What Does Your Typography Say About Your Firm?
BY Kristen Friend
Type is a valuable visual element in both print and online marketing. Typography is too often given more attention in print than it is online, although this trend has been changing over the past few years. It may be easy to overlook a website’s typography, and people frequently do, but the importance of giving attention to type choices cannot be underestimated.
Typographic treatments can be a powerful way to convey meaning on your law firm’s website. While images and illustrations may be added to – or left out of – a website design, text is essential. A website without text will be ignored by Google and passed over by potential clients. As a critical piece of your website design, type should be given the respect it deserves. All elements on a website tell a story. Colors, images, structure, graphic details and content all communicate to potential clients, explaining to them how you can help them and why they should hire your firm. Arguably, the most recognizable graphic tools are pictures, illustrations and color. But text is a picture, too. Subtle variations in text can create wide difference in meaning and may affect your firm’s ability to communicate positively with visitors.
Visual vs. Verbal Meaning
Type communicates in two distinct ways: visually and verbally. As the name implies, visual language refers to the meaning generated by pictures and typeface design. Verbal language refers to the actual meaning of words. There is what your text says literally and what it says stylistically. On a basic level for example, sans serif and serif fonts evoke two different emotional reactions. Moving deeper, the weight of lines and curves within individual letters or even the style of a serif can influence the meanings associated with a font.
The interplay between visual and verbal language is complex. Each individual brings a set of experiences and subconscious cultural understandings that affect the way we perceive certain fonts. And while a certain variance in perception based on personal bias is true for all design, some overall rules can be used as a base for choosing the right type for your firm’s needs.
Sans serif fonts are generally understood to be open, friendly and modern while serif fonts are seen as more traditional. Some of this association may come from the fact that serif fonts are generally used for body copy in print publications – particularly newspapers – while sans serif fonts are typically used for page copy online. Sans serif fonts are also widely thought to be more readable at lower resolution. A word with a seemingly obvious meaning can convey two different things based on typographic choices.
Type treatments can reinforce both the verbal meaning of your website’s content and the message conveyed by other graphics. Done well, text and images flow together seamlessly creating an overall look and feel that reinforces your firm’s brand and helps keep visitors interested in your website. However, done poorly, the result can be jarring. When copy and type treatments are haphazard or unmatched and fail to harmonize with the website as a whole, the effect is thrown together and unprofessional. A visitor might even have a negative emotional reaction to the discord, which could prevent them from looking deeper and learning about your firm.
Macro vs. Micro Formatting
Typography can and should be understood on both a micro and macro level. That is, there are big elements, like headlines, paragraphs or illustrations containing type, and small elements, like the space between individual letters and individual lines of text. Ignoring either can negatively affect readability. On a macro level, try to limit typefaces to no more than two per layout. Fancy or display fonts do not generally work well online, although new Web fonts (available free from Google and for a small subscription from other services) are changing that rule. Text should also be broken up with list elements and headers to avoid throwing long, tiring blocks of copy at visitors.
In addition, type needs to be sized and spaced in a way that is easy on the eye. A good rule of thumb is that lines of type should be spaced at about one and a half times the size of the font. If, for example, your website uses a body copy size of 15 points, the space between lines (the leading) should be around 22 points. While this is a technical example, the underlying principle is that your copy needs room to breathe and space to make reading easy on the eye so users are not straining to get your message.
Failure to put time in to font choices and text formatting makes the bulk of the website seem predictable and formulaic. Attorney website templates and template based services tend to use the same fonts repeatedly. Because of this, visitors have more than likely seen a lot of lawyer websites that look very similar, and you do not want your firm’s website to blend in with the rest.
Remember, text is one of the most important graphic elements of a lawyer website and, too often, one of the most neglected. Designers may spend copious amounts of time creating an interesting, attention- grabbing header and then ignore the rest of the page altogether. The result is that a big chunk of what visitors see is just an unstyled, standard font. This is in some part due to outdated thinking about fonts – there was a time only a few fonts were guaranteed to be accessible to all users. But with the advent of Web Fonts, designers now have hundreds of non-standard fonts from which to choose. The perfect font that makes the right statement about your firm is out there, waiting to be put to use.
Every design element that contributes to a site’s professional look is important, and type is no exception. Giving attention to typographic details can help your firm create a memorable, effective website that stands above the competition.
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