What Marketers Need to Know About Fonts [Infographic]

When you read the text of print ads, packages, websites, and other marketing materials, do you ever say to yourself, “I really like that font!” Okay, probably not. Most of us read the words without consciously thinking about the characteristics of the letters themselves. Even marketing professionals tend to be more focused on the flashier elements of the design, such as the images, than font choice.

Failing to devote as much attention to font choice as the other design elements, however, can be a huge mistake. Although consumers may not comment on your creative use of Pacifico Bold or Helvetica, your choice of font can have a subconscious impact on how they process and receive your message. An understanding of font elements, positioning, and design will provide you with one more way in which you can help shape your brand’s message.

A new infographic from the advertising and marketing professionals at MDG Advertising, Fonts 101: What Marketers Need to Know, answers the most common questions about fonts, including:
  • What is a font?
  • What is the difference between font and typeface?
  • How do fonts differ from one another?
  • What should I consider when choosing a font for my brand or business?

What Is a Font?

The word “font” refers to a group of characters that share design elements.

What Is the Difference Between a Font and a Typeface?

The terms font and typeface harken back to the time of the moveable type system in which printed text was created by grouping characters together using metal or wood type blocks. Traditionally, “typeface” referred to the actual design of the letters, such as Times New Roman. “Font,” on the other hand, described the size, style, and other attributes of the letters, such as Times New Roman 16-point Italic Bold. The advent of digital printing tools has blurred the distinction between the two, so the terms are essentially synonymous today.

A number of the fonts available in Microsoft Word and other software applications actually date back centuries. For example, Baskerville was created by a businessman named John Baskerville in the early 1700s as an improvement upon the calligraphic and handwritten style of earlier typefaces. Arial, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer that was developed in 1982 for use on IBM laser printers. Times New Roman is preferred by many newspapers since it is narrower than many other fonts, especially when bolded, which allows newspapers to fit more words on each line.

How Do Fonts Differ from One Another?

A number of elements set fonts apart from one another. The following are a few of the common terms used to describe the structure and characteristics of fonts:

Stroke: Stroke refers to the curved and straight lines of the character.

Counter: Counter refers to the negative space within the character.

Bar/Crossbar: Crossbars are the horizontal lines within certain characters, such as A and H.

Ligature: Ligature refers to multiple characters that are combined into one, such as when double lowercase “f”s are joined using a single crossbar.

Arm/Leg: An arm or leg is a stroke on the upper or lower portion of a letter that is attached at one end and free on the other. An example would be the top of an E.

Ascender/Descender: An ascender is the part of a lowercase letter, such as b, that extends above the baseline. A descender is the portion that extends below the baseline, such as with the letter p.

Cap Height:
The overall height of a capital character from the baseline to the top of the letter.

X-Height: X-height refers to the height of lowercase letters excluding any ascenders or descenders.

Each font may also have multiple styles based on additional features, such as:

Weight: Weight refers to the thickness of the characters, such as thin, normal, or bold.

Angle of Characters: The characters of any particular font can be made upright or italic for visual appeal or emphasis.

Fonts can be further categorized into families based on their look. The three main categories of fonts are serif, sans-serif, and decorative.

Serif: Serifs are strokes or feet at the ends of characters. Serifs can be either bracketed or unbracketed. Bracketed serifs have curves that connect the serif to the base of the character. Unbracketed serifs normally attach at 90-degree angles to the stroke. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman and Courier New, tend to project tradition, elegance, and formality.

Sans-Serif: The word sans is derived from the French word meaning without. Sans-serif fonts, such as Arial and Ubuntu, do not have the additional strokes at the ends of the characters. The more minimalistic lines project an image of modernity, innovation, and bold ideas. San-serif fonts have become extremely popular.

Decorative: Decorative fonts, such as Pacifico and Amatic, are designed to push boundaries, stand out, and project an image of creativity. Decorative fonts are an effective way to evoke a sense of time or place or a certain emotion; however, their effectiveness can be diminished if they are overused.

Why Should I Care About Fonts?

Is devoting time and energy into choosing a font for your brand or company really an effective use of your time? The short answer is yes. Nearly three-quarters of consumers state that they judge businesses by their website design, and that package design has an influence on their purchasing decisions.

Fonts deserve serious consideration because they play a fundamental role in communicating your brand or company attributes to consumers. For example, straight lines and sharp angles create a different visual message than curves and slanted angles. A thick font suggests a solid, permanent presence while a thin font may appear more delicate or even feminine, depending on the style. Curves suggest elegance while serifs and precise angles suggest accuracy.

With that being said, which font is best? It turns out that there’s no single universal font that works in every situation and for all consumer audiences. One study of the design of milk cartons found that consumer preferences varied by age, location, and culture.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Font for My Brand or Business?

When choosing a font for your brand or business, a number of factors should be taken into consideration:

Readability: First and foremost, the font must be readable. If a consumer has to struggle to read a small, low-contrast font on your website or packaging, they will likely move on. So what fonts are the most readable? Research shows that there is not much difference in the readability of serif versus sans-serif fonts. Decorative fonts, particularly in big blocks, tend to be less readable. Larger font sizes and increased spacing between lines tend to increase readability.

Brand Goals: You must also consider your overall brand image and goals. Do you want to portray your brand as modern or traditional? Are you more concerned with standing out from the crowd or readability? Where and how will the consumer read the information?

Target Demographic: Your font should immediately click with your target audience. The wrong font can be perceived as contradicting your message or, even worse, perceived as flippant or disrespectful. For example, a whimsical, handwritten font may work well for a logo for a children’s toy brand but obviously would not be appropriate for a news website.

Creating Impact: Using multiple fonts can enhance your message and help consumers focus on the relevant message; however, you should choose fonts that complement rather than compete with one another. For example, a decorative font can help consumers identify your company name and logo while a more traditional font for the main copy will ensure that it can be easily read on a computer or mobile device. It is also important not to overuse your display or logo font. Your logo font should be an accent piece that reflects your company’s personality and should be used sparingly in other copy.

Emotional Impact: The strokes, serifs, and other elements of a font can resonate with your consumers on an emotional level. Over time, your font will become as much a part of your brand as your logo or your advertising slogan. It is essential that you make as thoughtful and educated a choice as possible in the beginning, since future changes may not be welcomed by your loyal consumers. For example, The New York Times has tried several times since 2003 to change its font in order to modernize the look of the paper and improve readability. Each time, the paper has received backlash from readers who viewed it as a brand change.

In making a final font choice, you should think situationally rather than attempt to find some magical, universal font. The right font is the one that will appeal the most to your target audience in the context or setting where it will be used.

Fonts 101: What Marketers Need to Know [Infographic]

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