Daniel Nisbet

Episode 20  |  March 13, 2018

What makes a good font... good?

One of the most exciting parts for me when I first started going down the road of becoming a designer was fonts. At the time there wasn't much choice out there world. This was long before a lot of very popular sites popped up with all the options we see today.

Often, I was resigned to typefaces that weren't all that great. And at the time, I didn't know any better. I was only excited that I got to choose something other than Arial or Times New Roman on my computer.

Since then, especially as I've started designing type, I gained a better appreciation for what goes into a font. I've have a great understanding for the amount of work and effort it takes to build one.

It's easy to gloss over details in type. So here's a few things to keep in mind the next time you're faced... with picking a typeface.

Consistency matters. A lot.

When you're designing a typeface, you want elements that look the same to have the same feel. You'll notice this in letters like the lowercase B, D, P and Q or the H and M.

For basic letters like H and M, the vertical strokes should have a common weight or width. It doesn't mean they're exactly the same—just that they optically look the same.

You'll notice this when you start writing out sentences. There's a lot of optical illusions in type that we don't always notice, but it can look "wrong" in context if they're off or missing from the font.

Spacing

How well are letters spaced from each other? Are letters like W and A kerned well? There should be a solid rhythm when you're typing words out.

It's worth pointing out that my hate for Comic Sans stems from this. It just isn't spaced or kerned well.

This is an easy test you can do in a type tester on a website. Type the word "minimum" out and "wave" underneath it. Does the spacing between all of those letters look similar? You'll instantly get a feel for how well its working and if the font is pulling its weight.

Language support

It's very rare, if ever, that I use a different language other than English. But sometimes it's nice to know that you have those extra characters.

I'm also looking at things like em dashes and en dashes. Are there any ligatures or alternate characters? I don't put a ton of emphasis on this, but they're nice to have. It's not a dealbreaker if they're missing though.

Proper quotes (not the primes, but the curly quotes) are a small detail that I do consider a "must." You'll get a more professional feel to anything you typeset with the proper tools.

It doesn't take much extra time, but being able to keep an eye out for some of these things when you're shopping for type faces might save you a few headaches in the long run.