How Many Typefaces is Too Many?

In Emil Ruder’s Typographie: A Manual of Design, the famous typographer said, “Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can bsolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose.”

Design is a visual means of communication; to create allure and to be engaged with. Along with it is a message, its intent and purpose, and as designers, our duty is to ensure the effective delivery of it. Typography is the method by which we, as designers, carry out such task.

Keep things at a minimum

 

As Nick Babich of Springboard says, “Good typography makes the act of reading effortless, while poor typography turns users off.” Design is after all not just how something looks, but how it works.

And so now you maybe off to starting your design with typography as the main style and feature. Question: How many typefaces should you use? Typography doesn’t have a strict series of rules set in stone, but the general recommendation is to keep the typefaces at around two or three.

The main reason for maintaining such constraint is to avoid possible confusion and unnecessary complexity with your created design. Having too many typefaces in a single design convolutes its intent and message. Readers will be distracted from understanding the message it wants to relay, and altogether might turn them off. A design that the audience does not wish to engage with has essentially failed to fulfill the very purpose of typography. It’s a design that didn’t work.

“Good typography makes the act of reading effortless, while poor typography turns users off.”

Visual hierarchy

 

This is also closely tied to the concept of hierarchy in typography. Hierarchy’s ultimate goal is to keep the design’s ideas organized; giving its reader visual cues for navigation and somehow chunking content for quick absorption. Three’s a crowd as they say, and with that number of typefaces you are already able to set your headline, subheadline and body typefaces. Others even suggest limiting the typefaces to actually just two and stick to one typeface for the headline (and all related to it), and another for the body.

Contrast

 

Limiting the number of typefaces also provides the right balance to create the perfect contrast. Contrast guides readers to words or content you wish to emphasize. It grabs the audience’s attention by varying font size, style, color and weight of the typefaces within the design. Having too many typefaces reduces the potential impact of contrast, and would somehow flatten the text to something dull and uninteresting.

 

Page weight

 

 Jaime of Engage Interactive also has an interesting and valid consideration for limiting the number of typefaces – page weight. His argument is for the use of typefaces in website design. Fonts are still files after all and carry with them a certain size or weight, and it will affect loading time and the user’s experience overall.

Conclusion

As per iA Inc., by optimizing typography we designers are effectively optimizing readability, accessibility, usability, and overall balance of the design. Practicing constraint with the number of typefaces does not limit the aesthetic and functional potential of the designer. Rather, it is to hone our discipline to become effective designers and expert craftsmen in the art of typography. With this discipline, our inherent judgement and taste for the right typefaces and elements improve and sharpen; further able to delicately balance the elements of our design, and create ones that are both pleasing and functional.

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