How should I choose fonts for UI design? UX Question #62

Watch on YouTube

YouTube player

Listen to the podcast

Read the transcript

Amelia from San Francisco, California, asks, how should I pick fonts? There are so many to choose from!

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Amelia. This is UX Question number 62 and I am Ben Judy.

How should I choose fonts for UI design? Well, it’s important. Typography can dictate the mood and the usability of your design as much as color, or any other design element.

But I think choosing fonts is even more of a subjective decision than choosing colors. One popular article lists five principles for choosing typefaces. Number five is “there are no rules.”

Who’s to say what’s right?

I believe owning your own knowledge about fonts, your own sense of taste, and your own decision-making process is the way to go. I’m not going to give you my steps, and you shouldn’t just adopt someone else’s process.

Instead, I’m going to give you the categories of knowledge necessary to confidently develop your own approach to font selection.

You need to know six things about fonts.

First, learn to identify the major font groups. Geometric, Humanist, Old Style, Transitional, Modern, et cetera. Become fluent in the names and distinctive qualities of font categories. There’s no shortcut, you have to study them.

Second, learn font anatomy and terminology. Ascenders, descenders, ligatures, and leading. I hope you wouldn’t go shopping for a car without at least knowing the difference between a tire and a steering wheel.

Third, learn the basics of how fonts are implemented in the technologies you’re working with. For the web, learn the difference between OTF and WOFF font formats. Learn how fonts are applied with CSS.

Fourth, learn about the usability aspects of typography and reading. Rigorous studies have been done to examine factors related to visual perception, readability, accessibility. Study up on this.

Fifth, pick a ‘go-to’ set of personal favorites from the major font groups. Whatever you like. Have a favorite Traditional font, Modern font, Slab Serif font. Then, build your list of favorite pairings.

Sixth, develop your own checklist for critiquing font choices. To get you started: look at context, consider your audience, consider the media and technology, and consider readability. Add to this checklist so you can evaluate your own font choices.

Finally, now you’re ready to develop your simple, repeatable process for making font selections so you can do it quickly, confidently, and consistently. But you need to take yourself through font school before you’re ready to intelligently create your process for choosing fonts.

Because it’s a subjective decision, it requires expertise. But you can build the essential knowledge, and you’ll never stop learning.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: how can I create a user research plan?

Referenced in this episode:

Support UX Questions

Visit us on Patreon and check out the great perks at each level of support!

Become a sponsor

You can advertise your products or services—our promote yourself as a UX professional—by sponsoring episodes of UX Questions! See the Sponsor page for details.

Hire Ben Judy

Ben is available for consulting engagements as a workshop facilitator, mentor, design coach, and more! See the Ben page for details.