Day 280 – Quick Brown Fox

86 – The 100 Best Typefaces of All Time

I never really think too deeply about fonts. It’s an interesting enough topic, but there are only so many hours in the day and I have to draw the line somewhere.

Whenever I do think about fonts, type design strikes me as an oddly archaic or niche job. I know there are type designers out there, creating new fonts I write this… but call me a heretic; I think most if not all our everyday font needs are well and truly satisfied with what we have.

When I set up this blog I played around a bit with the font selections; I tried a few variants on the classics, I tried a few playful fonts, and I tried a few dreadful ones. But in the end, I always return to close-to-classic because it just works best.

It is very easy to get carried away with fonts. There is a siren-song about font selection that tempts me with infinite possibilities. It tries to make me forget about anything but fonts. It lures me into fonts-for-fonts sake thinking. And that’d be fine if the sole purpose of this blog were to showcase its design.

I don’t want my font choices to be a distraction from the writing, because… then what’s the point?

Helvetica

Helvetica (and Arial and Calibri) may feel “boring”, but that may not be a bad thing. The reason it might feel boring is because it’s everywhere. And it’s everywhere, because it works. Why wouldn’t you want to pick a font that works? Ignore the knee-jerk reaction, and stick with a nice boring classic unless you can articulate why you need something else.

Frutiger

Frutiger (and Corbel) looks familiar but hard to place. It’s a font that gets used on airport signs (and I believe some road signs) specifically because it is very easy to read at a glance for short fragments. Ideal for direction signs. This might also make it a perfect font for headings perhaps?

Garamond

Garamond (and maybe Constantia) look a little old-fashioned, but nice regular and rounded. There is a lot of debate about whether serif or sans-serif is better for readability of body text, but since new studies continue to find for alternating sides in this debate it probably has more to do with familiarity with the font than whether it has little dangly bits.

Times

Times (and Times New Roman and Cambria) are a more modern choice for serif-ed fonts. I personally would look at the serif/sans-serif as more of an issue for visual contrast than whether one is more legible than the other.

Bodoni

Bodoni feels a bit squished to me. Technically I believe this is closer to the definition of a “modern” font, but I could be mistaken. My mind associates it with headings in magazines that have a very high opinions of themselves and their design-cred. This is probably a bad sign. I’m unlikely to every use this myself.

If design and type interests you, I really recommend reading “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams (no, not the actor). It is a very lucid and simple introduction to the rules of design.

And I’ll leave you with some Commandments…

Day 273 – Bad Design …

93 – 100 Best Designed Websites of 2012

… it could happen to anyone.
It could happen to you!

I feared the worst when I saw the words “Best Designed”.

About 60 of the linked sites are “okay” design.
About 20 of the linked sites are “good” design.
About 10 of the linked sites are “great” design.

And 10-or-so just plain stink for a variety of reasons.

7. http://www.mcmaster.com/
Just like the physical Bunnings experience. Yes, everything is technically speaking there. Yes, theoretically all the aisles are marked and organised. And yet… when you are looking for something it is almost impossible to find anything. Too many damn options. Too little design.

41. http://feefighters.com/
Possibly a victim to the fallout of HeartBleed, but… expired SSL certificate. All modern browsers display warnings for this these days, so either don’t build something that needs HTTPS, or just make sure you stay on top of the damned certificate!

78. http://jenkinstownmotors.com/
Aaaand we’re seemingly warped into the 70s? Such drab colours. Much bland. Wow! This design style makes me think of passable default templates, slightly mangled by an amateur trying to make it “their own”. With a fresher simpler colour scheme, it’d still be bland, but at least passable.

91. http://www.legalzoom.com/
And it’s not just little sites that have bland down pat. Some kind of vampire seems to have sucked all the life right out of this page. It was probably a lawyer.

80. http://get.wunderkit.com/
And eventually… all links die.

The Lesson

Not everyone can be a design-guru.
I most definitely am not; the design on this site is definitely not inspired.

But the trick is to know when you are not, be it for lack of time, or for lack of skill.

(sufficiently advanced ineptitude is indistinguishable from a rush-job)

Once you admit you have a problem, the answer is simple.
Literally.
Simple.

As in: keep-it.

When you are not a designer, stick with simple. Start from a solid design and make only minor tweaks (as I did here). Or build your own from the simplest of elements.

Keep variety to a minimum. One font, two at most. Only a few colours, and for the love of all that is beautiful, just use Kuler already to pick a set of well-matched colours.

Minimise distractions. Don’t put boxes and lines and dividers anywhere. Absence of things is the best natural divider. Space is your friend.

Focus. If the idea of adding space as dividers scares you. If it makes you worry about what’ll scroll of the bottom of the screen… Then you probably have too much on your page to begin with. Simplify, and try again.

There are many great books on design, which might be worth reading as well.
But even then, simple is always your best friend.