Fontrovery: Archer, or What Does Martha Stewart and S&M Have in Common?

While retreating on a much-needed vacation, I was strolling through a souvenir shop and saw the book cover design for the much talked about Fifty Shades of Grey.

I haven’t read the book, I don’t really care to; S&M doesn’t really appeal to me. What can I say, I’m not a sexually repressed middle-aged divorcée.

Regardless of how I feel about the content of the book, the design of the book cover is pretty weak. I mean, if typography is one of the main vehicles for graphic communication, than surely using the font for all type-related choices had to have been deliberate. In this particular case, I am having a hard time seeing why.

I’ve talked about the misuse of Archer in a previous article, which you can read here, that addressed the use of Archer as the typeface for the 2012 Academy Awards. The argument I made then is similar to the argument I’m making now; the essence of that font is not appropriate for glitzy award shows or novels about torrid romantic affairs. It’s a great solid font, that speaks to warmth, openness, well read and easily understood information, anything homey, styled, cooked, knit, crafted, or created. I have a hard time shifting from that distinction, I really do.

I see Archer’s use in Quaker Oats: PERFECTION. See it in some sort of lifestyle ad with food? Fantastic. Archer’s use as copy font in Newsweek? Questionable. I find it a little too cutesy as the main copy text in the paragraph snippet (taken from the original AIGA article), but I don’t mind it as a call out/secondary font underneath Sarah Palin.

Using a font simply because you like it/it’s in style/whatever reason you throw in there doesn’t mean it’s the right vehicle for that font. Fonts have their place and roles to fill, just as much as the color palette and the images you choose to support your ideas. I’m not really sure what a good font choice for a novel about S&M would be, but I could imagine a strong geometric sans-serif like futura or univers would have been a great place to start. Severe, stern, and unexpected. That’s the role of the designer to uncover how the typography speaks towards the content; not necessarily just switching a font from one or the other, but using the letterforms as medium within themselves. Not to sound like a complete Negative Nancy, but I really do see this as a missed opportunity!

Typography/color could have been used more expressively to show themes/messaging within the book in a conceptually visual way. I mean, not every project can be gloriously cool in every aspect; so you have to find the opportunities to make extremely special.

I took five seconds to sketch out an idea that came to me while I was writing this very blog post. I thought it could be interesting to see what a multitude of different fonts layered on top of each other would communicate. I’m assuming, since one of the main character’s in the novel (I skimmed Wikipedia) is Christian Grey, that the 50 Shades of Grey could speak to his personality. You know, since there’s already a mask theme going on. Continuing with this assumption, I collected a handful of fonts; some in different categories (sans-serifs on top of serifs), and some just ranging in type families (italics on top of bold). Instantly I understand the figure ’50’ as a ‘changeable’ force; at the very least living and layered. ’50’ is still clearly legible, and I enjoy its conceptual qualities; even if they are a bit arbitrary and superficial.

I also wanted to show what a non-treatment type solution could have felt like in a different font. I used Futura, a solid example of a stern no-nonsense typeface. Because when I think S&M, I definitely think “stern” and “no-nonsense”, and not warm and fuzzy come home for freshly baked cookies.

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