Quick ground rules
Let’s set some quick ground rules that are general to pairing type:
Use one typeface.
Break the above rule when it is necessary.
Do not pair two sans-serif typefaces together. This is a useless endeavor.
Do not pair two serif typefaces together. This is a fruitless voyage.
Break the above rules if the typefaces you are trying to pair have a great deal of contrast.
The type should be legible if you want someone to read what you are setting.
The goal of pairing type is to create an emotion along with contrast in the type that you are pairing.
Feel free to break the above rules, and do your thing, but do your thing well.
What is personality?
Personality in type is like personality in you and me. It’s our native mode of magic. My personality is dry humor mixed with goofy thinking and a curious, cynical optimism. Complicated right?
What you are trying to do is convey personality and emotion to your reader through the use of typeface(s). If you were to think of your beautiful layered personality, you would recognize there may be subtlety. Put yourself in the mindset of thinking about type as a person. That person is tethered to the content it is trying to communicate.
Let’s call that person Axander.
Axander is trying to communicate a book about an adventurer’s travel into space. Axander has a lot to say and wants to make sure you get to ingest the story clearly, but it also wants to communicate the adventure and wonder, and mystery that is outer space.
Axander knows that it should use a serif typeface for the body copy. There is a lot to read, and the typeface needs to be super legible and enjoyable to the brainy meat. But, Axander knows that there is a gap in the wonderment department. To counteract that, Axander decides to use a very decorative and slightly techy display font. There it is; Axander is super happy. It knows that the decorative-techy display type will emote that right feeling compared to the traditional serif used for the body copy. Axander is satisfied. Will everyone like Axander pairing? No, but Axander II knows that this type of pairing communicates with great effectiveness what the content is about. Axander can’t please everyone, but IT is pleased with the communication!
Questions to ask before you start:
Think about the text itself. What is it trying to communicate?
How can you put a slight twist on the communication with your typeface choices?
How can you be traditional with your typefaces?
How do you want to communicate the text with your typeface choices?
Can you combine the traditional with the wild?
How much text is there?
What is the medium? (Website, book)
What will be the sizing of the type?
What types of type will be needed? (Pun. Body copy? Short headlines?)
How can you push the boundaries of legible type along with character?
What mechanicals does the type need? (Title, body copy, super small tags, subheads, etc.)
Now for some practical advice:
Try to stay away from trends and instead make a typeface choice based on its effectiveness in communicating personality and the text. Futura Now used here.
Give yourself many type pairing options. This method will take longer but pay off in the end. You don’t know what you are missing out on until you see all of the options. Macklin, Helvetica Now, Libre, Freight Display, and Covik Sans used here.
When setting your type for pairing decisions, choose a block of body copy, the longest headline, and a subhead. Rinse repeat for each pairing option. If you can handle a few other elements, add a small type scenario along with a CTA. But, pairing down will help you cognitively stay fresh and clean. Macklin and Futura Now used here.
Use a superfamily typeface - there are lots of benefits to using them!A Superfamily is usually a typeface that contains different classifications within that family. Macklin has a Display, Slab, Sans, and Text all in one big family. This leads to massive versatility and some sweet design.
Don’t be afraid to be daring, don’t be afraid to be legible.Don’t be afraid to be you, and let your personality shine through your type choices.
I hope that this post has given you some inspiration and guideposts to work with when pairing type. You can't go wrong when you communicate content effectively with your personality choice. I mean, yea you could pick the wrong personality, but the point is that you will create something strong and unique. You can totally do this!