Nov 16, 2017

How to use FONTS to design better presentations? [Design secret #2]

I have analyzed 170 print ads published over the last 3 years looking for design lessons for presentations. Why? Because newspaper ads are designed by professionals and it is a great place to learn about design. In the first post of this series (5 Tips to use Colours in presentations [Design secret #1]) I talked about colours. This post is about fonts.

In this post I answer the following questions:


  1. WHICH font should I use in my presentation?
  2. HOW MANY fonts should I use in my presentation?
  3. Should I write my slide title in all capitals?
  4. What is the ideal font size for a presentation?

#1 Which font should I use in my presentation?

I will answer this question at two levels. First, you need to decide the type of font you want to use. Second, you decide which specific font you want to use within that type.

Two types of fonts
  • Serif fonts
  • Sans-serif fonts
Look at this advertisement by ROLEX. The line below ROLEX logo... THE LADY-DATEJUST is written in sans-serif. Even this blog post has been written in sans-serif. The paragraph below... The classically feminine Rolex... is written in serif font.
Here is an image which explains serif and sans-serif better. The fonts on the left (serif) have a serif on the edges. Notice how the T differs.
The thumb-rule is:
  • Use serif fonts when you have lots of text and you need to print it. Because serif is easier to read.
  • Use sans-serif when you need to project on screen (computer / mobile / projector).
So for presentations, the recommended font type is sans-serif.

Interestingly, 95% ads I have analyzed have used sans-serif only. That goes against the thumb-rule. One of the reasons is that those fonts are stylish and easy to read. Moreover, using serif fonts might make your design look old. Sans-serif is more modern.

Look at the next two ads. The first one is for a premium real-estate brand. The second one is by a premium retail store selling furniture and other stuff. Which one looks modern?
The second one looks more modern. As I mentioned, 95% of the ads now-a-days use sans-serif fonts. There is one ad however where serif has looked good. That is because of the type of font used. So selecting a good font is critical.

Which font will you use in your presentation?

When in doubt, use sans-serif. Use serif only when it goes with the theme (old, classic) or the mood (too formal).

Which sans-serif font will you use?
  • Arial?
  • Calibri?
  • Verdana?
Avoid these standard fonts because they are run-of-the-mill and not exciting. Download a good free font from Google Fonts and use it in all your presentations. Try one of these fonts:
  • Roboto (recommended)
  • Open Sans (recommended)
  • Montserrat (for slide title)
  • Oswald (for slide title)
  • Work sans
  • Arimo
  • Muli
  • Catamaran
  • Archivo Narrow
Read this post to know more about how to search and download free fonts from Google Fonts: 7 Secrets of designing beautiful PowerPoint Presentations.

Stick to fonts which are easy to read and go with the mood you want to set. Trying to use fancy fonts can backfire too. The next ad has used a fancy font. Do you like it?

#2 How many fonts should I use in my presentation?

Many presenters end up using too many fonts in one presentation. Many others just use one. How many are ideal? Let us look at some print ads and learn from them.
There are two fonts in this ad. The headline on the top uses a font that is slightly different from the small line below. Both the fonts go well together. This is called 'font pairing'. Some fonts go well together and some don't. The next ad has 3 different fonts and somehow the pairing is not very great.

Most ads use just one or two fonts. If they use one font, the headline is usually in capitals. That makes the headline stand out.


How many fonts should you use in a presentation?

Use two fonts. There are two separate ways to do it.

  1. Two different font families. Say, Roboto and Open Sans. One font for the slide title and one for the body (rest of the text)
  2. Choose one font family. Say you pick Roboto. Use Roboto Black for slide title and Roboto Light for the body.
When we use fonts from the same family, we do not need to worry about font pairing. They always go well together.

If you want to go with option 1 and pick two different font families then you will have to ensure the fonts go well together. One way is trial and error. Use the fonts and see for yourself. The other option is to take the help of Google Fonts.

Click on the font's page. Say you choose Open Sans. Go down and look to your left. Here is the screenshot. Look to your left.
The suggested font pairings with Open Sans are Roboto, Lato, Oswald, Raleway and Source Sans Pro. Choose one font from this list and then do your trial and error. This way you'll save a lot of time in testing which combination appeal to you.



#3 Should I write my slide title in all capitals?

I have analyzed so many newspaper ads and found that most of them use all capitals in its headline. That is the best way to draw the attention of the reader to the most important element.

On a slide, you might want the audience to see the title first. You might have written down your most important message there.
The headline is in all capitals. Interestingly the text below the icons is in all capitals too. Now look at Google Pixel 2's ads below. The headline is big but not in all capitals. It still looks good.

As a thumb-rule, when you have too many words avoid all capitals. It is not easy to read. Now look at the next ad.
All capital at the top looks good. What matters is not just capital letters, but the size of the font, number of words and placement of the headline. It is a total package. Look at the next ad. Too much of all capitals is not good.

Should I write my slide title in all capitals?

Yes and No. Depends on what you like and how it looks on the slide. I have made some presentations with the title in all capitals and I have made many without it. When in doubt, avoid all capitals.

#4 What is the ideal font size for a presentation?

In an online poll conducted many years back I had found that 68% presenters were using fonts of size 11-20. A lot of presenters use small font sizes because they have a lot to say on one slide.

Here is a thumb-rule for font sizes:
  • Presentation delivered on a laptop: 30-40 for title and 18-24 for body
  • Presentation delivered in a small boardroom:  34-44 for title and 24-28 for body
Whenever in doubt, go for a bigger font size. If you are presenting at a venue, visiting the venue in advance is good. You can check out the font size on the screen. Ensure the last person in the audience is able to clearly read the text.

Talking about font size, there is something very interesting to learn from analyzing print ads. Look at this ad.

The fonts in the first two lines are bigger than the fonts in the next two. This creates a clear sense of order (designers call it hierarchy). The designer is deciding how the audience will view the design. You read the headline and then read the next part. This is critical in a slide too. The font size of the slide title should be a lot more than the body text.

This ad could have been more impactful if the font sizes were strikingly different. The text above and below the spoon do not differ too much in font size. The title should always be a lot bigger. Look at the next ad to see how it is done.

Summary


  1. Use sans-serif fonts in your presentation.
  2. Instead of using the standard sans-serif fonts like Arial, Calibri and Verdana try new fonts like Roboto, Open Sans and Montserrat.
  3. Download these free fonts from Google Fonts.
  4. Do not use more than 2 fonts in a presentation.
  5. Either use 2 different font families (Roboto & Open Sans) or 2 different fonts from the same font family (Roboto Black & Roboto Light).
  6. When in doubt, avoid writing your slide title in all capital letters.
  7. Use large legible fonts in a presentation. If your audience will view your slides on a laptop, use 30+ fonts for title and 18+ for body.
  8. Make your slide title a lot bigger than your body (in terms of font size)
  9. Look at newspaper ads and learn from them :)
This concludes my second post in this series. Read my first post of the Design Secret Series here: 5 Tips to use Colours in presentations [Design secret #1]

Have a question? Mention in the comments section below. Like an ad? Share it with me as well.