Design insights & tutorials.

Become a Master Designer: Rule One: Limit your fonts

rules for font use

Part One of Seven Easy Principles to Becoming a Master Designer.

Ok, “master designer” might be a bit of a stretch – but you can at least become a “proficient designer” by following 7 easy principles. This will be the shortest, most informative series of blog posts you’ve ever read on how to become a better designer. Please note: these principles CAN be broken… these are not laws, they’re just general guides that I typically follow when putting together a design.

Follow these simple design principles and you’ll be on your way to artistic excellence.

Principle One: Limit Your fonts. A big part of putting together a good design, as you’ll see, is making sure the over-all look is consistent. The best way to accomplish a consistent look to your design is limiting the number of artistic motifs (themes) that you use. The fonts you select are the first variable you want to limit. I typically like to pick just 2 fonts per design.

The first font can be fancy or artistic. This font will be used to give your design some flair, character and personality. It’s this font that sets the mood for the piece. Is it a fun font with swirls for a girl’s party, or is it a grungy evil font for a rock band? I would use this fancy font for the header copy – anywhere it’s big, I’ll use this font. The fancy font will be the focal point of the piece. You will usually have less copy in this fancy font, but it will be much bigger – so that’s what people will see and focus on.

The second font should be very basic. The audience shouldn’t take notice of this secondary font at all. This secondary font needs to be very easily legible. It’s this basic font that will be used for large bodies of copy. Obviously, it’s very hard to read large bodies of copy that are in some extravagantly artistic font. So, this second font is all about functionality.

Here is an example of proper use of fonts in a design. As you can see, there is only two fonts used here. The fancy font is used as the headers and the basic font is used for the copy. It looks clean and consistent.
rules for font use

Here is a Bad use of fonts. In this case I used too many fancy fonts. It just makes the piece look inconsistent. The sub sections don’t seem like they match with the main header.
rules for font use

Having too many fonts in a design is the biggest mistake. Nothing looks worse than someone who has used 8 different fonts on their flyer. Even worse than that is using a very fancy font for your body copy. Here is a sample of font use at it’s worst:
rules for font use

One last thought before I let you go. If your fancy font looks modern or contemporary, then your basic font should be a san-serif font. If your fancy font looks old fashioned, then use a serif font for your secondary font.

That’s it for this quick post. Thanks for reading. Keep an eye out, 6 more posts coming in this series (one post per week.)!

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
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Discussion

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  • http://www.breakdancedvd.com brit

    awesome. you guys get life. success flow like watah.

  • http://www.breakdancedvd.com brit

    awesome. you guys get life. success flow like watah.

  • scottish_mike

    Nice post yet again, good to get a refresher on the basics :)
    Keep up the good work!

  • scottish_mike

    Nice post yet again, good to get a refresher on the basics :)
    Keep up the good work!

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  • loklen

    I’m not sure you can call the rules on font usage. I understand you can set guidlines, and these guidelines (I suppose) are good an’ all….. but as always, each project requires careful consideration and rules go out the window more oft’ than not…….so????? my comment is……. you can’t teach talent…..

  • loklen

    I’m not sure you can call the rules on font usage. I understand you can set guidlines, and these guidelines (I suppose) are good an’ all….. but as always, each project requires careful consideration and rules go out the window more oft’ than not…….so????? my comment is……. you can’t teach talent…..

  • http://www.songsblog.com lawton chiles

    I think talent has to be ingrained but if you have it, you can get or be “taught” more of it. I am an example of that fact. Asking tons of questions and always getting another person’s opinion are crucial.

    Thanks for the font updates and mini-lesson. You guys do stunning work.

    Lawton

  • http://www.songsblog.com lawton chiles

    I think talent has to be ingrained but if you have it, you can get or be “taught” more of it. I am an example of that fact. Asking tons of questions and always getting another person’s opinion are crucial.

    Thanks for the font updates and mini-lesson. You guys do stunning work.

    Lawton

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  • mohammed lokhandwala

    Gr8…It was a revision to the designing tips…
    Small small hints will make a designer a good as well as a master designer…

  • mohammed lokhandwala

    Gr8…It was a revision to the designing tips…
    Small small hints will make a designer a good as well as a master designer…

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  • Holly

    GREAT STUFF!!! Your RULES reinforce some great concepts. As for whether they should be rules or not. Many people in the world believe they have the creative gene and they do, but reality is that creativity doesn’t always lend itself to usefulness in marketing a product or feature. People have to USE the sites and not just think the site looks cool.

  • Holly

    GREAT STUFF!!! Your RULES reinforce some great concepts. As for whether they should be rules or not. Many people in the world believe they have the creative gene and they do, but reality is that creativity doesn’t always lend itself to usefulness in marketing a product or feature. People have to USE the sites and not just think the site looks cool.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/integralapparel IntegralApparel

    It’s funny that the more I designed for pay, the more I slowly learned the rules, great post for beginners. I love to see my old flyers and poster design and see how many wild fonts I would use, and especially in the body. Who knew you couldn’t use script for a whole paragraph LOL
    Love your stuff Go media!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/integralapparel IntegralApparel

    It’s funny that the more I designed for pay, the more I slowly learned the rules, great post for beginners. I love to see my old flyers and poster design and see how many wild fonts I would use, and especially in the body. Who knew you couldn’t use script for a whole paragraph LOL
    Love your stuff Go media!

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  • ChequeredManiac

    Great advice. I always limited my fonts because more never looked right, turns out its the right thing to do.
    Go Me!

    Anybody got any good sources for fonts?

  • ChequeredManiac

    Great advice. I always limited my fonts because more never looked right, turns out its the right thing to do.
    Go Me!

    Anybody got any good sources for fonts?

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  • http://www.myspace.com/robbycobb Rob
  • http://www.db-elements.com/ DB-Elements

    Great advice. Will have to bookmark this article for future reference. Thanks!

  • http://www.db-elements.com/ DB-Elements

    Great advice. Will have to bookmark this article for future reference. Thanks!

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  • cesseo

    Interesting regarding the complimentary fonts for header and copy. I always used to follow the same rule of thumb – that old fashioned font headers worked best with serif fonts, and my favored more modern, minimal headers worked best with sans-serif…. until i read somewhere the opposite. Once i read the opposite it was as though I'd finally been let on in a some huge designer's secret. Now I'm not so sure… I wonder what's the more common school of thought?

  • http://heartofwisdom.com/blog Robin Sampson

    “I was born in the Louisiana bayou and slept on a mud floor until I was 16. Ok, that's not really true. ” LOL Love it.

    Thansk for this post. I got an unreadable email this morning from a great company , I sent them this link and Tweeted it. fancy fonts are on my pet peeve list with black backgrounds.

  • haller

    “Please note: these principles CAN be broken… these are not laws, they’re just general guides that I typically follow when putting together a design.”

    You obviously only read the parts YOU thought were important.

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • Brittany_brendan-family

    thanks for the help :)!

  • bigdick

    how did helen keller burn the side of her face?!
    she answered the iron

    How’d she burn the other side?!
    They called BACK LOLOLOLOLOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Saman-Sinaei/1717711626 Saman Sinaei

    Hi I enjoyed the first part, I am really ok about using 2 fonts.
    and I also prefer to use a sans-serif as body copy even if the title looks old fashioned. thanks a lot.

  • http://www.domain2host.in Domain Registration

     Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  • http://twitter.com/ichalramadian Ichal Ramadian

    Hmm. Yes, you’re right. I used to create design with lots of fonts. Great post and advice, mr. Beachy!

  • Carlos Alejandro Fernández

    Nice tip. Just to mention that The combination of san-serif and serif fonts is pretty good. By the way, keep in mind the conception of a font. There’s several font families that contain fancy serif types and san-serif. Now –back to the conception thing– trying to understand a font type is crucial. Why? Simply because there is elements contained in the font for a purpose, in this case serifs. Serifs are as fancy as you want them to be, but they exist to connect one character to the other so our brains easily read in large amounts of type (body). So either you use sans or serif you might thing well about the amount of body, the kind of text (content) and the space you have for columns is important. All matters and you can choose one or the other, but please, think on the most important. The readers.