To Use Helvetica or Not? An Awareness of Font and Color in Design

As I watched Laura Franz transition between countless fonts and listened to her point out the idiosyncrasies and distinctive characteristics of each, that non-designer voice in the back of my head just kept asking “does it really matter?”  Is my decision to use the oh-so-controversial Helvetica font really going to deter users (or attract them, depending on which side of this argument you fall on) from my site?  Well, if you are Carlson, then maybe. But for the average user who is likely visiting for a dedicated purpose, probably not.

When I began to weave this tutorial with the other readings, I realized that I was missing the point.  The subtle differences between fonts can affect the way a page looks, but, more importantly, they can impact how a site feels.  For instance, a site on women in colonial America that uses Venetian or an Old-Style font might feel more authentic (?) than application of a modern font (I agree with the two designers in the film Helvetica that argued for the difficulty of describing fonts qualitatively.)  Color choices, similarly, can convey more than is written on the page, and designers should be “tactical about employing color persuasively” (WSINYE, 114.) A muted color palette might be the better choice for a site on Depression-era politics but might be less impactful for a site on the flower-children of the 1960s. As historians, an awareness of design conventions and digital tools can help us to to visually situate our arguments in time and space.

Poor choices in design – in font and color- may not necessarily detract from a site (though this certainly may be the case), but it is possible that thoughtful choices might strengthen our arguments and enhance user or viewer experience.  Indeed, changing the font or applying a new color palette does not change the content of a site.  But, making these decisions with thoughtful intention can add a dimension to our work that is not available in the print world.

Comment on Becca’s Post

One response to “To Use Helvetica or Not? An Awareness of Font and Color in Design

  1. I agree that it is very important to utilize appropriate fonts and colors for our purposes–if nothing else, it helps establish legitimacy. We must consider all types of choices when publishing, rather than just considering the content alone.

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