Picking the Perfect Font for Beautiful Designs Every Time

If it doesn't look good it isn't going to get a good grade. No longer in the age of the typewriter, we are now able to choose from many different fonts and sizes. In the case of fonts, less is more sometimes but picking the perfect size and type can be tricky.

A font is a

"set of type."

When writing my graphic design curriculum, I turned to my sister, Sarah Adams, who has three degrees in the subject, is an online professor for a major art university, and owns her own firm. (If you've seen a magazine in the US, you've seen her ads - designed right down the road here in Camilla, Ga.)

There are two basic decisions that you have to make about a font: the font face itself, and the font size.

I'm going to come back to font face and font families in a later post, but first lets assume you're using ONE font family and look at selecting font size.

Pick the Perfect Font Size Using The Font Formula


Yes, this is called the "Font Formula" by many graphic designers but the rest of us know it as the Fibonnaci sequence. This series of numbers always starts with 0 and 1 and then becomes the sum of the 2 numbers before it. 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5... and so forth.

The interesting thing about this sequence is that you can take the ratios of two numbers in line 3/5 or 55/89 for example and you get closer and closer to the Golden ratio (also called the "divine proportion.") No one can really explain it, but the Golden ratio is found in many things including geometric patterns.

In this case, I picked 3 Fibonnaci numbers in order.

Here is how it works. When you want to select two font sizes, pick two of the numbers from the sequence. So, a 34 and a 13 would look very nice together.

But we know that the "ideal" font sizes for 'body' text run between 10 and 12, so, say we wanted to have a 12 as a font size. Then, we would pick numbers from the font formula to help us pick our other one or two sizes.

So, If I have 12, I could add 8 and go with 20 and add another 13 and have 33. So, my body would be 12, my headings may be 20 and my title may be 33.

Picking font sizes using interpolation.

But what if I don't want to have that big of a difference? I could pick numbers lower in the sequence and interpolate in this case. So, I could say, OK, my body text is going to be 12, I'm going to add 5 and use 17 for my headers and add 8 and use 25 for my title.

There is still a place for "eyeballing it." 
Since my sister taught me this formula, I use it quite a bit and teach it to my students. I have the Fibonnaci sequence on a piece of paper right on my keyboard so I can just grab it.

You DO have to learn to type the font size manually in most programs because most programs don't use the odd numbers required to pull from the sequence. As for blogging, you can barely pick the size at all.

I've also found that there is also a place for eyeballing it. I've found that the higher up in the numbers I go, the better the differences between the fonts looks. (I guess that would make sense because you get closer to the golden ratio as you go higher.) But I've also found that sometimes I really have to eyeball it.

Some fonts are just different and I have to play with the numbers using different intervals from the Fibonnaci sequence to get what I'm looking for. But overall, I've found that this method of selecting font sizes (especially when in the same font face) is usually dead on.

The Books to Teach Graphic Design
Never use a software book to learn graphic design principles. I believe you should be concept focused, not tool focused. Know the principles and then you can use them anywhere.

If you want to teach graphic design in your classroom, there are two INCREDIBLE books that Sarah had me use for my graphic design curriculum. Every technology teacher should have these two books.

Williams also has a book that I plan on getting called The Non-Designer's Web Book, 3rd Edition but I would still get the graphic design book first. It is probably my next read on this topic.

Other Books I use to Teach Graphic Design
By the way, if you have a course where you also have the students take photographs, Sarah got me hooked on this The Digital Photography Book series by Scott Kelby

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
By the way, did you know Garr Reynolds has a new Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter) coming out. I'd have to see this one to figure out which one I'd use, but knowing Garr's work, I'd use the newer one.

This post is dedicated to Sarah Adams, tied for best sister in the world. You aren't a baby sister any more, you are one of my best friends in the world and I cherish your wisdom, intelligence and perseverance. You are the first person who taught me how technology could unlock the greatness of a person and I'm so proud of your accomplishments.

She is tied up with some big jobs or probably would have written this post. She did agree to look over this post and let me know if there are any clarifications I need to share with you. I'll not corrections when I make them.

Hat tip, also, to my Twitter friends @datruss @nesticos @dkuropatwa @prlowe91 who got after me on Twitter and asked me to write this blog post. There are so many things like this that I just teach and don't realize that they are special. 

One benefit of tweeting is that others can tell you when something is important enough to birth into a post. Expect more from me (and Sarah) on this topic. She's spent hours infusing concepts into my brain in a way simple enough for me and my students to understand.

I have to almost admit that I was afraid to write this post, I had someone who got after me for a grammar mistake not too long a go and I added and re-added my math here. Is that silly? I guess that is what criticism does sometimes. But we share ANYWAY.

Photo Credits:
iStock Photo

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