Reasons for Choosing Fonts
Choosing a font is not the first thing we think of when creating content. Likely because we associate a font with layout and visual appearance rather than writing. Or we simply apply fonts that our company’s branding guidelines dictate. Technically, a “font” is part of a typeface (also referred to as “font-family”). For instance, Arial Bold is a font and belongs to the Arial typeface. For simplicity, and unless otherwise specified, I will use “font” interchangeably with “typeface” for the remainder of this discussion.
If you have ever been part of a dedicated content authoring team, let’s say as a technical writer, you might know from experience that font decisions will eventually sneak up on you. There are many reasons—in addition to esthetics and brand identity—that require us to select appropriate fonts.
Following are common reasons that can affect our font selection:
- Ensure cross-platform compatibility
- Enable cross-application support
- Ensure proper display (rendering) on different devices
- Support different computer system locales
- Support different target languages
- Allow special formatting/appearance of selected text or keywords
- Accommodate internal/external content contributors
- Accommodate external parties that process source content
Classifying Fonts Requirements
The above list is not all-inclusive, and you might have experienced additional reasons. The point is that we often make font decisions on the fly and do not undertake a proper assessment of current and future needs. However, foresight and better upfront planning can help minimize rework and avoid surprises down the road.
To allow a big-picture understanding of your font needs, you could consider the following general requirement classifications:
- Technical requirements
- Linguistic requirements
- Collaboration requirements
A fourth classification could include design/esthetic needs. However, this classification often reflects preferential decisions that support branding concerns. Since this discussion focuses on strategic font selection for content authoring, I will only discuss the first three classifications. Ideally, a font should offer the broadest flexibility and application. This would minimize the number and types of fonts (typefaces) that you need to support content management activities. In other words, expanding your font portfolio should be for the right reasons and have strategic relevance. This way, font management does not become a time-consuming and unnecessarily complex exercise.
A Closer Look at Selecting a Font
You can easily map the reasons for your font selection to one of the requirement classifications. For example, cross-platform compatibility and cross-application support are technical requirements. Addressing the need for different languages would fall under linguistic requirements. There is also a technical component to language support. However, the technical aspect is secondary since it is an outcome of a linguistic requirement.
Another important factor is cross-functional collaboration. As you work with different teams, including external parties, collaboration also becomes a strategic decision. Whether you are a content contributor or somebody who post-processes content, working with the exact same typeface is crucial. It eliminates workarounds and potential font issues such as font corruption after translation.
The linguistic aspect of font selection can be significant if you have to support a fairly diverse language range. Luckily, the Unicode standard and OpenType specification provide a framework for comprehensive language support. These standards address cross-platform compatibility and consistent font rendering. Moreover, OpenType’s ability to include more than 65,000 characters per font set enables you to cover more languages with fewer fonts.
However, you should also keep in mind that different typeface developers might create fonts under the same or similar font names. Thus, the same font name purchased from different typeface developers does not guarantee that the fonts are identical.
For instance, if you and your Language Service Provider (LSP) purchased the same font (by name) from different typeface developers, chances are that you will see differences in the appearance of your content. The difference could also be the result of using different font specifications. If you work with OpenType fonts and your external parties work with TrueType fonts, you would likely encounter issues. Therefore, you should coordinate your font selection across all internal and external parties that touch your content.
Font selection is a strategic decision. Therefore, you should carefully assess its impact whenever you experience changes to your language requirements and authoring practices. These changes can be technical, linguistic, or collaborative in nature. Although style guidelines can help with your font decisions, style guides are not a forward-looking tool and usually capture the status quo.
More importantly, font selection deserves dedicated planning as part of your Global Content Management (GCM) strategy. Ideally, it should support a company’s expansion of products and global markets in real time. Additionally, font selection does not just affect content for external target audiences. You should also apply the same awareness and foresight to font decisions for content that you prepare for internal, global audiences. In conclusion, a well-thought-out font selection process saves time by providing a decision framework whenever you add new languages.