Small business owners are risk takers by nature. Most of the risks necessary for growing a successful business are manageable based on expertise. At times, the budget won’t allow for much beyond basic necessities. Statistics show the last priority of most new small businesses is identity; in fact, entrepreneur’s rarely consider expenditures beyond basic stationery and forms in their business plan. The professional designer isn’t a de rigueur part of good business education; in fact, some include courses like “Design Your Own Logo” taught by a self-educated web designer. Don’t kid yourself. If you face competition in the market, the public’s first impressions are important. Font choice, though a small part of identity, may play an important role in determining who you attract and who you push away. Here are some basic tips if you are not an expert:
1. Limit your choices–fonts in many forms and faces (bold, italic, extended, black) create a circus poster effect, confusing the eye and corrupting your purpose. Stick to regular and italic or bold and italic in a single font.
2. Avoid fad fonts. Make your font choices from the traditional faces like New Baskerville, Century Schoolbook, Antique Olive or Melior; cash in on their familiarity and the comfort it brings your viewing public.
3. Choose with your purpose in mind. Choose a serif font with dramatic difference between the thick and thins for elegance and attention to detail. There are bracketed serifs, hairline serifs and cupped serifs. Fonts like Tiffany, Fenice, Goudy and Times are good choices. This type of serif font has a delicate finish to each character; stroke variance offers hints of tenderness. Choose a consistent strong stroke serif for a heavier industry or service; fonts with slab serifs are Rockwell, Lubalin Graph, Bookman or Memphis. All are sturdy, deliberate fonts that convey a well-founded sense of masculinity, sturdiness and a clear message of strength. Choose a san serif consistent stroke font for a more industrial feel. Characters have a hard finish at the end of each stroke and indicate strength; they also present a clean, uncluttered feel. If you want something direct and strong, select Universe, Franklin Gothic or Helvetica. Want the best of both worlds? Use Optima or Frutiger–simple and direct, they each have the detail of the thick and thin without a serif.
4. Avoid cursives and scripts at all costs. These indicate a casualness and ease that may translate to the wrong impression by someone who wants your focused attention as a customer. They work well for wedding invitations and easy listening radio stations, but seldom convey the right demeanor for business.
For truly successful choices that pay off in the long run, remember readability. When you get ready to choose ink and paper, stick to black and white. Colored ink or stock can detract and limit readability. Make ink and paper support your font, not work against it. Remember that starting out a business identity in expensive four color commits you to that format even when you don’t have the cash flow. Finally, avoid challenging layouts like the stairstep. Western culture reads from left to right; make your type starting point predictable for readability sake. Stick to one system; don’t flush left most of the information and suddenly center one line–it’s confusing and tiring for the eye.
Using these tips will limit your mistakes and prevent you from becoming the proverbial kid in a candy store. Everyone has gotten the flyer with the black ink on red paper–why is it so hard to read?* When you find a designer who can answer that question, you are dealing with a professional who knows the delicate nuances of color, weight, size, character and style and how they affect the success or failure of your business identity.
*Red and Black have the same home value (pure hue equals black) leaving no contrast for readability. It makes the eye struggle to find the character’s negative space in all that density; and as every designer should know, type is read by the negative space.