A to Z of completely usable typefaces and fonts
Typefaces and fonts … there's a lot of them out there, millions in fact, so how can you easily decide on what to use? Here are twenty-six generally clean and usable ones you can use in design projects and elsewhere. (Admittedly, finding one beginning with ‘X’ was a task, so that one’s a little bit grungier, but you may find a place for it!)
These aren’t all necessarily free fonts (although some are free via Google Fonts).
Designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988, the word ‘Avenir’ means ‘future’ in French. I love this typeface for its clean simplicity, rounded dots over the ‘i’ and ‘j’ characters and the tail of the upper case ‘Q’ that lies along the baseline, rather than descending below it.
Highly legible and dignified in feel, Baskerville makes an excellent text typeface. Originated from Birmingham-based printer John Baskerville’s designs in the 1700's – it that truly stands the test of time. Another ‘Q’ tail to die for and a beautiful descender (tail) to the lower case ‘g’ that doesn't quite join back to the rest of the character.
A sleek, geometric sans-serif where the ‘O’ and ‘o’ characters are perfect circles. Appropriate for use at almost any sizes with its wide range of weights and also italic versions. It can easily be used for both small body copy applications as well as large headlines. I don’t like that question mark though!
DIN Next Pro
A slightly condensed sans-serif typeface (more condensed font versions are available) DIN was originally based on geometric shapes and intended for use on traffic signs and technical documentation. Comes in a large range of weights. I love some of the subtle touches such as the slightly curved foot to the lower case ‘l’ and the cute little slab serif on the number ‘7’.
A subtle slab-serif typeface designed by Andre Gürtler in 1967. Beautifully legible as body copy, but I’d be loathed to use that ampersand!
Designed by German-born Paul Renner in 1928, the Futura family is one of the major typeface developments to come out of the Bauhaus movement. Very versatile due to its large range of weights from light through to extra bold. Its characters are quite long (look at that lower case ‘f’) and benefit from greater line spacing. I do have issues with the fact that the lower case ‘j’ doesn’t have a curved finish to its tail. Oooh … and that question mark!
An elegant, old-style serif typeface, Garamond is more like an over-arching supergroup of fonts, as many different versions now exist. The original designs came from France or Italy in the 16th/17th centuries – one famed designer named Claude Garamond. However, most iterations stem from a design by Jean Jannon, done 60 years after Claude Garamond’s death. Garamond has been famously used in the Dr. Seuss as well as the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter books.
A newer release in 1983 of the original 1957 Helvetica family. Originally designed by Max Miedinger and released by the Haas Type Foundry of Switzerland. A classic sans serif typeface that works well in any application from websites, to printed copy and clear and legible in signage applications. A typeface that I don't think will ever date.
I couldn't do an A to Z like this without including a typeface from British designer Neville Brody. Insignia was originally designed to use in the 1980s magazine 'Arena', eventually being released in 1989. Heavily influenced by some of the 1930s typography of the Bauhaus, Insignia is a cutting edge classic of the 1990's computer design era. I love its geometric nature and the way some of the strokes cross over the character and poke out the other side again, such as on the upper case ‘P’ and ‘R’.
A modern serif typeface designed by Eric Gill (of Gill Sans fame) in 1931. It has small, straight serifs, which lend it a certain elegance … but it would never really be described as a full-on slab serif. I'm not such a fan of the italic version, which actually condenses it slightly.
A lovely geometric typeface, originally designed by Rudolf Koch in 1927, it was then redesigned by Victor Caruso in 1975, whereby he increased the height of the lower case characters slightly (the ‘x height’) to make them more legible. This font has some beautiful quirks to it, including the upwards slant of the lower case ‘e’ character, the wonderful shape of the lower case ‘g’ and the diamond shaped dots on the ‘i’ and ‘j’, as well as at the bottom of the question and exclamation marks. Famously used for the type on the ‘Monopoly’ board game.
Pretty much my favourite slab-serif typeface ever. Designed by one of my favourite type designers, Herb Lubalin in 1974. It was based on one of his other famous typefaces, Avant Garde, which he added heavy slab serifs to. This font isn't so good for long body copy, but works really well for large headlines, as well as logos. I love the upper case ‘Q’ character and the geometric nature of the typeface, meaning that the ‘O’ characters are perfect circles.
My new modern-day favourite. I actually use this for most of my own presentations, as well as here on my website. Designed by Julieta Ulanovsky, this Google font was inspired by Montserrat, her local neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, where many of the urban posters and signs had a similar feel. I love this for its cleanliness and the way it seems to hark back to some of the older classic sans serifs such as Avant Garde and Futura. It also comes in a good range of font weights, from Thin, through to Black.
A favourite typeface of mine on a similar level to Montserrat above. This has a beautiful quirky lower case ‘g’ character, as well as a lovely ‘J’, which, despite having a form of slab serif, easily fits in with the other letter characters. Designed by Svetoslav Simov, it has a great range of font weights and works well right down to and including a body copy scenario.
Designed by Steve Matteson for Google Fonts, Open Sans is an excellent all-rounder. Clean, but with a friendly appearance, it comes in five different font weights, as well as italics for each. It can also be paired easily with its partner, Open Serif, a good looking slab serif typeface – giving lots of flexibility through only two typeface families.
Hermann Zapf designed this typeface in 1948. It's very legible with light lines and large letter sizes, which work just as well in newspapers, as well as on today's websites. According to Fonts.com, it is one of the top ten most-used typefaces in the world.
Originally designed by Andrew Paglinawan in 2008, Quicksand is a display sans serif with rounded stroke ends. It comes in four weights, Light, Regular, Medium and Bold. It works ok for body copy as well as for main headlines. A lovely tail to the upper case ‘Q’ and I do like that ampersand character. Quicksand is available as a free Google font.
A no-nonsense slab serif typeface, revived by Monotype Design Studio in 1934. Originally modelled on a 1910 typeface called Litho Antique, Rockwell is great for headlines and bold poster treatments. Weights from Light through to Extra Bold and second only to Lubalin Graph!
Designed by Aldo Novarese for the International Typeface Corporation in 1984. This is a great ‘in-between’ typeface that sits between sans and serif … with only very subtle serif details. A range of weights and italics make this a really versatile font for many applications.
Probably one of the few Microsoft system typeface that I actually like, Trebuchet was designed in 1996 by Vincent Connare. A sans serif, it was designed with easy readability in mind. For a system typeface, it actually has some interesting little features, such as the open, rather than closed descender (tail) to the lower case ‘g’, as well as the little slab serifs on the lower case ‘i’ and ‘j’ characters.
A 1957 design by Adrian Frutiger, Univers, like Helvetica is based on clean Swiss principals, based originally on Akzidensk Grotesk from 1898. The great things about the Univers family is its modularity. Frutiger designed the whole family within a modular framework, so all the styles and weights within the family would work harmoniously together if necessary. The whole family is huge and flexible with font weights from Light to Extra Black, as well as italics and condensed (above) and ultra condensed versions.
This typeface was originally commissioned as a corporate typeface for the Volkswagen AG company (hence ‘VAG’). It was designed in 1979 by the London design agency Sedley Place. It was released to the public in 1989 by Adobe, but was still used by the Volkswagen company as late as 1992. It was also famously used by Apple at one point on their iBook and Powerbook laptop keyboards. That's some endorsement for a clear, legible font!
Another Google font here for you. Wire One is a thin condensed typeface designed by Alexei Vanyashin and Gayaneh Bagdasaryan from Cyreal Type Foundry. Not advisable to use this font in too small a size, because of its thin nature, it would make lovely headline usage for the right kind of client.
OK, here's our slightly rogue typeface on our A to Z journey (do you know how few typefaces there are beginning with ‘X’?!) A lovely hand-drawn rough textured typeface this one. Would suit a cuddly, fluffy or rustic food brand. Its geometric nature harks back to some clean sans serifs we’ve already mentioned, such as Century Gothic or Nexa.
A clean, but characterful, sans serif condensed typeface, Yanone Kaffeesatz is reminiscent of 1920s coffee house typography, whilst still retaining a lovely modern feel. Designed in 2004 by Yanone. Comes in four different weights.
Google font Zilla Slab was designed for internet company Mozilla, for their logotype / wordmark. This slab serif has a few more subtle curved details than most. Normally I'm a passionate despiser of italics, but I think the italic versions of Zilla Slab work really well (not italicised versions of the font also exist). The typeface comes in a really useful range of five font weights.