Fonts matter. 

As a content creator, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, but have you ever taken the time to think about how much font matters? 

The font is the gateway to your content. It sets the mood before your learners even start reading. In less than a second, subconsciously your readers are preparing themselves to get serious or be entertained. When there’s a mismatch between your font choice and your content, it causes cognitive whiplash that can distract or, worse, lose your audience entirely. 

Font Sets the Tone

Let’s take a look at an example of what I mean using a couple of well-known movie posters. 

ALIEN and The Little Mermaid couldn’t be more different, and their posters reflect that. No one is going to pick ALIEN and expect a lighthearted romp. Conversely, viewers of The Little Mermaid wouldn’t sit down expecting creeping dread and horror. 

But what if things were different?

With nothing more than a font swap, the expectations for these two films are … well, maybe not changed completely, but certainly confused. The ornamental Little Mermaid font doesn’t pair at all with the stark graphics of the ALIEN poster. And ALIEN’s wide-spaced Helvetica Black is incongruous given the pastel colors and uplifting tagline of The Little Mermaid

But that’s movie posters, you say. Of course font matters when it’s the focus of the design. 

This is true, but that doesn’t mean you have to use Times New Roman for all your courses either. It’s possible to get creative with your font choice without sacrificing your content or readability. You just need to keep the following guidelines in mind.

Let the Subject Matter Be Your Guide

While you can just start creating with the default font for any tool, it’s usually the default font because it’s decidedly neutral. It’s not going to clash with your content, but it’s not going to highlight it either. 

How can font choice highlight your content? Let’s look at a couple of examples to see what I mean. 

This image is taken from a course created in Rise 360 using the built-in font Raleway.

Now, Raleway isn’t a bad font by any stretch. But does it convey the gravity that the subject matter necessitates? Between the ornamental capital W, the relatively light line weight, and the overall softness of the curves, its touches of whimsy are a bit like a lawyer using a kitten filter in a virtual legal disposition. The information might get across, but readers could be distracted by the font choice, or at worst, question the credibility of you or the content.  

Let’s switch up the font and see how that changes things.

Here’s the same content presented with a title and header that uses Open Sans. The two fonts, Raleway and Open Sans, are both sans serif fonts. So what makes Open Sans a better fit? It’s a much weightier, no-nonsense font that’s perfect for conveying serious information in an easy-to-read way. 

Use Ornamental Fonts Sparingly

Decorative typefaces are an easy way to provide immediate impact to your content. It’s why you don’t see Times New Roman selected for movie posters—the text is meant to have an emotional impact even before it’s read. 

That’s why you should only use ornamental fonts sparingly, preferably for a title screen or at the beginning of a new section, so they don’t distract your learner. It’s also important to remember that ...

Font Choice Can Impact Clarity

Ornamental fonts impede understanding. If your learner has to try and decipher what’s written, then you’ve already pulled their focus away from your content. Plus, over-stylized fonts are difficult for those with dyslexia to read

Let’s Recap

Font choice helps your readers engage with your content before they’ve even started reading. Think of it as the marquee movie poster that draws them in and prepares them for what’s next. When choosing a font, however, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind.

  1. Let the content guide your font choice. Using an overly ornamental font for serious content or a plain font for more whimsical projects can be jarring and cause dissonance for your learner.
  2. Ornamental fonts are OK, but only if you use them with a light touch.
  3. Your font choice impacts readability. When in doubt, use a sans serif font to maximize accessibility.

More Resources

Did you find these tips helpful? If so, we have lots more to share. Here are a few more items to add to your reading list:

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