choosing type

The world of type is huge. From my studies, most professional designers have their favorites. And it is not necessarily a large library.

I’m a font collector and have far more than I need. Eventually, you find classics that you love. This takes time and also studying the work of others. So there isn’t necessarily a simple answer and it will be different for each designer you ask.

Here’s some food for thought:
1) What do you want the readers to feel? Use your best adjectives to describe this feeling when they look at the work. (Playful, corporate, whimsical, rustic, traditional, etc)

2) Is there a theme? It could be historical, geographic, cultural, etc.

3) Have you printed your own “Type Book” for the font families you own? Do you know the difference between display type and type families?

4) Are there photos or illustrations that are used? What are they like or how are they treated? Do they have a style or era?

Theming with type and color are several of the things I really enjoy about design. Here’s my method for historical and vintage projects.

Logo sample from someone else – not mine.

The font above is a knockoff of type foundry P22 Eaglefeather – available in several weights and a dingbat font. It is based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural handwriting for his blueprints. (I repeat it is a cheap freeware knockoff. The lower case “o” is not the same.)

So we can understand why the type was selected thematically. But there are other common fonts that would be good historically for the period of the buildings. FLLW was not contemporary to the Victorian era. His designs were considered a replacement for Victorian. So not necessarily a good choice of type vintage. Wrong century (1922). It’s considered a handwriting font.

You can get the regular Eaglefeather weight for free here:

But, as said, it’s not really the best font choice.

The logotype needed is for Rock County Historical Society (RCHS), located in Janesville, Wisconsin. Lincoln stayed there around 1859. This means these buildings were at their prime during the time of the railroad and newspaper booms. Metal type was just coming into vogue and Victorian woodblock type was on its way out. So you could choose from lots of display typographic styles to connote that period. The design strategy is to stay true to the theme vintage when possible and still be readable.

Google search phrase “Free vintage fonts” will win some good type.

A book called “Living Colors: The Definitive Guide to Color Palettes Through the Ages” by Augustine Hope and Margaret Walch (Feb 2003) is available on Amazon for only a few bucks used. It’ll reveal the color palettes used in architecture at the time. It’s a great reference book when theming. This can help a designer be even more true to the history of the project location.

If you study the work of good graphic designers, you’ll find they have favorite font pairs. They may have as few as a dozen families of serif and sans serif faces, they really work with on a regular basis. This knowledge is acquired by examining portfolios of your design mentors and peers. Then start collecting the ones that really work for you.

Another reason to have favorites, it cuts down decision-making time and is more efficient.

Google search: Graphic Designer’s most favorite fonts.

I don’t think a $50 tool can replace the human brain and the wisdom of designers you admire.

I built two type books for my studio.

The first I call my “Core” Type book. These are my favorites. Each page shows the creation dates and history of each font and what recommended font pairs exist (in my collection). Remember this is based on my tastes.

Core font title page and index

Presentation Strategy

When making client presentations, I always show a sample of the entire alphabet in upper and lower case. I also include the history (which is copied from my book). Understanding the history of a font reassures the client you’re an expert. It also demonstrates your enthusiasm (they’ll think you’re a fanatic! aka font freak.) I don’t show clients the book. You can learn type history online easily. Do your homework

Core font sample page – history, creation date, sample alphabets, pair fonts.

The second type book is my collection of display fonts. They’re arranged thematically.

Thematic categories of display fonts.

Sample page display fonts.

I’ve printed and bound these as a personal studio reference book. I prefer font evaluation for print jobs on paper. And I like to see them big for detail.

It’s a project worth doing for your own studio. Promise.

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