Advice on font choice

gottfired's picture


First I want to say hello. This is my first post here and I have to admit that I'm actually not at all a pro when it comes to typography, but I have a question where I think input from typophiles would really help me make a design decision.

I am currently developing an iOS toy app. Now, near the end I've let a couple of friends test it and one of my friends' feedback was that he absolutely hated the font I used for my captions. I was using Cochin-BoldItalic until now and personally liked it, But since his feedback was so harsh I'm now unsure about it. A graphics artist friend of mine suggested using a font without serifs, so now I'm thinking about using HelveticaNeue-Light or its italic version. That's also the font I use for normal text.

I've attached an image comparing the three fonts in their typical use cases (in game, selection and about screen). Which one would a typophile prefer? Or maybe I should use a completely different font? I'm trying to limit myself to fonts listed on because they come built in with the devices (The site is only viewable on a Mac).

I know that taste is really subjective, but maybe my original choice really was very bad from a typography point of view? (Personally I am now tending towards HelveticaNeue-LightItalic.)

Thanks for your input,

font_choice.png1.59 MB
Renko's picture

You can’t do anything wrong with Helvetica. (I bet the friends didn’t like the l/c d in Cochin Italic. It’s »gewöhnungsbedürftig«)

You could also try Avenir Next as a clean grotesk face.

If you’d like to use an italic serif typeface I’d recommend Georgia Italic.

Theunis de Jong's picture

There is nothing 'wrong' with Helvetica, except ... it's such a default choice! So indeed try Avenir (/Next) as well -- I see in your list that iOS has a good range of weights, which can help a lot. You could, for example, use Black or Heavy for those top titles.

hrant's picture

Helvetica is a multi-faceted disaster. Only the lightest weights are usable, and only at 4 feet high. Especially considering your app seems to be about something emotive (providing more details would be very useful here BTW) you need something more compelling.

And/but always remember: you can never satisfy everybody.


altsan's picture

Helvetica works much better in print than on screen IMO. It has small apertures which can hamper legibility at small sizes unless you're using a very good quality renderer and/or a high resolution screen.

Out of that list, I dunno... Avenir or Gill Sans might work.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Your captions are huge. They are not a major problem regardless, it's a matter of taste/preference.

The body text in Helvetica is a problem. You could consider Gill Sans or Verdana as good options. Maybe Optima, but it might be a little light.

Renko: “You can’t do anything wrong with Helvetica.”

Well, a lot of people who care about legibility, and are familiar with the research in that area, might disagree.

Renko: “You could also try Avenir Next as a clean grotesk face.”

Well, it would be better than Helvetica. But it’s a geometric sans, not a grotesk sans.



Joshua Langman's picture

Though I don't know exactly what feel you're going for, I like the Cochin in the screen shots. It's much nicer than the Helvetica, at any rate. If you're going for old-fashioned, elegant, playful, quirky, or magical, your Cochin example suggests all of these things to me. Your Helvetica example doesn't suggest anything other than iOS.

gottfired's picture

Thanks for all the comments.

@hrant: You're right, I try to make an emotive app. It's hard to describe, I want it to be like a mixture between a toy and a gem. Something to carry around and be soothing. So I try to make it as polished as possible. It should feel like a nice crafted piece of wooden furniture (if you know what I mean). I've got an early teaser trailer here: But I made that after only 2 weeks into development, so now it's a lot more advanced. There are fish in the water and you can summon a unicorn, spawn flowers, etc.

The goal to have it feel like a nice piece of handicraft is also the reason, why font choice seems so important to me. I am using icons now in app from this guy: And his page also made me aware how font choice can make a very simple web design shine.

@Joshua: Yes, I liked Cochin for exactly those reasons in the beginning, because it felt polished, old fashioned and not as over the top as Zapfino.

Maybe I should do the same as Adam Whitcroft and do serif-font for the text and sans-serif for the captions? This seems to be a quite common choice. Is the reasoning that serifs make a font more readable?

Screen resolution is not a problem since the majority of iOS devices is going to be about 300dpi sooner or later.

apankrat's picture

If I understand the attached image with choices correctly, you are asking for a font for a title bar, in which case you should seriously consider not just the aesthetics of the in-app experience, but the overall consistency with native iOS look and feel. Case in point - the light Helvetica in the size that you have in screenshots make the UI look like Metro from the Windows Phone.

Consistency of the device experience is FAR more important than a fancy-shmancy evocative feel of a half a dozen letters that stick out like a sort thumb, because they are set in exotic ultra-light cursive or what have you.

In other words - Helvetica, and in a standard iDevice size. Not because glyph shapes are awesome, but because they make your iOS app look better on the iOS.

hrant's picture

I don't buy that at all. Looking like a corporate drone is anti-branding.

The best thing about such an app might exactly be helping people forget it's running on a device by a big, nasty -and emotionless- corporation.


apankrat's picture

hrant, let me ask you a leading question :)

Do you have an iPhone?

hrant's picture

The gods forbid. But I do have a big-brand phone (Galaxy Note 2) except it doesn't matter, because branding is branding. And an iPhone is just another computer, something I've been using since 1977. And I've never believed a software developer's job is to prop up the particular platform's aesthetics.

And here's a better question for you: if he makes an Android version, should it look different or the same?


timd's picture

A number of the fonts on the iOS site are not displaying correctly for me (on a mac).

Geeza looks a better choice to me.

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