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So Many Typefaces. So Little Time

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Get a peek at the brilliant, wacky, inspiring pages from Notes on Type, and maybe learn something about typefaces, too.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book


Styles of Type

Not Just Siblings. Cousins Too.

Univers Megafamily


More Classifications

Type Jeopardy!


How do you get to be good at typographic design?


Typefaces and type families number in the tens of thousands. To help designers select just the right typeface for a particular job, printers organized all of this type into classifications based on visual characteristics and historical relevance.

How do you get to the point where you can recognize and expertly choose the right font for a project out of the tens of thousands of typefaces out there? Start small. Limit yourself to a small group of typefaces and styles—fewer than 100. Look for both the obvious and subtle defining characteristics of a single typeface. Use that typeface in a design. Redesign the piece. Do it again. Select another typeface. Use it in a design. Select another and another—practice, practice, practice. Look at and learn from the masters. Practice leads to smart (and sometimes great) typographic design.

How to win awards in the Type Directors Club?

Practice for years.


Exercises & Projects

1. Know Thy Type

Individual Activity

A. BUILD A TYPE TOOLKIT: Designing starts with and requires great sensitivity to the individual parts, the whole, and spaces in between letterforms—along with the look and feel of the massed type. To gain sensitivity and control in designing with type, build a “type toolkit”—a limited selection of typefaces with which to practice. By limiting the number of typefaces, you become more intimately aware of the visual tone, texture, and rhythm of type on the page and screen.

SUPPLIES: Access to professional typefaces such as those distributed by ITC, Adobe, Emigre, etc.


  • Select one or two typefaces in each major type classification: old style serif, transitional, modern, slab serif, sans serifs (humanist, geometric), a script, and one display or decorative.
  • Separate these typefaces from all others you may have and practice designing only with those in the toolbox.
Individual Activity

B. TYPE PAIRS: Type design looks most professional when more than one typeface is used to distinguish information and set the visual tone and communication. Generally, use one typeface for headers and another for running text. It is tempting to employ many typefaces (and styles). More than three typefaces in a small document will start to cause confusion. Practice type design by limiting to complementary type pairs. Less is more.

SUPPLIES: Access to professional typefaces such as those distributed by ITC, Adobe, Emigre, etc.


Think contrast for clarity. Pair two to three typefaces that are complementary in form, style, and/or classification.

Suggestions include but are not limited to:

  • Old Style serif + sans serif light
  • script + geometric sans serif
  • Modern + grotesque sans serif
  • one Modern + a light humanist sans
  • keep going...
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