A Little Lesson On Typography

As a designer I’d say improper use of typography is my number one pet peeve.  There are so many bad typefaces out there, so little knowledge of kerning, leading, and combinations of typefaces, it really can overwhelm designers.  Conversely, the anatomy of type is quite complex, and can overwhelm non-designers.  So, here’s a little lesson on serifs and san serifs, good typefaces, and typefaces to avoid. First, here’s a great diagram explaining the anatomy of type, and the link provides a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the anatomy of type.  Although I'm only going over serifs, san serifs, some of my favorite typefaces, and typefaces to avoid, this can help you understand the complexities of typography.


What is a serif?

A serif /ˈsɛrɪf/ is a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol,[1] such as when handwriting is separated into distinct units for a typewriter or typsetter.

What is a sans serif?

san serif also known as a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, san serif or simply sans typeface is one that does not have the small projecting features called "serifs" at the end of strokes

Both serifs and san serifs have their place, and often look great together, but there are so many variations out there and most people end up using Times New Roman (if you’re not writing a paper, please avoid) and Helvetica/Arial (Arial is the Microsoft rip off of Helvetica, and don’t get me wrong- Helvetica is a wonderful typeface, but at this stage in the game, there are many amazing san serif fonts that can replace it).  Although these are safe choices (if you truly don’t care about type and want a clean look then go for them) there are so many more beautiful choices out there which can help you achieve a look even better than you imagined.

Good Typefaces

Now that you have an idea what serif and san serif fonts are, let’s learn about some amazing typefaces in both the serif and san serif categories.  The following are some examples of typefaces you can use in lieu of your typical fonts.  A great resource for free amazing fonts is Google fonts.  These are most often used on websites to keep consistency among webpages on various browsers, but they can also be downloaded and used on print pieces as well as online or on your computer.  They also have a very handy feature where you can type in your copy and it will show you what it will look like among all the fonts and in word, sentence, paragraph, and poster form.

My favorite San Serif Google Fonts:

  • Open SansThis font is often used on websites to achieve a clean look without using the standard san serif code, but you can also use it on anything.
  • Julius Sans One
  • Dorsa 

My Favorite Serif Google Fonts:

My Favorite Fonts (not found on Google):  Some of these have to be purchased.

  • Gotham: My absolute favorite font of all time!

  • Novecento: This is only in all caps, but I love this font for headlines!   


  • Didot: This is one of the best serif fonts out there, and I highly recommend using it.


  • Baskerville: This is also one of the best serif fonts out there, it also gets my stamp of approval!


Typefaces Designers Can't Stand:

There are many different typefaces out there that make me cringe, but these are my top least favorite typefaces of all time!

  • Comic Sans: Never use this for anything.  It's not cute, and it makes designer's go blind.  Please spare us, we need our eyes!
  • Bleeding Cowboy: Although this might have worked for the project this typeface designer created it for, that's pretty much the only thing it should have ever been used on.  When I see it, I see red.
  • Papyrus: For some reason people think this font works for beauty products, natural products, Greek restaurants, Middle Eastern products/restaurants, Italian restaurants, yoga businesses, you get the idea.  It's one of the most over used decorative fonts ever.  Every time I see it I cringe at the thought of someone coping out and once again using this font.  So please, don't use Papyrus!

There are many amazing typefaces out there, and these are just some of my person favorites.  Conversely, there are many awful typefaces out there.  I didn't cover fonts that come on your computer because at this point I have over 900 fonts and no idea if I purchased them, got them online, or if they came with my Mac, but I hope this little lesson helps you in picking your next font for whatever you may need it for!

Sarah McMahon www.modernsoutherner.com