For designers of any skill level, finding the right font can be overwhelming. There are so many options online across many websites and in a wide array of styles. It's easy to get stuck using your old favorites! Luckily, there's a process to finding and choosing the right font for your design project. Whether you're a new designer or could use a refresher, here is how I go about finding that perfect-fit font.
REVIEW THE CONTENT
It's fun to dive right in and start searching for fonts (and you'll get there soon!), but the best way to begin is by first studying the concept behind the content. This may be immediately obvious or could take a little time depending on the project. For example, an upscale event invitation would call for a polished sans serif or maybe a delicate script to portray the elegance of the occasion. An artistic book cover design could use a quirkier, handmade font in an expressive way.
Imagine yourself looking at the final product, like an event invitation, not as the designer and seeing if the typography has the right feel. Would you be able to tell right away what kind of event to expect? Would it make just as much sense to you as someone with fresh eyes? The more deliberate the font choice is, the more professional your design will look. You'll likely need more than one font depending on the project, but focus on finding the stand out, headline font first, and then you can complement it with another font if needed.
NARROW IT DOWN
After reviewing the content, decide on what kind of typeface you will focus on. You may even pick a couple of kinds to try out when searching for the exact font. (Note: a typeface is a general term describing the entire family of a font. A font is the exact weight or variation within the family. This all goes back to traditional printing methods, and nowadays people tend to use the terms interchangeably). I made a cheat sheet below for the some of the classifications of typefaces, using some of my personal favorites.
There are many more categories, such as grunge/distressed/rough, retro, calligraphic, typewriter, novelty, stencil, and others!
BROWSE + PREVIEW
Now that you've narrowed down your typeface direction, it's time to browse the web and preview specific fonts. There are a few sites that I regularly go to, where you can browse by the categories described above. You can preview the font with your text directly on the site, which helps before you go through with downloading or purchasing.
For free, commercial-use fonts: Font Squirrel
For free, personal-use or commercial-use fonts (use advanced search by clicking "more options" to find commercial-use fonts): dafont
Other great sites for purchasing fonts: MyFonts, Fonts.com, Creative Market
Web fonts: Google Fonts, Typekit
Vintage-style fonts: Lost Type
Having a variety of weights, in moderation, within your layout helps to add interest and makes it easier for the reader to differentiate between separate sections of text. Try settling on a font family with more than one weight option in case you need it in the design.
Contrast is also helpful for adding design interest and makes for easier reading. You can have contrast of font weight (light, regular, bold, etc.), contrast of size, contrast of color, and contrast of fonts themselves. For example, a slab serif as a headline and a sans serif as body copy would work well together as contrasting fonts. A handwritten font and a script might be too much together. Be deliberate in your pairings and in general use no more than 2-3 fonts in a layout. Avoid having fonts with very little contrast. For example, two similar but technically different serifs would not add interest to the design and will probably be confusing to the reader.
Hierarchy is an important part of typography within a layout. Generally, a design will have a main headline or title that should stand out from the rest of the elements. Next is a secondary element, or subhead, and finally the usually lengthier, yet smaller in size, body copy. Make sure your eye follows the elements in the order the design intends it to, and your reader's eye will do the same.
Do you have any tips for how you choose the right font for your projects? Any other favorite font sites? I'd love to hear your thoughts!