All typefaces have personality. Some are subtle and understated. Some are boisterous and overt. These personalities can be leveraged to reinforce your message and the overall intent of your design. Conversely, using a typeface with a contradicting personality can detract from the message and confuse the audience. Making informed decisions regarding these personalities is critical when thinking through a design.

Serif vs. Sans Serif

Typefaces can be categorized a number of different ways, but the two fundamental categories are serif and sans serif. Serifs refer to the small decorative flourishes attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol. A serif typeface includes these elements while a sans serif typeface does not. Generally speaking, serif typefaces are usually perceived as more conservative and traditional. Sans serif typefaces are usually perceived as having a more modern and contemporary feel.

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Decorative Type

This is a broad category that includes script, novelty, and ornamental typefaces. Decorative typefaces are characterized by their unique shapes and personalities. They tend to have a stronger personality than traditional serif or sans serifs. These personalities seem to run the full spectrum, and can be anything from elegant and luxurious, to happy and exuberant. Because of the strength of these personalities, careful consideration should be made when deciding to use them. Decorative type is best used in small amounts, usually for headlines.

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There is a current movement towards hand lettered custom type. This involves hand drawn words and letters that are eventually converted into a digital file. Because this style is created by hand, the designer has full control of the personality. The handcrafted feel can give a more humanistic and approachable feel to a design and show what old school craftsmanship and human creativity can achieve.

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Combining Different Typefaces

Combining typefaces can add visual interest to your designs. When executed properly, combining typefaces can result in dynamic and purposeful solutions. When you’re choosing different typefaces, you must consider how the different personalities will mesh. In general, sameness competes but differences contrast and highlight. Too many typefaces can result in a design that appears unfocused and clumsy.

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To sum up, type personality plays an important role in communicating with your audience. When done right, these personalities can be leveraged to reinforce the overall goal of the design. At Davidson Belluso, our designers live and breathe type and can provide guidance on how to use type to best achieve your goals.

Aaron Castiglione

Originally from Lewiston, New York, Aaron moved to Arizona to pursue a degree in industrial design from Arizona State University. Upon graduating, he worked in the industrial design field for a few years before switching to graphic design. After two years as a graphic designer at Davidson Belluso, Aaron was promoted to art director, leading the creative process on city entities such as Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tempe Tourism Office, the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, and large corporations such as Blood Systems Inc., Petsmart and CVS/Caremark. A member of AIGA and an avid sports fan, Aaron volunteers as a basketball coach for people with disabilities. He’s also a drummer in a garage band and enjoys spending time with his golden retriever, Bauer.