You really mean, “What typeface should I use?” The typeface is the family of letters and characters that have a consistent visual design, such as Arial or Helvetica or Garamond. Every typeface has a set of fonts, which are the specific point size and style, such as Arial 20 point bold or Garamond 18 point italic.
Since the advent of digital publishing, the terms typeface and font are often used interchangeably. But now that you know the difference, just think of how many people you can impress.
Research has shown that non-designers are aware of the personality of a typeface even when they don’t consciously think about it. In one study, participants consistently matched a typeface with an adjective, such as cheap, cold, confident, dignified, playful and professional. (See: The Personality of Type for more on this).
Your first consideration, therefore, is what personality do you want your typeface to express? As with selecting any visual theme, your choice should be consistent with the content, tone and characteristics of the audience. You can also go with a neutral type of font, that doesn’t have much personality at all. Start to examine typefaces more closely and see what each one expresses. See below.
Know a Few Categories
Type can be organized into categories, according to their physical characteristics and historical context. For those who want to go more deeply into visual design, it’s important to know the full range of categories. For most instructional designers, thinking about type in three categories should be sufficient: serif, sans-serif and script.
Serif type has little feet and depending on the typeface, it can express sophistication, reserve, formality or tradition. Sans-serif type has no serifs and can (but not always) have a modern sensibility. Script type reflects the flow of lines created in handwritten letters. These range from an elegant cursive look to a haphazard handwritten look. See one typeface from each category below. (The serifs are circled.)
Should You Stick With One Family?
Many experts suggest that it’s best to use one well-respected typeface that has a full character set and an array of styles, such as Roman (regular), Bold and Italic. Some also have variants, such as condensed (a narrow version) and black (very heavy). If you use one type family, you then make a consistent role for each style and never waiver from your rules. For example, you can get many different styles from one typeface by just varying color, weight and size.
In unofficial surveys, typefaces that have good reputations among web designers that could potentially work for online learning include: Avenir, Baskerville, Caslon, Franklin Gothic, Futura, Gill Sans, Lucida Sans, Myriad, Palatino and Univers. Georgia and Verdana were specifically designed to be read on the computer screen, whereas most typefaces were and still are designed for print.
Check Typeface after Compression
Before you make a final selection, see how well the typeface looks after it gets compressed for online delivery. Sometimes the results are disappointing. If the text is not as readable as you’d like, you’ll have to try again.
There is much more to write about typography. Look for more articles in the future.
What do you consider when selecting a typeface?