Good Type part 6: Good type is a team player

Good Type is a 10-part series of videos and articles that aim to answer a simple question: What makes good type ... good? The series offers an in-depth look at different aspects of font design to help designers understand how to choose the right font for a given project. Be sure to read parts one, two, three, four, and five if you missed them.

Pairing typefaces is one of the more challenging tasks a typographer faces. It's a much-debated subject, and every designer will have their own approach, but there are some key guidelines that can help make the choice less daunting.

Considering there are hundreds of thousands of typefaces that could be combined together, it's easy to forget about the most complimentary pairing—that of one. Taking a single weight and using it as if it's a type system can make for beautiful results. If deployed cleverly, one weight of a typeface can feel like more than one font. This is also a great way to develop your understanding of a design, and for those feeling nervous about finding the perfect combination, it helps to have mastered the primary typeface first.

Monotype Director of Product Design Jamie Neely suggests approaching pairing like a color wheel, and choosing typefaces from within the same color band. “A good example is a slab heading with a serif body,” he explains. “They feel like they're coming from the same place. They're bringing some harmony, and it speaks to complimentary pairing without veering too far from the style of the font.”

Approach pairing like a color wheel, and choose typefaces from within the same color band.

The alternative is finding contrasting pairs—for example a serif and sans serif—which creates visual variation and highlights the unique qualities of each typeface. This requires working with a lead typeface that dictates and amplifies the voice, and then a 'practical partner'. Designers keen to experiment may want to push this slightly further, and bring two unusual designs together. A quick route to finding type that can work together is to approach designers or foundries, who are often happy to recommend good pairs.

Getting type to work together is a key part of branding, particularly as branding has shifted in recent years from focusing on the product and logo to the content, experience and lifestyle. Designers need to develop a type palette that has enough variation to work from campaign to campaign, or season to season, taking into account a brand's changing voice along the way.

We often experience a ‘collage’ of type, particularly on social media where we interact with different texture, type and imagery on a regular basis. Medium Head of Design Bethany Heck takes a particularly interesting approach to pairing type, often using several typefaces at once, and focuses on combining fonts by aesthetics. “If there's a part of my design that isn't being well served by a typeface I've chosen, I have no qualms adding another, and I'm not particular about the era/country/designer/etc the fonts come from,” she says. “Do they do their job well and do they look good in their context? Great, you're hired.”

Stay tuned for more from the Good Type series. Video recorded live at Adobe Max 2017.