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Pairing Fonts by Historical Era

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

This week Tao Websites has been on a retreat, which has provided an important time for learning and reflection. Yesterday we played Type Connection, a "typographic dating game" that allows you to evaluate pairings based on four different strategies: rely on font families, seek the similar, embrace the other, and explore the past. I generally use the last two strategies to achieve a visually interesting yet coherent look. Because I studied history (including the history of books and media) I often visualize a particular historical era or setting when I'm choosing typefaces (popularly known as fonts). Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Pairing: Indie Flower and Cabin

Indie Flower (the heading in image below) looks like the blackboard menu at your favorite coffee shop or microbrewery, or perhaps the daily entries in your moleskine journal. Cabin is a modern, humanist sans that looks good on screens and in print. Both are Google fonts.

Cabin has a readable, rounded, human feel. The pairing of Indie Flower with Cabin feels minimalist yet human, sophisticated yet down-to-earth. It might appeal to thirty-something hipster millennials, journaling in coffee shops, shopping locally, and seeking community.
Photo by daan evers on Unsplash.

Pairing: Atiba and Ubuntu

My dad, a Baby Boomer, loved technology. He would take us to Epcot Center, subscribed to Popular Mechanics, and pointed out satellites in the night sky. We millennials and Gen Zers might be a bit more jaded about technology, but at the same time we're still finding new ways to use it, like digital storytelling and EDM. If you're going for a retro yet techie vibe, try Atiba and Ubuntu.

Other Considerations

Not all typefaces have to come from a similar era or setting. If your business is a fusion of new and old, or different cultures, then very different typefaces can set a startling yet vibrant note. If your business is more traditional and focused on keeping people comfortable, you'll want tyefaces that tell a more comforting story.

I keep some other considerations in mind as well:

  • Heading typefaces are often more eye-catching and decorative. They should still be clear enough for people to read easily.

  • Paragraph/body typefaces should prioritize readability.

  • Sans-serif typefaces (like Arial) are often used for screens, while serif ones (like Times New Roman) are frequently used in books and print (this distinction is not necessary for accessibility, although many people believe it to be).

  • When writing for the web, be sure to choose typefaces that show up correctly in all popular browsers, like Google fonts.

Tao Websites founder Lauren Antrosiglio has more to say about the importance of font choice. The Wix blog has further advice about font choice and pairings.

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