to make or break your marketing.

In a subtle way, fonts show people what kind of brand you are, what sort of business you run. They can be loud or quiet, soft, bold, colourful, subdued, sleek, blocky, round and square. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they’ll feature in nearly every piece of marketing you ever create. But despite all this, it’s easy to take for granted the power fonts have over our audience.

So we thought we’d run through the basics. Fonts 101, if you will. A quick guide to typefaces and how to use them. We hope you find it useful.

Basic fonts

There are some fonts that are so diverse they can be used for just about anything. These are what we’ll call the basic fonts, and they include Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, Frutiger, Garamond, Bembo, League, and Shelley. And part of what makes them so ubiquitous is the fact that they have such large families.

With all of the above, you have a large choice of how to present the weight of the font. Bold, heavy, light, and super-light weights lend flexibility to fonts such as Helvetica. So you can use them in a variety of contexts, both masculine and feminine, and they’ll be a good fit.

Another reason to use basic fonts is for their timelessness. The rule is, the simpler they look, the longer they last. So for printed material, brochures, magazines, and generally anything that is going to exist in a non-editable form, basic fonts are always a safe and smart option.

Themed fonts

When you’re designing to a specific theme, it can often be beneficial to use hyper-specific, novel fonts. For example, if you’re going for a retro or futuristic aesthetic in your marketing, there are fonts you can use to evoke those particular themes.

This needs to be approached with caution, however, and it’s a good idea to err on the side of subtlety. The problem with themes is that often they go hand-in-hand with clichés, and it’s easy to overdo it. So it’s important to make sure that the fonts you use are unique enough to don’t feel old and overused. 

In this way we can think of themed fonts as the opposite of basic fonts. The general advice being, if you’ve seen it around a lot, avoid it. Whilst it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to themed fonts, resist the urge. After all, the whole point of using special fonts is to make your marketing stand out.

Know what works, when, and why

There’s an art to choosing fonts. With so many options, and so many businesses doing so many things, it can often feel easier to just go with what seems popular. The problem is that, often, there’s a context to what’s popular.

Take a good modern example: crafty, vintage fonts. There are so many craft and vintage companies around today that the use of quirky, crafty, “handmade” fonts has skyrocketed. This isn’t a bad thing, and much of the time these fonts are excellent. The problem is when businesses who aren’t crafty or vintage in any way start using them in their own marketing.

It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often businesses employ fonts that are at complete odds with their marketing themes. 

In this way, the sector or industry in which you work should act as a guiding force for your style. Of course, there’s always room for leeway and creativity, but there’s also an extent to which your style must conform.

There’s a reason why most formal businesses with a history aspect tend towards serif fonts. Likewise, there’s also a reason why more modern, technological companies usually opt for sans serif. They’re shaping themselves around the flavour of the industry. At a core level, there’s a certain aesthetic that we’ve come to expect from tech brands. The same can be said of all brands in all industries. So to an extent it’s important to be aware of those aesthetics and abide by them.

Just always remember that your fonts should represent your business for what it is. There’s a lot of creative space, but this should be the core principal you work from.

For more on the importance of fonts and how best to use them, take a look at Why Typography Matters, And How To Make It Work.