Cat got your tongue?
I have to imagine trying to explain needs and wants to a designer can be like going into a hardware store looking for a specific bolt with a funny shape on the top. Without prior knowledge of terminology, it can be frustrating and daunting to trip over your words for 10 minutes before they whip out some quippy sounding word for what you were saying all along.
Yes, these moments can make any intelligent person feel inadequate, but remember, language is here to help us express our needs. Two Upwork projects in, a platform to hire freelancers on, I realized my clients knew what they wanted but didn’t have the language to efficiently express it.
If you just signed an Upwork contract with me, welcome!
Here’s your crash course and pocket dictionary on getting what you want.
Know that many of the general uses are not rules. Make your own opinions about how fonts should be used!
*Note, many designers use the words “font” and “type” interchangeably as I will do here.
Character: A single letter, number, symbol, or marking.
Font: A collection of similarly designed characters.
Font style: a variation applied to the font; usually regular, italic, bold.
Type Classification: the larger category, or family a font or type fits into.
Serif fonts have “tails” on the ends of the characters.
some uses: titles, logos, print, invites. A somewhat classy/ official feel.
Sans serif fonts have no “tails” on the ends of the characters.
some uses: long paragraphs and descriptions, modern designs, in your face big but clean letters.
Script fonts are formal calligraphy and handwritten style fonts.
Some uses: floral language, personal-feel, generally not great for paragraphs or long form content.
Decorative fonts come in many shapes and sizes and is the catch-all for any font that seems to have too much personality to fit into any other category.
Uses: Signs, headlines, and big statements with personality.
Most designers love the challenge of finding fitting decorative fonts. Some words to help hone your designer in on what you want in a decorative font are words like grunge, retro, contemporary, or cute. Note that decorative fonts can have elements of other fonts. For example “lazy hand” above is a decorative sans serif font.
In the font hunt, there are a few other tricks up designers’ sleeves.
You can change the character styles – like changing the font to all caps which can totally change what a word looks like. You can change the kearning, or how tight/ loose the letters are to each other. In the image below (right), the size of the words are the same, only the kearning is changed.
There are a million other terms and sub classifications of fonts and nit-pickey adjustments, but hopefully you’re a little closer to getting what you want, by saying how you want your fonts to look. Using this simple vocabulary will help you reduce the millions of possibilities of fonts very quickly down to the few that you're picturing in your mind; and save your designer friend the headache of trying to read your mind. Remember, design is subjective, so the more descriptive you can get, the more likely you’ll be to get what you want.