Getting a Good Read on Typefaces…

‘Just My Type’ Hits Home for Publishers

One thing that won’t change in future Avatar installments: the film’s font, Papyrus. Some internet pundits were appalled that Avatar’s poster and subtitles would use the commonplace typeface, but [director James] Cameron shrugs off their criticisms. “You know, I’m not a font snob,” he laughed. “It’s not exactly Papyrus—I think originally it was, and then we sort of riffed on it and made it our own. It just struck me as kind of a tribal-looking font. I didn’t even know it was the Papyrus font, really.”
—From Movieline (and in “Just My Type”)

Who knew that there was so much to say about fonts? Prolific author Simon Garfield—“The Nation’s Favourite,” “The Last Journey of William Huskisson” and “The Wrestling”—has given them new 21st century life in his book, “Just My Type.” Among other things, the book explains why the T in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters, how Comic Sans captured the world—there’s a whole chapter called “We Don’t Serve Your Type” devoted to that controversial font—and how Gotham helped win the U.S. presidency in 2008.

We all know that fonts play a big part in how we perceive what we read. In the April Hotline, designer William Fridrich attempted to clear up some common font myths. Yes, he said, comprehension was five times greater when serif type was used instead of sans-serif. However, that test focused on body copy under 12 point. “Headlines actually show sans-serif with an edge over serif,” he wrote. “Online legibility and comprehension favor sans-serif fonts that render well at screen resolution, where type-size, color and font are often controlled by the user. An experienced designer will consider voice and context of the message when choosing a font.”

Fridrich also got a plug in for ragged-right type, reverse type on billboards and headlines not going on top all the time. According to “Just My Type,” there are more than 100,000 fonts in the world. We face decisions every day on what font will work best in our print and online pieces. Garfield also provides a great deal of history. The popular typeface Garamond was “named after the type designer Claude Garamond, active in Paris in the first half of the sixteenth century, whose highly legible Roman type blew away the heavy fustiness of his German predecessors, and later, adapted by William Caslon in England, would provide the letters for the American Declaration of Independence.”

In her review of the book in the New York Times, longtime arts critic Janet Maslin has fun with the Comic Sans debate: “Setting a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign in this comic-book-style typeface has been called ‘analogous to showing up at a black-tie event in a clown costume’ by two of this font’s haters, Holly and David Combs, who started a movement to have it banned. ‘A place where it doesn’t look great, in my opinion, is on a tombstone,’ says Mr. Combs, although he has actually seen Comic Sans used that way. As for the name of this font, a patient explanation that ‘sans’ designates a sans serif font as opposed to a serif font is part of the book’s Font 101.”

What makes a font presidential or ethnic in some way? Garfield answers those questions. (The chapter about Helvetica is called “What Is It About the Swiss?”). I thought it a bit eerie that the website for the book includes this: “Yet when we choose Calibri over Century, or the designer of an advertisement picks Centaur rather than American Gothic, what lies behind our choice and what impression do we hope to create?” I chose Calibri over Century for these SIPAlert Daily articles! There’s certainly a lot to say for a book like this.

As Maslin writes, “And if it does nothing else, ‘Just My Type’ will make it impossible for you to look at logos, road signs, airports, magazines and advertisements indifferently any longer.” Add our websites to that.


Font talk will definitely make
its way to Miami in December.
So discover your ideal type at:
SIPA’s 28th Annual Marketing Conference
Wednesday-Friday, December 7-9, 2011
Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida
Early Bird Savings Now Available!
Unbelievable SIPA room price of $199
(half off of regular room rate!)
Click to register today and save!

Download a FREE copy of 7 Ways to Monetize your Portal Audience, and discover how today's top publishers are generating revenue through memberships, events, clubs, sponsorships, and more.


Leave a Reply