We did the homework so you can pass the test!
We spent a bunch of hours weeding through the menagerie of great and not so great blogs and websites to see if we could come up with a nice cross section of agreed-upon, best font recommendations from sources the collective brain of the web has deemed reputable. The results to any seasoned graphic designer will not be surprising.
[Note: amended article to get rid of a spam blog that hijacked someone else’s article]
But first, an analogy.
I went to the Boston Science Museum as a kid in the 70’s and saw this huge wall full of ping-pong balls dropping from a hole behind a big sheet of plexiglass. In between the plexiglass and the wall was a grid of pegs forming a diamond shaped pattern across the entire wall. At the bottom of it all was a row of slots the size of a ping-pong ball. A ball would drop from the center and bounce all over the place and finally come to rest in a slot at the bottom. Over the course of several hundred balls, a perfect bell curve would form. Once it filled up, the balls would clear out and the process would start over.
I took my own 3 kids to the Boston Science Museum on Father’s Day. I was younger than my oldest son the last time I was there. I wondered if 2 things were still there: the ping-pong ball wall and the 1969 VW Bug that was flattened to about an inch thick. Well, the VW was gone, but that ping-pong ball was still there. And guess what? The bell curve the falling balls made was exactly the same, producing the same bell curve it did some several decades back.
What does this have to do with fonts? Everything.
If you could grab 1000 pieces of printed material and do a font count, I bet we’d see similar results to the list below. We went to umpteen sites (good and bad) and took the best “top fonts for graphic designers” lists and tallied up the top 10. When it came down to it, there were really only 6 websites which we felt were really indicative of what people were finding when they did the “top fonts” search. Yes, there were a lot more, and our decision to not tally this or that site was simply due to the law of diminish and return. A much larger sampling set would not have really altered the results. Our search was not looking for top new fonts, but rather the top classic fonts.
And so, like the falling ping-pong balls, font usage falls into a bell curve, with the zany and crazy and all-but-useless on either end of the curve. But the middle the bell curve is piled high with results from the same core set of best fonts. I would venture it’s less than 100 faces that make up the bulk of all printed material (that print Roman characters, that is!).
Top 10 fonts for graphic designers
In alphabetical order, we have the following classics:
- Akzidenz Grotesk
- Franklin Gothic
- Helvetica / Helvetica Neue
- Lucida Grande
We culled this list from the following sites:
- Die 100 Besten Schriften
- Just Creative Design – Top 7 Fonts Used By Professionals In Graphic Design
- David Airey – 13 typefaces for graphic designers
- Typophile – Top 10 typefaces (a long list of user submitted entries)
- Spoon Graphics – 25 Classic Fonts That Will Last a Whole Design Career
- Smashing Magazine – 80 Beautiful Typefaces For Professional Design
The top fonts for graphic designers will change very little over time
The moral of the story is that while these sites may not be indicative of search results in 6 months or 6 years, if you do the search and matrices again at that period of time, my guess is that the results will vary little, if any. Garamond has made it 500 years so far. I suspect it has some legs left in it…
A few of my favorites didn’t make this list. A few of my favorites didn’t make my own list of top 10 fonts, so I could keep it to a nice number like 10. All said though, if you have these 10 fonts in your library, you will have 10 weapons of mass design at your disposal…