Though Arial might be the go-to font for most people, there are a myriad of options out there if you want to splash out on something a little more visually distinctive. The first choice, whether you realise it or not, is usually between serif and sans serif. The word ‘serif’ refers to the small decorative lines at the ends of a letter’s main strokes, so sans serif (‘sans’ being French for ‘without’) refers to letters with a more plain, less embellished finish.
Once you’ve established whether serif or sans serif fits better for your text, the world is your oyster. The number and variety of different fonts available has exploded over the last few years. Indeed, ever since the advertising industry caught on to the value of typography it heralded the start of a more artistic approach to setting type. Experimental typographers Francis Picabia and David Carson are just two of the many of artists who have developed typography over the last 100 years or so.
But what are the most popular fonts amongst those in the know these days? It’s graphic designers who tend to be at the forefront of the font frontier, so they’re the trend-setters for typography in action. The rest of us tend to follow suit in accordance with the typography we’re surrounded by every day. So let’s look at a few well-loved examples…
When text is required to be small, Futura can be an ideal font to work with – though it is also commonly applied to large displays and logos. This simple, clean font takes aesthetic inspiration from geometric shapes, as can be seen in the near-perfect circles, triangles and squares in its composition. While this font isn’t universally loved, many prize its Bauhaus-style sense of efficiency and minimalism.
The extreme contrast between thick vertical and thin horizontal strokes makes this font a distinctive favourite. The geometric construction ensures it delivers eye-catching headlines and logos, while the appealing aesthetic means many designers opt for Bodoni when they’re after decorative text.
This rather theatrical font will probably call to mind epic Hollywood film posters and has been used in any number of them, including those for ‘Titanic’ and ’ Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ . This serif typeface was designed by Carol Twombly back in 1989 and draws its inspiration from the square capitals that can be found adorning the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome, Italy.
John Baskerville created this sharp-serifed font to provide a bridge between modern and classical style typefaces. It boasts exaggerated contrast between the thick and thin strokes and lends an enhanced vertical axis to rounded letters. Clarity and consistency are the main characteristics of this eminently readable and professional-looking typeface, which is frequently employed for books, newsletters, newspapers and other printed materials.
This massively popular font was actually commissioned by The Times newspaper in 1931, hence the name. It is actually a revision of ‘Times Old Roman’, being more economical in terms of space and improved in terms of legibility. Prized for being easy to read, whatever the size, Times New Roman is still widely used in books, online and offline typography. It has also served as the foundation for a number of other typeface designs, such as Georgia.
This retro looking font was commissioned by IBM (though they did not secure legal exclusivity) and has been designed to ape the typographic output of a strike-on typewriter. The font was originally christened ‘Messenger’ but as the designer Bud Kettler explained “A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige, and stability.” This is a classic slab serif font, which are typified by thick, block-like serifs.
Designed by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in 1957, Helvetica is now arguably the world’s most heavily used font. Everyone from graphic designers to professionals gravitates towards this font thanks to its simple finish. Although many praise its sans serif, neo-grotesque design, some resist the lure, believing that it is spaced too tightly. Key characteristics include a square dot over the lowercase ‘i’, a double storey lowercase ‘a’ and a dropped horizontal crossbar on the capital ‘A’.
As the name suggests, this sans serif font was created by Eric Gill, who was a well-established sculptor, graphic artist and type designer. This no-nonsense font became really popular in 1929, when it was used on the London and North Eastern Railway’s posters and publicity material. That said, it was actually created to function equally well as a text face and for display – and has less of a mechanical feel than geometric sans serifs such as Futura.
This script style font is reminiscent of the elegant and ornate English handwriting that was common in the 18th century. Its roots also lie in the engravings of George Bickham, though it is now available in a range of different weights. Though it may look flowery, this is an especially versatile font thanks to its OpenType features. However, it is only really suitable for display, headings and subheads rather than large amounts of copy. As such it can commonly be found on menus, wedding invitations and official certificates.
Originally designed as a corporate typographic style for Volkswagen, this geometric sans-serif typeface is massively popular today. The termini on each of the letter strokes is rounded, creating a pleasing friendliness to the typeface as a whole. Apple has been utilizing VAG Rounded on the keyboards of their notebook computers since 1999 and Adecco have used it in their publications and advertisements since 2006. Both of these examples reflect that brands are keen to soften their harder edges in customer-facing communications and VAG Rounded does that job eminently well.
Last modified: April 5, 2017