At a previous job as an in-house designer, I needed to have the IT guy install fonts for me. I was always bugging him to do this and sometimes would wait until I had a folder full of beautiful fonts. One day he shared how he really felt with me.
“I don’t understand why you need different fonts. They pretty much all look the same.”
I just laughed because I didn’t have 2,378,392 hours to give him a typography lesson. But then again, he’s not the designer – I am! As designers we know the importance type choices make in design, but we also know how overwhelming the world of type can be.
One thing I didn’t tell the IT guy was that fonts cost money…sometimes a lot of money. But I think this is an important place to start, because in order to look for fonts, we need to first understand what we are actually downloading.
For starters, fonts are custom artwork that have been designed by an individual. Yes, even Times New Roman and Arial!
Times New Roman was debuted by the Times of London in October 1932. It was meant only for use in the newspaper, but was made available to the public a year later. And now it’s a standard system font. 50 years later, the same people who made Times New Roman created Arial for laser printers, but it ended up becoming so popular that it too became a standard system font. Yet originally, they were meant to be custom, proprietary fonts for specific purposes!
For another, there are variations in fonts, whether it be characters, families, or intended use. For example, a font might be free but not have characters like an exclamation mark or quotes. A higher cost font might include the bold, italic, narrow, all caps, and a variety of font weights so you have more flexibility in your design choices. And of course, some fonts are meant to be used for print purposes while others are meant to be used for web.
So how to decide what font to use after all is said and done?
Some of our favorite places to find fonts are through searching type foundries — a group or company that creates type. These are our top 10 when we need some ideas:
If they ask why, you can explain that fonts are an artform in and of itself and the designers deserve to be paid for their time and energy in creating the art. The IT guy who installed all my fonts didn’t need to know that, but the client will — especially if they are going to be given the design files for use at the end of the project.
And remember — if there’s a font that seems almost perfect but is missing a detail or two, that’s when you can add some design flair. After purchasing a license to use the font, you can use a tool such as Adobe Illustrator to add some flair or remove some extraneous details to make the font feel custom to your client.
Now go get funky with type!