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Conventional design wisdom can often be a good thing. And conventional wisdom tell us, that even the most complex projects require no more than three typefaces. Or more preciously, three type families. Almost, all situations can be handled with three good compatible choices. Generally, you’ll need a legible serif family for body copy, a basic san serif family for contrast and a slab serif or other display face for variety and special uses. Magazines are among the most typographically complex projects.

They often have hundreds of pages so they need the variety that the rule of three can provide.I’m going to show you some great examples of how the rule of three works in the magazine environment. First, let’s look at a typically text-heavy feature story. Minion is used as a serious legible type face for the body copy. Hoefler Text and Swash are used for the intro paragraph and for the text of the side bar. Knockout is used for the dates and also as a narrow thumb strip at the far left for a section indicator.

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And just for the big red initial cap, a specialty font called Veneer. Here’s a complex infographic spread that uses the classic rule of three. It has text, tables and charts. Lots of info packed into a small space but every piece is legible and inviting. There’s legible body copy. Clarity in the tables which use a sans serif for space efficiency. And slab serif used for variety and emphasis in the upper left corner.




Both the headline and the sub head, as well as the little headline, bracketed in the second column capital ideas. Inc magazine uses the rule of three in a slightly different way. Every issue uses the text font Mercury. And the sans serif font Klavika. Plus a Guest font as the third font for each issue. In this issue the Guest font is D3 Super Structurism Outline. Here are a couple of other pages showing how the Guest font D3 Super Structurism Outline adds an extra punch to the issue.

The three typefaces

In this layout, you see another variation of the rule of three. The handsome and legible text font is Malaga. The squarish slab serif Berthold City. And the Guest font is a display font called Mobley. The key to the rule of three is to have a system for how each font will be used. Assign a role for each typeface to play. This helps the reader recognize and distinguish the hierarchy of the information you are presenting.

Here are a few last examples showing how the rule of three works in the newly redesigned Golf Digest. The section opener, Life, is a display typeface called Dala Moa. All of the other texts on this page is the san serif family, Fact. There’s no body copy on the section opener. The following pages in this section use Dala Moa much smaller at the top. Fact is used in small headers, side bars, and infographics.

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A good sans serif needs to be a real work horse. And last, but certainly not least, Tiempos is used for the body copy. Tiempos is a favorite of mine, we used it in my book, Typography Referenced. Tiempos was designed by Kris Sowersby, a wonderful young type designer from New Zealand. Think about how the rule of three might work for you if you have a particularly complex project. It’s great if you really need the variety. But remember, that it’s always best to keep your type choices as pared down as possible, depending on the special needs of your particular design project.

Three typefaces font families


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