Selecting a font is one of the cornerstones of good graphic artistry. Choose the wrong font, and you’ve essentially ruined your design, but pick the right one, and you’re likely to see imitators copying your choice. Since designers use fonts in such abundance, everyone has his or her own favorite—and least favorite—selection. So when you ask designers to give their opinion on the fonts they use and see in their everyday lives, you end up with the passionate rants you see before you.
We’ve collected some of the best reading material on fonts that you can find on the web—not just the ones that are informative, but the ones that make us laugh, too.
Some fonts are bad for printing, while others are just plain bad—in this list, you’ll find both. This hilarious yet informative typography rant by Vladimir Gendelman runs the gamut through every font you’ve ever hated and cuts it to ribbons with a tone that’s pure acid. Gendelman calls Brush Script “an outdated typeface that’s been used in print media since Baby Boomers were actually babies” and says you should only use Curlz “if you’re making invitations for a 6-year-old girl’s birthday party—and even then, you owe it to that little girl to use a more creative font.”
This font rant by Simon Garfield turns its attention away from the easy targets like Comic Sans and Helvetica and focuses on the truly despicable fonts—the ones used by top level designers for highly-visible projects. You’ll definitely want to read piece if you’re the type of person who still can’t over get the tacky 2012 Summer Olympics font, the tired appearance of Neuland Inline in the Jurassic Park logo, or James Cameron’s use of Papyrus in the movie Avatar. Like Garfield says, “as everyone who has written a school project over the last decade will tell you, Papyrus is the font you use to spell out the word ‘Egypt.’”
If you were given the deed to an old Victorian house, you might make a few renovations to bring it into the modern era, but you’d never demolish the house and rebuild it from scratch. Bruno Maag thinks the same philosophy applies to updating classic typography. In this article, Maag implores font designers to maintain the spirit of classic fonts, but with functions that are compatible with the modern world, just “like renovating a Victorian property, keeping the spirit of the house, but furnishing it with contemporary features that we have become accustomed to.”
With so many great classic type fonts for designers to use, some may wonder whether we need new fonts at all—designer Dan Rhatigan is not one of them. In this short video, Rhatigan not only explains why we need new fonts, but what makes a new font good. He playfully describes the relationship between font and designer by saying that a good font should have “a ‘secret sauce’ that people will respond to so that they’ll want to work with it.”
Are you secretly a font snob? Well don’t worry, you’re in good company—and according to this rant, it’s not actually all that bad to be a font snob. After all, even people outside the design field can look at a font and have a strong reaction, especially when the font is inappropriate for the industry. “Sometimes, it might be that the font is too fancy for financial analysis, or too dull and boring for a brand in the entertainment industry,” the author explains.
We tend to think of a typo as a mistake related to spelling or grammar, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Erik Spiekermann advises designers to watch out for typos that can ruin the look of your text. Among other tips in this refresher course, Spiekermann teaches the importance of using bullets instead of hyphens and warns designers to “NEVER use CAPITAL letters to accentuate words in running copy.”
Do you commonly use 12 pt. font in your website designs? If so, you may be doing it wrong. As D. Bnonn Tennant explains, “if you’re building websites with the font size set between 10 and 15 pixels, you are costing your clients money.” In this article, the author goes into great detail to explain why a 16 pt. font is the perfect size—and not as obnoxiously big as you think.
John Brownlee says “if you ever see a typography lover, smeared with blood, bellowing while holding a steaming human heart above his head, the point of contention was very probably the use of smart quotes versus dumb quotes.” If you don’t know the difference between smart quotes and dumb quotes and you don’t want to be the reason for a typography lover’s violent nervous breakdown, you’ll want to read up and learn a few techniques for how to prevent such a grim future from ever occurring.
In this classic article on font piracy by John D. Berry, the author warns that “font pirates are not fabulous scallywags, cruising the sealanes in search of golden serifs, forcing corporate minions to walk the plank.” Font pirates are thieves who steal from hard-working designers, and Berry provides some sage words of wisdom to help designers avoid font piracy whenever they can.
This is a bit of a two-for-one special—not only do you get a chance to watch the short documentary about student font theft called “Young Type Lovers Anonymous,” but you also get the author’s commentary on the subject. Jean Francoise Porchez, a longtime teacher of typography, believes that letting students steal fonts for the sake of strengthening their portfolios is wrong and that “teachers should teach the ethics first before anything else.”
Your mother probably warned you that there’s no such thing as a free meal—the same may be true about free fonts. This essay by Yves Peters examines the oft-neglected license agreement and how designers can make the mistake of thinking that just because they own the font, that they have the right to use it however they wish. Peters compares font licenseing to owning a DVD: “When you purchase a DVD, you simply acquire the right to watch the creative work on that DVD. You don’t own the movie.”
Mixing different types of fonts within a design can be an effective way to draw the audience in—or it can come off looking like a ransom note. If your designs fall into the latter category, then you may be making one of these five cardinal sins. Or maybe your fonts just aren’t different enough to begin with. As the author says, “There’s a fine line between a subtle difference and barely indistinguishable.”
Fonts are unavoidable in the wild, and while seeing good fonts out in the world can be a real pleasure, seeing bad fonts can be just as unpleasant. This piece from the New York Times examines the way New Yorkers observe the fonts around them, both the good and the bad, that surround their daily lives. Says author Alice Rawsthorn, “There are lots of reasons to loathe the New York City subway, but one very good reason to love it — Helvetica, the typeface that’s used on its signage.”
Comic Sans gets a lot of flak for being an ugly, amateur font, but does it truly deserve all the hate that’s heaped upon it? “As a designer, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of valuing form over function,” writes the author, who points out that while Comic Sans might be hard for a designer to look at, it’s actually easier for dyslexic users to read. It’s an interesting point of view worth considering the next time you turn your nose up at a design that uses this infamous font.
This snarky rant takes a look at three popular fonts that might look good on the page, but deliver an unintended message about the kind of designer you are (namely, a poser). On the subject of Helvetica, the author Kristen Grote says “Hipsters love Helvetica. Which means corporations love Helvetica, because they can make lots and lots of money by selling it to hipsters.” If you’re afraid your font choices are making you an outcast with the cool designers, it may be because you’re trying too hard to look cool in the first place.
The comedy site Cracked takes a humorous look at the fonts that are not just offensive to designers, but offensive as a whole. Whether they’re considered racist, trashy or just plain weird looking, these fonts give the phrase “cringe-worthy” a whole other meaning. You’re bound to get a laugh or two from this great comedy piece that asks the biting questions that every bad designer must ask, namely “How on earth is my audience meant to know that my sign that reads ‘Chinese Restaurant’ refers to a Chinese restaurant if I don’t write it in wacky calligraphy-y, bamboo-y letters?”
Helvetica has a kind of love/hate relationship with designers—you either love it, or you love to hate it. This short article gives a few real answers as to why anyone should dislike Helvetica, but ultimately leaves the answer in the hands of the audience. As the author says, “The choice [to use Helvetica] just requires proper research, testing, execution, and good taste—like any design decision.”
Alastair Johnson hates Helvetica and he wants you to join him. This much-maligned font choice has had its share of detractors, but Johnson backs up his claims with the cold hard facts and forces his audience to confront their misconceptions about Helvetica. According to Johnson, the font isn’t even as legible as we give it credit for. As he points out, “we see it everywhere — that’s why we think we can read Helvetica — but it is not nearly as legible as, say, Frutiger or Syntax.”
What do you think?
Is there a font out there that makes you cringe every time you see it? Do you wish more people used the kinds of fonts you like to see? Do you agree with these authors or not? We want to hear from you. Everybody who has worked with fonts has something to say about them, so leave your comments below and let us know what you think.