Fans and Foes of Fonts

By | November 18, 2010

I’m old enough to remember when all we had to work with were fixed-pitch fonts – oh, the horror!

Then, suddenly, proportional fonts were available and BitStream (not Adobe mind you) ruled the font world. Of course, communications across the world began to resemble ransom notes with everyone trying out new fonts– sometimes as many as 20 treatments in a single document –sound familiar?

The rising popularity of Macs among graphic designers (more like a complete overthrow of the PC in that market actually) gave a goose to Adobe Type Manager and soon there were even more fonts being developed and distributed to an unprepared world. Licensing problems on PCs and production printers ensued and consultants and lawyers began to make money controlling the flow of fonts.

Enter the “brand police” who, over the course of the nineties systematically locked down font usage in major corporations to make sure that “corporate identity” was being properly and consistently represented to the world. The idea is that corporate fonts are (nearly) as important as logos and other brand identifiers and should be carefully controlled. Under the watchful eye of the brand police and era of peace and harmony ensued . . .

But corporations aren’t the only users of fonts.

The expansion of publishing online and off – blogs, social media sites, self-published books, the ability to personalize your email template- has created a zealous, perhaps overzealous, group of fans and foes of fonts.

Some are fanatic about font choices perhaps drawing on recently debunked research about the benefits of serif verus sans serif fonts or lists of most popular corporate fonts. Just take a look at Jessica Levco’s piece on “What Does Your Typeface Say About You” which has been published on multiple occasions and always garners comment from font fanatics. You have to love it when people self-identify with “I’m a Calibri” or “I’m a Trebuchet.” Does this foreshadow the next great pick up line: “Hey baby, what font are you?”

On the flip side, there are font activist like the “Ban Comic Sans” group. Seriously. These guys are collecting money and making videos about how much they hate Comic Sans. (I wonder if they are funded by the same people who have been comparing how cats lap up milk versus dogs.)

Fonts are just tools of the trade, folks. I have my favorites but I’m not planning on having them tattooed anywhere. Is it me – or have fonts taken on a level of importance that seems a bit out of proportion?

P.S. I confess I do rather like setting my facebook page to “Pirate” but that’s a whole different facet of personalized publishing!

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2 thoughts on “Fans and Foes of Fonts

  1. Marketing Web

    Like most things in life, I think it’s a matter of balance.

    Too far one way and things become either so rigid and uptight or so fanatical that that we begin to place way too much importance on things that don’t really matter a great deal. I often find the arguments of those who get angry at people using Arial to fall in to that category – yes it’s a poor copy of Helvetica, but REALLY, is it that offensive to the eye, or that damaging to your branding if you are a small business in a field other than graphic design – I don’t think so!

    On the other end of the scale, the ban comic sans people do have a bit of a point – the incorrect use of a font such as this can really make someone look unprofessional if they are trying to be in a serious business – ie I’ve actually seen a “business adviser” using comic sans as a font on their logo, and I just shudder as to what sort of advice they are giving their clients.

    Fonts do matter, and how much they matter depends on the market. If a graphic design agency had an Arial font – that’s probably bad. If you local Doctor uses Arial that’s perfectly ok. But if the Doctor uses for Comic Sans and is NOT a specialist in Children’s medicine, it just does not look professional.

    Hope this makes sense,
    Matt

  2. Elizabeth Gooding Post author

    Matt – you make a lot of sense. Ultimately, any font can be a good font for a particular purpose. If a font (like Comic Sans) is used inappropriately however – the problem is the designer, not the font.

    Maybe the Comic Sans mob should be doing “Project Runway” for graphic designers and information designers rather than “Survivor – Graphic Arts Edition” for the (poor misunderstood) fonts!

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