Playing With Fonts: Understanding How Font Design Impacts Your Site

A question for designers – how do you choose the fonts for your websites? To the layperson, this may seem like a silly question. After all, isn’t the default for almost everything Times New Roman or Cambria, or maybe something like Arial or Calibri?

In fact, font choice is critically important to good site design and when working within the defaults and limitations of WordPress, this choice is even more important. Font choice is part of creating the whole atmosphere of the site and there are thousands of choices available. By restricting your choices to a few standards, you limit the overall user experience of the site.

The solution to font stagnancy is design playtime. It’s time to get out of the office and explore. At the very least, it’s time to play some games. Designers can only learn the real scope of the typeface world by exploring, just as children grow and develop through movement and imaginative play.

Imagine your site designs differently. The results could radically alter your site in the best possible way.

Professional Playtime

Typically, we draw a line between work and play as two very separate parts of our lives. As a web designer, however, there are professional ways to play and hone your skills at the same time. Typewar, for example, is a game that challenges users to name that font.

In Typewar, you’ll begin with easier options – for example, the difference between a serif and a sans serif font – but as you progress, the choices become more specific. Can you tell the difference between Garamond and Didot? For design nerds of a slightly different streak, there’s also Kern Type, a game that challenges you to determine optimal font spacing.

If you spot a font that you like while playing, take note. From there you can check its availability in WordPress. If it isn’t available with your template, you can likely find an open source downloadable version.

A Return To Principles

Of course, font choice isn’t all fun and games – although for true font nerds, it can feel like it. Even if you’ve spotted a font that looks great in a context like Typewar, it may not look great on your site. Context is important when it comes to font choice. Depending on how you’re using a font – a title or a body text, for example, or on an ecommerce site versus a church homepage – you’ll make different choices.

The amount of text on your page will also be a determinant in your font choice. If you run an online magazine, you’re more likely to want a serif font that will guide readers’ eyes across the page than if you’re only posting a short product description. Serif fonts were designed for reading, but don’t get stuck on the standby serif options.

There are plenty of free fonts available for WordPress. Bodoni XT, for example, makes an excellent alternative to Times New Roman, while Gist Light and Morva Free Serif Font both have excellent potential as readable, visually interesting title fonts. Readers will register these small differences and through what’s often a subconscious observation, they’ll spend a little more time with your site. Using unique fonts helps your site stand out from the rest.

Spotting The Problem

In web design, the only thing more important than choosing a good font is not choosing a bad font. There are a lot of fonts available on WordPress, but because the site caters to a broad constituency, many of these are top name, but low quality.

Everyone recognizes Impact and Comic Sans from middle school book reports and the like – these are the fonts we all chose before we knew better. Sure, Comic Sans may inject some quirkiness into your site, but it’s not appropriate for any kind of professional design or correspondence. Perhaps the only worse choice for professional writing would be Curlz MT.

Ultimately, a lot of what makes a bad typeface is context and content. When you set your site in the wrong font, it sends off warning signs that something is amiss. This day care font mash up and oddly calculator-like catering sign are sure indicators that the person behind them isn’t really invested in the business behind the text. If they were, they’d have a smarter graphic designer. These are clear examples of how not to play with font.

We’ve all see sites that are the victims of bad font choices and how users withdraw from these pages. It’s important not to take these font failures as a warning against exploration and play, however. Instead, they’re a sign of incomplete development. Play more, learn more, and discover the full potential of what fonts can do for your WordPress site.