A Christmas Gift Gone Wrong

Helvetica in Comic Sans http://bit.ly/helvetica_shirt

In the spirit of Black Friday, I thought it would be appropriate to share a present of Christmas past. Spoiler alert: Helvetica is the victim in this story.

Let me set the scene… I’m at my parent’s house on Christmas morning opening presents with my family in a sun lit filled room with the dog tearing up wrapping paper under the coffee table and smiles of holiday bliss on all of our faces. My sister hands me the last present under the tree and it’s a gift for me from her. Excitedly, I rip off the paper, open the box, and pull out a grey t-shirt. My heart drops. I try to fake a smile, but the devil’s pitchfork is poking me in the heart. The shirt reads Helvetica in Comic Sans. After that, it is all kind of a blur. I don’t know if I said “thanks, but no thanks” or just bluntly said “I hope you kept the receipt because I’m not wearing this”.

My sister came so close to getting me a great gift. She knew I had an obsession for type and knew Helvetica was my favorite. Unfortunately, she just didn’t know what Helvetica looked like. I explained the irony of the tee and why some folks may find it funny. She claimed that this wasn’t her intent and that the thumb online was too small to make out the typeface. My heart wanted to believe her, but my brain knew better than that.

Was I a jerk? Well, that’s subjective. But I am a man of principle. I have refused to buy souvenir shirts in the past because of poor typography and have neglected some in my closet for the same reason. Never had Helvetica been the victim before, but it happens. Although it is impossible for a single person to evict poor typography and ugly typefaces from the world, I’ll do what I can to put an end to this infestation.

Please be mindful this holiday season. Ignorance is forgivable; Comic Sans is not.

If typefaces were people…

…they would have quite the personalities. Ain’t no party like a typeface party! Let’s get familiar with the faces, shall we.

There’s Impact, the guy that’s always talking about the gym. “I just came back from the gym.” “Yeah, I was working out today”. “Did you see me at the gym?” “I was there… working out.” “I usually start my workouts with about 10 minutes of kerning.”

Then there’s Eurostile, the guy that wears shiny club shirts and hooks up sluts like Eccentric Std and Curlz.

Cracked acts inconspicuously, alone in the corner doing… well, I think that’s pretty obvious.

Then there’s the teacher klan, Century Schoolbook, Chalkboard, Marker Felt, and SchoolHouse that stick together like Elmer’s non-toxic glue.

Century Gothic, the hipster with the Ray-Bans, flannel button shirts, and really into indie music.

Futura, the cool one driving a 2011 Hyundai Sonata.

We can’t forget about Zapfino, the pompous, rich bitch that hangs out with the “sophisticated” crowd and sends out the invitations to their balls and dances.

Uncle Bob, who seems nice at first, but after being with him for 5 minutes you feel a little creeped out and reach for your wallet to make sure it’s still there.

Wingdings and her half brother Dingbats, who both only get invited to parties because font families feel sorry for them. And honesty, who doesn’t like a mailbox when their drunk!?

Times New Roman, the one whom people always say “You remind me of someone”. He just has one of those faces.

Stay away from Hobo Std. or you’ll catch something that will itch.

Gill Sans is a friendly chap.

Georgia is a sweet southern gal. However, don’t drop Bodoni’s name around her or she’ll get bold!

Caslon’s bff’s with Bodoni.

Bank Gothic wears too much eyeliner. But if you’re into that kind of thing you may have found your match 🙂

Comic Sans has no friends.

Blackmoor LET likes to slay dragons with it’s descenders. Time to take off the cloak. It’s practically 2011 A.D.

Arial is a big time poser. So typical of a Microsoft font. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Arial put ketchup on a hotdog.

Oh yeah, Optima. This one tries to please everyone. Should be in politics. Oh that’s right, that already happened. (Side note: Optima was John McCain’s official presidential campaign typeface. Guess he was the wrong type. Pun.)

Verdana is very flexible. She’s there whenever you need her.

Playbill is a big time drama queen. Makes me want to punch her in her  fat, slabby serifs.

Despite their diversity, the Lucidas stick together. Rule of thumb here is if you see a Lucida, figure there are another couple of family members nearby.

The Palatino family is great. Elegant and sophisticated. A pleasure.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Helvetica. The most popular one at the party. Helvetica transcends time and popularity. One night Hel’s sippin’ bubbly with Baskerville in a NYC penthouse, the next day Hel’s leading the way, working hands on with subscripts making them super. Helvetica is accessible to everyone and is open and true.

However, Helvetica’s niece Helvetica Neue UltraLight realizes her good looks. And let me tell ya, no one can pull off skinny jeans like UltaLight can. No one.

No, It’s Not Cute

Earlier this year, my mother was showing me versions of her résumé over the years. I cringed when I came upon a more recent version that had used Comic Sans as the font. I cannot stress enough: DO NOT USE COMIC SANS. There is no justified reason to do so. And definitely do not use it on a résumé. (I’m sorry Mom that I had to use you as an example.) It is a goofy looking font that is supposed to mimic the lettering used in comic books. Why would anyone knowingly want his/her professional document to mimic a comic book or connote the feeling of one? (Unless you were applying to be a comic artist maybe?) Surely my mother is not the only one to make this mistake in her life, but others can learn from this mistake. Comic Sans is a destructive virus and the only cure is awareness. It is important to get it engraved into your psyche that it is unprofessional. At first you may feel guilt knowing that you have ignorantly used it in the past, but it is refreshing to know that that dark period in your life is over.

Readability, Legibility, and Transparency, oh my!

How do you know if you are using a typeface correctly? A common belief among many great typographers is that type should be transparent. As Robert Bringhurst has said, function is first and foremost. What this means is that a typeface shouldn’t be drawing attention to itself. Obviously, the reader is going to see the typeface, but the objective is to not have him/her think about it. The content is what the reader should be focused on. Think of a typeface as though it was a belt you are wearing to an interview. A good belt will complete the outfit, but shouldn’t be attracting more attention than you, the actual person being interviewed.

Another metaphor, made popular in the typography world in a 1930s essay by typographer Beatrice Ward, is to think of type as a “crystal goblet,” which clearly illustrates the transparency that type should take. She said, “Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas.”

Whenever you are using type for a practical function, like a document or presentation, you should always keep in mind that there is a difference between readability and legibility. Using 14-pt Futura is optically easier to see than 11-pt Times New Roman. Futura is larger and therefore more legible. However, reading a novel set in 11-pt Times New Roman would be much easier to read than 14-pt Futura. Your eye would move much more fluently across the page because a small serif font like 11-pt Times New Roman has better readability than a larger sans serif like 14-pt Futura.

Introduction

Choosing a font is like choosing a uniform to represent your army of words. You are commander-in-chief and your army of words is about to do battle in communicating your ideas to a foreign nation. You are going to show the world what you are made of. But to do this, you are going to want to select a typeface that is easy to read and appropriate for your message. It is important to be professional when deciding on a font because your typeface speaks even when you don’t.