Keeping Your Type On Target

When it comes to being aware of typography, and the inherent messages within the design of the letterforms (the typographer’s term for “letters”), the best way to start is just to look around you. Catalogues, email banners, signage, posters, billboards, tv ads, the list is truly never ending. I cannot help myself but swoon or grimace at the design of menus, other people’s business cards, you name it! I even let a loud New Jersey-esque sound of disbelief when at a design presentation and someone used Rosewood! The circus kind of Rosewood! Are you kidding me?! Clearly, the person giving this presentation had never realized that fonts can make or break others perception to take you seriously. It’s how your brand communicates without speaking. It’s also equally important that what you’re showing, and what you’re telling, are all in line with what you’re trying to say with what you’re doing.

Fonts and their inherent meanings

Just like any creative professional, the piece is fueled by some conceptual or inspirational spark. Fonts are no exception. With every font creation, the designer is aiming to communicate through that medium. How will the font be used? What do the details of the characters speak to the entirety of that font, and how do those details interact with each other? Is it mainly for display or does it work seamlessly through web, print, tv, and huge movie screens? I get newsletters from type foundries whenever they release a new set, and it always includes a blurb about the specifics of that font.


“Geetype was inspired by a piece of cigarette pack lettering by A.M. Cassandre, the quintessential Art Deco designer, famous for his travel posters and for his quirky, unique Peignot typeface from 1937. In extrapolating the short text lettered by Cassandre, Cooke came up with a wonderful set of striking, jazzy lettershapes. Letters like ‘c’, ‘e’, ‘f’ and ‘Q’ are positively smiling, beaming with glee. And of course, to g-fetishists the peerless lowercase ‘g’ alone is worth the price of the font. One of the most eye-catching display faces in our collection, Geetype epitomizes the 1920s–1930s mood of Hollywood’s golden era; think Greta Garbo, another ‘g’ with strong, emotional screen presence.”

Forgiving the indulgent typography jargon that makes my heart sing, you see my point. You wouldn’t use this font to sell car insurance, but you could use it for an invite to a New Years Eve party.

Fonts and their contextual use creates meaning.

Setting aside the creative force behind the font, a designer also has to keep in mind the context of the font. Will it make sense in the way you’re wanting to use it? Of course there is infinite amount of wiggle room here. Say you’re a designer asked to create a flyer for a wrestling show. If the people running the show have a sense of humor, maybe you could play on the macho factor by using a really fancy script font– providing it was copy appropriate–– “Not your granny’s wrestling”  ( Grandma’s can enjoy wrestling! Mine loved Sylvester Stallone movies), or something along those lines. It would provide a fun twist on the expected take of heavy, masculine typography. Ironic typography is completely game, as long as you know how to manipulate this to your advantage.

This is where people tend to get tripped up the most when it comes to working with typography. Take for example, a thorn in my spine since I saw it this January, the 84th Annual Academy Awards! Maybe the most glitzy and lavish nights in America, the type choice for this years presentation was just not doing it for me. I love the font they used, and they even played around with the ’84’, which I really do love. But they used the wrong font for the job. Perhaps it’s because I’m fully aware of the creation of the font, and it’s placed a heavy bias on me, but that’s just the information flooded world we live in nowadays! Archer Pro, an ADORABLE slab serif created by the type foundry HF+J (Hoefler, Frer & Jones) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Obviously if you’re familiar with Martha Stewart, she conjures up home cooking, crafting, overall hand made goodery that smacks you clear in the face with its amazing quality. HF+J had quite a feat, but they nailed it. I mean I have been in love with Archer Pro since I got my little hands on it in 2008, but it has its limitations. I read this article on the ubiquitousness of this font back in 2010, you can read it here (

and I cannot even imagine what the author thinks of it being used in the same space as Angelina Jolie’s gaunt, gothy leg.

This is the only sample I could find for the 2012 Oscars ceremony, but I think it speaks– I mean glitters- loud and clear. I just think a typeface with sleek lines and sharp edges to accentuate shine and modernity would have been much better here.

Comic Sans is the other font I could speak on and on about! Hundreds of designers’ groans later, it’s still something we’re forced  to see on a regular basis for some reason. When its used for “important” things, notes, signs, or god forbid an actual logo, it really questions the professionalism of the content it’s formatting. It’s only appropriate use is for children, who really respond well to the shapes of the letters. That, and well, the speech text bubbles in comics.

I found a site here, that offers some alternatives to the font. Get some help, comic sans lovers!

I feel like this example should speak for itself, but just in case it doesn’t, let me ask you this: Does it look like the message is centered around loving anything like crazy? I think you should spend a little more time visually expressing how much you love this person, if you love them so much.  I read this and I instantly felt like this is a sarcastic note about how much this person was not loved! I just hear Steven Wright with his dead pan delivery, instead of the intended honest and sincere declaration of sentiment. Case in point, match the visual execution with the message. I get that it’s supposed to feel hand done, but it just feels so slapped on that I don’t buy it for a second.

Ranny & Jo’s must not get that much business with their sign saying more I SCREAM, instead of MMM ICE CREAM! Maybe they thought it looked frozen? Either way, it just looks like you should cue the dry ice, the cackling laughter, thunder and lightning. The complete opposite of ice cream frozen treat time.

Aside from the childish font for a saying that’s meant for adults (I’m assuming here), the composition and spacing of everything just kills me. I found this while searching for typography, and it’s being sold as a poster from a design company. I’m all for spreading the love in the community, but if you’re going to call yourself a designer, you should probably know the rules! I mean you are at the critical eye of designers like me–– and trust me, I am all too aware that I am under the sharp, critical eye of readers like you! Without meaning to offend, If you’re going to play in an industry make sure you at least acquaint yourself with the basics. Leading, tracking, kerning shouldn’t be foreign words if you are wanting to explore typography in an expressive way.

Allright allright, enough with the negatives already! I thought I’d throw in an example of GOOD typography! While I couldn’t care less about the choice of typeface, and I am at a loss for why it’s set on an image of mountains, I do enjoy the witty take on the reality of being bipolar. It’s a nice visual contrast combining the linear slab serif of the Bipolar and the playful script in ‘Awesome’. Use your type choices to strengthen your message, and defend those choices, and your design will speak loud and clear.

What do you think? Have any examples of bad typography that irks your nerves? Rant all about it!

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