Fontroversy: Sephora’s Typography Experiment

Words have meaning & type has feeling. When you put them together it’s spectacular.” – Paula Scher

 Lately there have been some images,  okay type treatments, that have been really catching my attention. They hail from one of my all time favorite brands in existence, Sephora, a luxury cosmetics company that truly acts as my adult candy store. Everytime I walk into a Sephora store, I instantly feel, well,  fancier.Clearly, I’m a visual person, and Sephora just encapsulates the ability to use makeup to transform the ordinary into the magical with a few quick brush strokes.

These type treatments however, are an entirely different story.


When I first stumbled opened my email and saw the newsletter design featuring LeeLee Sobieski, I considered it disconcerting. Now that it’s cropped up for an entire month on Pinterest, I feel the need to stage an intervention.

That’s right folks, a typographic intervention.

Settle in, it’s bound to be a dorktastic ride.


Here’s my issue with this whole thing: when you experiment with typography you’re undoubtedly manipulating the way words, and therefore their messages, are read and understood. This rule goes for everything typographic across the board. Especially contrived emphasis using italics within a roman typeface. You know, the slanty’s in the uprights. It breaks a typographic “rule”, but without any sort of ‘right way’. With these, I feel the word becomes separate and disjointed for seemingly no “actual” reason. (Things that “look cool” is technically a reason, but not one that’s ever good enough for me.)

Something’s gotta be creating that reason right? Perhaps, but not always.

While it irked my eye, I wanted to hold off on any sort of commentary before I had seen “enough”. This time, enough meant collecting as many samples as they produced. I wanted to see if any of these treatments ‘worked’, or if they all felt disjointed.

In all fairness some of these do work better than others, but in the greater whole, this would have been a much better ‘less is more’ approach.

98938523035398212_imf6sieY_c    When I look at this, I see the ‘O’ in WHO rolling away, and the ‘R’ and ‘I’ in ‘EVERYTHING’ lazily falling to one side. The ‘I/N’ angle it creates makes my eye center right to it.


the ‘BOSS’ is okay here. But it’s just not necessary for me to see it in both words.


I just feel like letters are falling. Like poorly stacked books in the bookcase! And who likes THAT?


I actually really like the ‘IR’ in ‘GIRL’ and the ‘K’ in ‘LIKES’. It’s the ‘O’ in ‘TO’ and the ‘O’/O in ‘CHOOSE’ where I start to feel dizzy. When working with typography, it’s totally okay to use restraint and apply the treatments to the words you’re emphasizing: in this case, the GIRL who LIKES to pick AND choose, would have been find since you’re playing with the who, the what,  and truly it’s the ‘and’ in this equation that makes picking/choosing special.

Here are the rest of them for your viewing pleasure. I’d hate the idea of the designer of these feeling nitpicked to death, so I’ll leave it to your own to comment as you will!




The only one that works for me is the one that uses this technique to nest a word within a longer word, providing emphasis on the ‘lux’ness of luxuries. Necessary? No.

A nice detail? Absolutely.

When you begin to manipulate emphasis, you better have a reason, or it will create a sense of being “off”. Few will be able to vocalize what “it” is, but I believe it lies in the connection of using visual typography to represent verbal ideas.

sephora5Maybe it’s my love of language that brings this up, but this approach feels visually similar to the glottal stop found in words like ‘uh-oh’, and lots of delicious British & Aussie (and yes, some cockney) words.Your vocal tract is obstructed from created any noise, so that in itself creates the sound break– like when someone says “bu__on” instead of “buTTon”. You know the ‘t’ sound is implied, but it’s not exactly produced.  When I look at these type treatments, it’s as if I’m visually given a glottal stop between these words, and it is no longer a cohesive ‘word’, but bite sized letter chunks sitting next together.


sephora1I’m all for typographic experimentation, I mean it’s practically what I cut my teeth on in design school, but there needs to be attention paid to how things are emphasized, what is being emphasized, and for what greater purpose. To treat these things carelessly speaks to how thoughtlessly treatments and visual executions are applied, and then we’re no longer talking about design. We’re talking about personal expression. Which is great, and has it’s place, but not when you’re trying to communicate through a brand.
 What do you think? Do you see tiny stacked books along a baseline crowding other upstanding books? I’d love to hear these thoughts!

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