Fonts are like fish in the sea
There are a lot of typefaces in the sea of typography to choose from. There are many good ones and many more bad ones. Each day new fonts pop up. Because of this there are endless creative possibilities for how a word is displayed. Because of this it can also be really hard to know where to start when picking a font. A font is the visual backbone of and form of digital or printed media. If a piece is made with a bad font, chances are this will threaten the integrity of the piece. Typeface selection is especially important when creating an infographic.
A good font is legible and comfortable for a reader. Maintaining comfort while reading becomes increasingly difficult as a body of text becomes more complicated. Generally, an infographic has complex layers for the reader to navigate through. A font that lacks the technical capabilities will quickly result in a muddy, difficult to read infographic.
Accommodating the complexities of an infographic
Typographically a standard novel is fairly simple, just about any legible typeface will get the job done. But an infographic is a bit different. Often a page has complex data sets, charts, body copy, headers, footnotes, and scales. In a novel you may have 3 hierarchies of text to navigate through. In an infographic you can have easily 8 or more different hierarchies of text. It is important that a typeface can accommodate complex systems and still maintain readability.
We can better understand this by comparing a couple of typefaces to put things into context. The typeface Garamond and Univers are excellent examples. Both are masterfully designed and highly legible. But both have very different capabilities. And choosing the right one for the right job is an essential first step in making an infographic that people can read, and if done right, enjoy reading.
Where to start
Font choice is an art. Fortunately there are lots of articles, talks and books on the subject. But there are some principles we can use to get off to start. Many suggest finding a typeface that relates to the content you are trying to represent. For example; you are creating an infographic on the history of Renaissance art theft. So naturally we would want a font that represents the renaissance.
After a decent amount of time researching we come across the typeface Garamond, a classic and beautiful typeface. It even articulates stylistic cues from the Renaissance, coming from the appropriate time period. This in theory is not a bad way to choose a font. But choosing a font solely focused on its history as opposed to it technical capacity has potential for disaster. Even though this font lines up conceptually with the infographic the technical aspects of the font might not be up for the task.
When we start using this font in the infographic and realize we have numerous timelines, tables and comparative bar charts to account for, a typeface that was designed to be set at a fairly large size and for books, quickly becomes inadequate. Though aligned conceptually with our infographic, it lacks legibility at small sizes and lacks the variety of weights and widths to accommodate complex sets of data.
Often it is best to choose a typeface, based on the technical requirements of the infographic. For an infographic with highly technical needs a font with versatile capabilities is the answer. A good example of this is the typeface, Univers. In relation to our little example above, Univers couldn’t be more unrelated to the Renaissance. But one thing it does have going in its favor is versatility.
Featuring an assortment of light, book, black, condensed, and extended weights (just to name a few), Univers has enormous capability to display information. And it is okay that conceptually it doesn’t line up with the underlying theme of our piece. Type is a tool. It is meant to do a job. If it can’t do the job, it is the wrong tool, regardless of when the tool was made. Not to mention, there are many other things we can do to make this theoretical infographic relate to the Renaissance.
Listen to the needs of your infographic
Though Univers is amazing typeface, this by no means advocates that it become the be all, end all, font for information design. Garamond is also an excellent font and, in some instances, could work well in an infographic. The point of comparing these fonts is to put an emphasis on the utilitarian function of type. Sometimes it is best to throw highly conceptual reasoning out the window and just pick something that works.
To choose a typeface for an infographic, the first thing that we need to do is understand what kind of text will be displayed. Once we know this, we can choose a font that meets our requirements. It is often not essential to pick a font based on what era it was designed in or what stylistic classification it falls into. If it gets the job done well, it is probably a good choice. Doing this helps ensure that an infographic is quick and easy to navigate for the reader.