“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

Pablo Picasso

Were you ever impressed by a monk’s manuscript? Annoyed when confronted with an ugly series of characters? Soothed by a social media quote in curvy letters? Then you know the power of fonts.

Your brand uses fonts to communicate its promise.

In this chapter I will:

  • Define the types of fonts.
  • Discuss the different font styles.
  • Stress the necessity of a font hierarchy.
  • Show you where to find fonts for your brand.

You can download a worksheet  for fonts.

The four font flavors

Some typography “experts” say each font deserves their own category. But since we are building a brand and not a dungeon for font lovers, we won’t bother with their lingo-heavy fetish.

However, every brand builder should remember 4 terms.

Different font styles

As you decorate your ice cream with sprinkles, you can enhance your font flavor with styles.

Most serif and sans-serif fonts come in a ‘family’ of (1) style and (2) weight options.

Script and display fonts do not, so they are less versatile.

1. Styles are italics, small capitals, or condensed or extended versions.

  • “Italics” are for emphasis, quotes, foreign words, and phonetic
  • “Small caps” are uppercase letters matching the height of the lowercase letters. They aren’t used
  • “Condensed or extended” versions use less or more space between letters. Not crucial, since most software lets you define this yourself.

2. Weight means the thickness of each letter like thin, regular or bold.

  • “Bold/black/heavy” fonts are easier to read, used for titles or to stress a message.
  • “Regular/medium” fonts are used for body
  • “Thin/hairline” fonts are for elegant titles and not much

You can also change the color intensity of each font.

  • “Light” fonts are closer to They are milder.
  • “Dark” fonts are closer to They are more intense.

Finally, fonts are sized and spaced by “points”.

The more points, the bigger the font or space between them. Spacing between sentences is also called “line height”.

Now you know the lingo of fonts. Recite it until you can dream it.

Now let’s discuss their proper use.

Why you need a font hierarchy

A font hierarchy guides the attention of your audience.

It shows them where to look and what’s important. By changing font, size, color and/or style, you make them absorb your information faster:

Within a hierarchy, every font has a job.

  • Headers contain the reason for They should be immediately visible and very easy to read.
  • Subheaders structure your design into sections and group
  • Body fonts are for the meat of your design, the

Always use the same font in the same style for the same purpose.

Don’t use different styles for brochures and website headers. If you mix things up, your brand will have the visual cohesion of a ransom note.

Step 1: Create a font hierarchy

The next page has an example of a font hierarchy for a fictional restaurant.

You need to create a similar font hierarchy.

For each purpose you must define:

  1. A font, including its family
  2. A size, including different sizes for print, desktops (large screens) and tablets or mobiles (small screens).
  3. A color.
  4. A line height, including different spacing for print, desktops (large screens) and tablets or mobiles (small screens).
  5. A style, defining if you can use dots or italics or other elements per purpose.

Unsure about size or spacing? Use the best practice numbers in the table.

Feel free to be creative, but you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Some do’s and don’ts for your font hierarchy:

  • Do add color to distinguish yourself.
  • Do light up / add white to your body text to contrast it from the headers.
  • Do light up / add white to colorful headers. Intense fonts can feel tacky.
  • Do light up / add white to your text to make it feel more modern.
  • Do make sure your body font includes regular, bold and italics.
  • Do experiment. You won’t get it right on your first run.
  • Do not use thin fonts for medium or small text sizes.
  • Do not use light fonts for small text sizes.
  • Do not use light fonts on a light color or light background.
  • Do not use thin or light fonts everywhere. They’ll lose their effect.
  • Do not use decorative or script fonts for body text.

Step 2: Make a selection of fonts for your hierarchy

Finding the right fonts for a brand requires taste, experience, instinct, and experimentation. Start by browsing a font database .

These sites have thousands of free fonts, are easy to navigate, offer previews with your own text and make downloading easy and quick.

The moment you dive into these libraries, you are bound to be distracted by all the choices. You will love and hate many of them. Just keep the most essential point in mind:

Your fonts must evoke, or at least not contradict, your brand promise.

Your header fonts should be capable of making the right impression. They contain the most important information and will take up most of the real estate in your designs.

Your body font should be non-distracting so your users can easily skim or read your text. It should also perform well in small sizes.

Fonts can be expensive, especially if you go after famous fonts. Some even require multiple licenses.

If you’re on a budget or want to keep things simple, stick to free fonts.

Yet as the soccer legend Johan Cruijf said: “Every upside has its downside.”

While you don’t have to pay for testing or using them, they are more common since more brands inevitably use free ones.

Step 3: Ensure legal use

Free fonts can often be used for everything, including commercial purposes. They only prevent you from selling the font itself. However:

Always check and download the licenses of your fonts. Protect yourself.

Also, don’t assume that if you pay for a font, you are done thinking. These sometimes require separate licenses, for example for websites and print. Or you have to pay more with more website traffic.

If you want to keep it simple and cheap, stick to free fonts.

Step 4: Test your font choices

Perhaps you managed to create multiple font lists, or with some variation in the size, color, spacing, and style. As with colors, these options aren’t tested without examples.

Therefore I recommend writing up a (dummy) text that includes the most important elements:

  • Your H1 Title
  • Your H2 Title
  • Your body text

Use a tool to let your audience pick their favorite hierarchy.

The questions should be:

  • Which text do you like best? (A ranking where respondents place your dummy texts in order of  preference.)
  • Any suggestions for improvement? (A comment box where they can leave their thoughts.)

Summary and steps for choosing fonts for your brand

Your brand uses fonts to communicate its promise. A font hierarchy – with a font for each purpose – guides the attention of your audience.

Step 1: Create a font hierarchy.

Step 2: Make a selection of fonts for your hierarchy.

Step 3: Ensure legal use.

Step 4: Test your font choices.

Save your work. Download and save your fonts (.TTF or .OTF) in a folder called: “/brandname/identity/fonts/”.

Download and save your licenses in a folder called: “/brandname/identity/ fonts/licenses/”.