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So, You’re Thinking of Choosing a Font…

This is a big moment for you. For a long time, you’ve stood in the margins, watching friends and coworkers play a mysterious game with their words—but no longer. You’ve decided you’re ready to start caring what your language looks like. It would be so easy to brush this off and act like it’s no big thing, but deep down, you know it took guts getting to this point. And for that, you deserve to let a little pride drip out of your inner tap. So go ahead and indulge yourself a little. You’ve earned it.

However, it’s also important to appreciate the gravity of the situation you’re in. Maybe you thought choosing a font was as simple as picking out a pair of socks. If that were the case, you failed to appreciate just how badly this could go for you. You’re about to enter a minefield, littered with the carcasses of past font choices gone wrong. People are going to be talking about this for a long time, and you’re either going to be a raging success or the flop that people, whispering, point out in the supermarket aisle. I wish it weren’t too late to convince you to abandon this decision, but now that you know it exists there’s no turning back.

The first thing you need to figure out is where you stand in the perennial dispute between serif and sans serif. This is your Montague-Capulet kind of situation, only where Romeo and Juliet are pretending to be into each other so they can one day poison the other person’s whole family. It is here where humanity parts into two ideologically opposed groups. Underlying this conflict is a history far too complex to explain before you make your decision, so you just need to ask yourself: would you rather wear a black turtleneck or an decorative neck scarf? This will tell you on which side of the conflict you land.

Next, you’ll want to consider serious things like aesthetics, audience, mood, legibility—blah, blah, blah. Look, it’s mostly a gut thing and remember, it was your guts that got you to this point, so don’t be afraid to trust them. Really, making the right call is mostly about avoiding the wrong ones. Here are some of the biggies:

– Avoid trite correlations, e.g. don’t choose Gotham just because you’re writing Batman fan-fiction and or wearing Batman pajamas.

– Certain fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus have become the lepers of typography. Try not to touch them.*

– Like the popular kids at school, some fonts lose their style after a few years. Don’t let fashion intrude on your decision-making.

Let’s not sugarcoat it; this is huge decision and one that you haven’t come to lightly. But don’t worry, you’re only risking a life sentence of passive-aggressive judgment from your peers. So, relax. You’re going to be fine, just fine.

Get choosing.


*One precarious option I wouldn’t recommend to a first-timer like yourself—but that is still worth mentioning—is using your font choice to make an ironic comment on the popular tastes and distastes of a society. This might include choosing to use Comic Sans on the program for a design lecture, or branding your company as a pastiche of a certain font which, through historical overuse, has become the subject of insults and ridicule. Again, this is only for the advanced.



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