Like most designers, I love type. And with such wide access to fonts, I think it is important for every professional to have at least a basic understanding of type, fonts and styles.
First off, we need to talk about the difference between a font and a typeface. The FontFeed does a good job of differentiating by saying that a font is the collection of letters, numbers and symbols, while a typeface is the design or the way it looks.
There are many typefaces to choose from, and every typeface will give your project a different look. The most common terms you will encounter when choosing a typeface is serif versus sans serif.
A serif typeface is a typeface that has a line at the ends of the character. Two common categories of serif are bracketed serif (typefaces with curved brackets as lines) and slab serifs (serifs with block lines as lines). A serif typeface would be a typeface like Times New Roman or Rockwell. Serif fonts are easiest to read in print.
A sans serif typeface is a typeface without serifs, or without lines at the end. Sans serif typefaces are often considered very modern looking, and are the easiest to read on screen. Some common sans serif typefaces are Helvetica and Arial.
In addition to serif and sans serif, typefaces can also be categorized as display. A display typeface is a typeface that is meant to be used scarcely, as a headline or call-out. Often display typefaces are intricate and decorative. An example of this would be Bauhaus or Broadway. These typefaces would be difficult to read if set as an entire paragraph.
You will often hear designers referencing kerning. Kerning is the space between letters. If poorly kerned, letters can either blend together or cause awkward links between parts of the word. To test your kerning skills, try the Kerning game. Bad kerning is often most easily spotted in all-caps or in large headlines.
When mixing typefaces, it is often recommended to choose a serif and sans serif pair – one as a heading font, and one as a body copy font. When choosing, you should keep in mind the proportions, weight and feel of the typefaces. H&FJ has some nice examples of this on their site. You will see they often choose a serif, sans serif and a display typeface.
I hope this short introduction will help you when speaking with designers at your office.