The Great Font Debate

September 23rd, 2015 by Ashley

A little under a year ago, the design team at Chartbeat began planning an overhaul of our public facing website. The redesign was a big commitment and served as a catalyst for a few global design changes we had been meaning to make. One of these was introducing a serif that could double as a body font and take the place of our slab serif headline font. At the time we were working with Jubilat as our main display font, and Proxima Nova for pretty much everything else.

Why We Switched

Jubilat was causing problems. Despite having a wide range of weights, none of them felt quite on brand. At light weights it was too reminiscent of Martha Stewart Living, a strange association for an analytics company. At heavier weights, it began to feel — well — heavier and out of step with the clean, smart font we wanted.

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We briefly thought about removing Jubilat from use and just using Proxima Nova across the board. This thought barely made it onto paper, however, considering the near-ubiquity of Proxima Nova. Using it for headlines would have sacrificed too much brand recognition.

So the hunt for Jubilat’s replacement was on.

Requirements We Had

We had two types of requirements: brand and technical. Our brand requirements were that the font felt smart, approachable, youthful, and clean. Our technical requirements were that it worked well at both display and body sizes, was visually compatible with Proxima Nova, and was flexible — meaning a wide range of weights and an attractive italic.

Fonts We Considered

Each member on the team went on a hunt through Typekit and pulled the fonts they thought fit our requirements. This generally meant we were looking for a humanist serif, with relatively uniform line weight, and a generally wider width.

Our main contenders were Merriweather, Calluna, and Rooney.

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To find the different strengths and weaknesses we tested out each of the fonts by using them in existing designs, stress testing them in use cases like landing pages, white papers, and Twitter ads.

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What We Decided

We looked over our stress tests with the full team and decided on Merriweather. Although Calluna was a beautiful and refined font, it ultimately felt less youthful and approachable than Merriweather. And even though Rooney hit it out of the park with its approachability and youthfulness, it ultimately felt less clean and smart than what we were looking for.

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What We Learned

  • Know your needs. Identifying our pain points helped in our search for the fonts, and helped us identify where we could make trade-offs.
  • Have a variety of voices in the room. Balancing brand and technical needs would have been tough without designers sitting alongside the head of brand.
  • Test as much as you can. There were a couple false starts, and making the final call was tough. But seeing things in context made all the difference.

You can see Merriweather in full swing on the Chartbeat Quarterly.

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