Typography 101: What Small Business Owners Need to Know

How you present yourself online is important. Paying attention to good design—and the right font—pays off.
March 13, 2012

How you present yourself aesthetically in the business world is as important as a solid business plan is. It's crucial for companies to have a Web presence, whether it's a simple landing page, a blog or social media profiles.

The content and products you're offering should be valuable to your audience, but the design of your site or blog makes a difference in keeping your customers engaged. No one will stay on a poorly designed website.

But, not every small-business owner can afford to hire a graphic designer. Depending on the size of your business, the expense may be unnecessary. But there are small things you can do to improve the overall look of your Web presence.

"One step that a small-business owner can take is to look at other sites that they think are well done," says graphic designer Emily Caufield. "[They can] take notice of the style, font choices and overall aesthetic of the site, and try to make similar choices ... for their own."

If you're on a tight budget and don't already have a designer, there are several great themes on WordPress that are free. Plenty of premium themes require only a small, one-time fee. This user-friendly blogging platform is customizable, so there's room for creativity.

When you're trying to pull together the parts to put a website together, it's easy to overlook the font that represents your company.

The easier the typeface is to read, the longer people will stay focused on what you're trying to tell them. This applies to the design as well as the content. Learn how to pick the right font and how to avoid one that will turn off your potential customers.

Choosing the right font

When crafting the proper typographical look for your company, Caufield suggests sticking with two fonts: a display or decorative font for headers and a simple font for body copy.

"The display font can be more fun or bold, something that adds personality to your site," says Caufield. "Usually this type of font works well larger—for headers or call-outs—but is probably not very legible on-screen at smaller sizes."

For the rest of the copy on your site, as well as for any stationery and promotional copy, it's best to go with a simple, clean and legible font. Caufield recommends something like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana or Trebuchet.

"It is also nice to choose a font that has a family—this gives you the option of using the bold, medium, thin and italic versions of your typeface," she says.

Setting the tone with your font

Believe it or not, the type of font you go with can be very expressive—it sets a mood for the story you're trying to tell. When you're choosing a font, think about what your business does and who your audience is.

"A bank website is going to use a typeface that is clean and simple," says Caufield. "Their customers would not feel confident handing their money over to an establishment whose entire website was in Comic Sans."

But a company in the business of throwing kids birthday parties or something of that nature has more room for fun fonts. "In [that] case, choosing to not use a youthful and playful font might actually hurt their business," she says.

What fonts to avoid

Many designers advise against Comic Sans and Papyrus for business websites.

Usually, it's better to go with something classic instead of flashy. Think of a font like you would an outfit for an important event. It's best when you can look back on the dress you wore to the high school prom and it still feels fresh and authentic.

"It's sometimes smarter to choose a font that is going to stand the test of time versus something that is going to fall out of favor in a year," says Caufield.

What font do you use for your website?