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What Makes a Good Font (And What Makes a Bad One)

Few things in the graphic design world are greater spots of contention than fonts. There are fonts that are universally hated by graphic designers, while others are beloved.

Still others are divisive and controversial. Is there no objective standard for what makes a font good or bad? Can we not agree on which fonts should be widely used — and which should be uninstalled immediately?

Sadly, there is not, although we can examine the characteristics of fonts that tend to be appealing to most people. We can also look at which fonts are overused, clichéd, or simply hard to read. Those are all hallmarks of bad fonts that you might want to avoid.

Let’s take a look at some commonly beloved — and hated — fonts to see which ones you should use in your design.

Bodoni

For a classic typeface, many designers favor Bodoni, which features light serifs and just enough kerning to make it legible. The letters are tall, giving it a sense of elegance, yet not scrunched. Bodoni is perhaps best known for its use as the title font of Vogue and its appearance in the Calvin Klein logo. Bodoni is also interesting to look at. Its thin horizontal strokes contrast with its thicker downward strokes, giving it a dynamic yet sophisticated look.

Comic Sans

The butt of many jokes in the graphic design world, this font tends to appeal to amateur designers. Perhaps it’s the fun name; perhaps it’s the wide kerning and slightly handwritten look. However, those are precisely the characteristics that make experienced designers hate this font. Other problems include slight irregularities in the letter height, inconsistent stroke patterns, and a generally dull look. Even if you like Comic Sans, it’s way overused and should be avoided.

Futura

Futura is very appealing to designers of all preferences. Its tall, slim lettering and not-too-spacious kerning make it highly legible. It has the elegance of a serif typeface despite being sans-serif. This font was most famously used at the title font for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and indeed, Futura looks, well, futuristic. It has a clean yet innovative look. This is due to its open, friendly lettering combined with subtle flourishes, such as its uneven cross bars and subtle points.

Garamond

Many graphic designers adore Garamond for its lightweight typeface and sophisticated style. Featuring prominent serifs and thin strokes, this font has a classy yet playful look. Garamond dates back to the 16th century, so it’s perfect for any designer looking to achieve an old-fashioned look. Still, Garamond looks fresh, thanks to its open lettering and rounded edges.

Impact

If you’ve ever seen an Internet meme, you’ve seen the Impact typeface: This drop-shadowed font adorns millions of user-generated images around the world. Despite that — or perhaps because of it — many graphic designers despite this font. There are some legitimate reasons to dislike Impact. Its kerning is tight, making it hard to read. The different letters are sometimes too similar to each other; for example, look at the “n” and “h” or the “v” and “y.” Used well, this font is acceptable. However, it’s also overused. Most designers recommend finding an alternative.

Verdana

If you need an easy-to-read, open font, look no further than Verdana. This sans-serif delight features clear lettering, even kerning, and an appealing round look. That said, Verdana is best for low-res uses, namely the web. When IKEA began to use this friendly typeface in its printed materials, designers shook their heads. Still, Verdana is usually a safe choice. It’s highly legible and pairs well with more dramatic title fonts. It looks good in a small size thanks to its relatively wide kerning, and it’s used less often than Arial or Helvetica.

Wrapping Up

Of course, your client’s brand personality is the most important factor in which typeface you choose. Even the most beautiful, elegant font may not be appropriate for a whimsical health foods company or a dramatic fitness brand. In general, it’s a good idea to find lesser-known fonts. Thousands of talented typeface designers are drawing inspiration from the world’s most famous fonts and putting their own spin on them. Try combining a well-known font with a newer one to add dynamism and balance to your design’s typography.

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