Graphic Design Theory | Hierarchy with Fonts

graphic design theory

Graphic Design Theory. Have you ever been told not to use multiple typefaces or fonts in your designs? Is there a really big problem though and why would others talk about pairing fonts being a brilliant idea. These contradicting concepts can be confusing especially if are just starting out as a graphic designer. Join me and find out whether it is okay or not to use multiple fonts in your designs.

Establishing a visual hierarchy in your design is important to help your viewers easily understand the information presented it to them. There are so many different ways to establish hierarchy. You can make certain elements larger than others. You can place them in a more prominent location. For example, the top left corner or the center of a composition.

Then of course you can use color also to highlight and connect certain parts of the design. But what many designers get wrong. Is to rely on multiple typefaces for establishing visual hierarchy.

visual hierarchy

Each of these examples on my screen pretty much rely on a single typeface. The hierarchy is established by varying the colors, and also the various styles within the typeface.

That’s really the key that you should always work with a typeface that offers at least three different variations. So you would have your Regular, Bold, Italic. But even better if you have Medium, Light, Extra Bold, and so on and so forth.

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The more variety you have within a typeface the easier it is going to be to establish the hierarchy. Take the adobe font Montserrat as an example it has 18 different styles ranging from thin all the way to Extra Bold. And as you can see when I toggle through it. It really has a huge contrast between the thickest and the thinnest version. That combined with all these variations. Also, available in italic gives us just almost endless possibilities for establishing different levels in the hierarchy.

If you still don’t believe me just take a look at this comparison here.

Design Examples

On the left side, we have a poster that relies solely on the font or typeface called Rubik. While on the right side I intentionally messed up the design and I introduced additionally three other typefaces for key typographic details like the title and the headings and subheadings. I hope you can tell the difference and that it is completely unnecessary to introduce these additional typefaces. If you work already with a typeface that offers enough variety in the first place.

Having said all that of course there is a place for pairing fonts. Now, whenever you do that there has to be a reason for it. So it might help to create and further emphasize the contrast between two typographic elements within the design. Probably the most common reason why you would want to introduce two separate typefaces. Is because certain fonts work really well for body copy. So larger amounts of text while other fonts would work better for shorter text like headings and titles.

This example for instance shows that for headings you can work with fonts that are set in all caps. So they don’t actually have lowercase characters. While the other fonts that are selected to pair with them of course have lowercase which will work better for larger amounts of text.

design examples

Combining typefaces can be actually a very elegant option when again there is a reason for it. Like here on this invitation card, the script font is introduced for mainly the names. And that small note at the bottom gives it a really personal touch which of course is very important for invitations.

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The same thing is true for this design where we have the neon typeface. And again a combination of a more script version paired with a san serif condensed all caps font right here.


The reason why this design looks good is once again. Because it doesn’t go crazy introducing various typefaces. It just relies on these two that really establishes that nice contrast. And the hierarchy necessary for all that information we can see here.

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Even when you look at calligraphy or hand lettering examples. You will see that the most successful ones don’t introduce too many various styles for the text. Instead combining two contrasting ones like here once again. We have more of a script combined with a serif font. And even though these are not fonts they are made to look like fonts.


Well if you look at this example it’s not as effective or powerful. Because it introduced just too many different variations on the fonts. And even with logo design where you don’t really have that much text to work with. You can still make the decision to combine fonts, like with that lemonade stand up there. Or to rely on a single font and just rely on the scale of the text to establish hierarchy.


So remember there are plenty of ways you can establish hierarchy in your designs. You should only introduce additional typefaces when there is really a valid reason for it.

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One Comment

  1. Jeffrey Mos says:

    Very interesting!

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