There is so much to say about typography and font choice that there is simply no way to cram it all into a single article. So you may consider this the first in a, perhaps randomly timed, series of articles concerning type.
The best way to approach typography, if you are completely unfamiliar with the subject, is to start with a broad understanding of type and work your way in to a more targeted look at specific fonts and font families. Most people, unless they are themselves designing fonts or logos, will not have to look at type in that much. But an understanding of some fundamental rules will help you look more professional and communicate more effectively.
1. Type is a picture, too.
Sometimes, it is not necessary to spend a lot of resources on photography or illustration to make a graphic statement. Words on a page function as much as an image as, well, an image. Well-placed words can create emphasis and interest. They can convey an emotion or a concept.
Below are two examples of this principle. In the typography book cover, the large vertical text immediately grabs the reader’s attention. In the advertisement, the large, tight words immediately give off a feeling of being crowded and uncomfortable. In both of these instances, nothing more is needed than the words on the page.
2. It’s ok to just use one font.
In fact, it’s more than ok. It’s ideal. If you must, absolutely must, you may use two. But please, by all means, stop there. Using too many fonts is confusing and creates unnecessary visual tension. Your readers will not know where to look first or what point you are trying to get across. The money you may have spent on these materials will be wasted – confusion never leads to conversion.
Some clarity: when we say “one font” we mean “one font family.” If, to take a basic example, you’re using Times, then it’s ok to tastefully sprinkle in some Times bold and Times italic. This helps distinguish headlines and important points. But don’t start throwing in Chancery or Garamond, too. And please, just take Comic Sans off your computer altogether. It’s for the best.
Here’s a great example of the appropriate and inappropriate use of fonts from www.desktoppub.about.com.
3. Know your content and your audience
There is a big difference between an audience of say teenage girls and an audience of business professionals. But, we have seen resumes and reports done in handwriting fonts. Unique, yes. And not in the good way. This is a practice that falls under the umbrella of “being different just to be different” with no thought to the impression the choice might give.
Take the two menu descriptions below. Imagine the scenery in which you would expect to see each of them. Both can work, given the appropriate setting but would look foolish if switched from one scene to the other.