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Comments (71) Posted 05.12.07 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Michael Bierut

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface


For the first ten years of my career, I worked for Massimo Vignelli, a designer who is legendary for using a very limited number of typefaces. Between 1980 and 1990, most of my projects were set in five fonts: Helvetica (naturally), Futura, Garamond No. 3, Century Expanded, and, of course, Bodoni.

For Massimo, this was an ideological choice, an ethical imperative. "In the new computer age," he once wrote, "the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest." For me, it became a time-saving device. Why spend hours choosing between Bembo, Sabon and Garamond No. 3 every time you needed a Venetian Roman? For most people — my mom, for instance — these were distinctions without differences. Why not just commit to Garamond No. 3 and never think about it again? My Catholic school education must have well prepared me for this kind of moral clarity. I accepted it gratefully.

Then, after a decade, I left my first job. Suddenly I could use any typeface I wanted, and I went nuts. On one of my first projects, I used 37 different fonts on 16 pages. My wife, who had attended Catholic school herself, found this all too familiar. She remembered classmates who had switched to public school after eight years under the nuns: freed at last from demure plaid uniforms, they wore the shortest skirts they could find. "Jesus," she said, looking at one of my multiple font demolition derbies. "You've become a real slut, haven't you?"

It was true. Liberated from monogamy, I became typographically promiscuous. I have since, I think, learned to modulate my behavior — like any substance abuser, I learned that binges are time-consuming, costly, and ultimately counterproductive — but I've never gone back to five-typeface sobriety. Those thousands of typefaces are still out there, but my recovery has required that I become more discriminating and come up with some answers to this seemingly simple question: why choose a particular typeface? Here are thirteen reasons.

1. Because it works.
Some typefaces are just perfect for certain things. I've specified exotic fonts for identity programs that work beautifully in headlines and even in text, but sooner or later you have to set that really tiny type at the bottom of the business reply card. This is what Franklin Gothic is for. Careful, though: some typefaces work too well. Frutiger has been used so much for signage programs in hospitals and airports that seeing it now makes me feel that I'm about to get diagnosed with a brain tumor or miss the 7:00 to O'Hare.

2. Because you like its history.
I've heard of several projects where the designer found a font that was created the same year the client's organization was founded. This must give the recommendation an aura of manifest destiny that is positively irresistible. I haven't had that luck yet, but still try to find the same kind of evocative alignment. For instance, I was never a fan of Aldo Novarese's Eurostyle, but I came to love it while working on a monograph on Eero Saarinen: they both share an expressiveness peculiar to the postwar optimism of the 1950's.

3. Because you like its name.
Once I saw a project in a student portfolio that undertook the dubious challenge of redesigning the Tiffany's identity. I particularly disliked the font that was used, and I politely asked what it was. "Oh," came the enthusiastic response, "that's the best part! It's called Tiffany!" On the other hand, Bruce Mau designed Spectacle, the book he created with David Rockwell, using the typeface Rockwell. I thought this was funny.

4. Because of who designed it.
Once I was working on a project where the client group included some very strong-minded architects. I picked Cheltenham, an idiosyncratic typeface that was not only well-suited to the project's requirements, but was one of the few I know that was designed by an architect, Bertram Goodhue. Recently, I designed a publications program for a girls' school. I used a typeface that was designed by a woman and named after another, Zuzana Licko's Mrs. Eaves. In both cases, my clients knew that the public would be completely unaware of the story behind the font selection, but took some comfort in it nonetheless. I did too.

5. Because it was there.
Sometimes a typeface is already living on the premises when you show up, and it just seems mean to evict it. "We use Baskerville and Univers 65 on all our materials, but feel free to make an alternate suggestion." Really? Why bother? It's like one of those shows where the amateur chef is given a turnip, a bag of flour, a leg of lamb and some maple syrup and told to make a dish out of it. Sometimes it's something you've never used before, which makes it even more fun.

6. Because they made you.
And sometimes it's something you've never used before, for good reason. "We use ITC Eras on all our materials." "Can I make an alternate suggestion?" "No." This is when blind embossing comes in handy.

7. Because it reminds you of something.
Whenever I want to make words look straightforward, conversational, and smart, I frequently consider Futura, upper and lower case. Why? Not because Paul Renner was straightforward, conversational, and smart, although he might have been. No, it's because 45 years ago, Helmut Krone decided to use Futura in Doyle Dane Bernbach's advertising for Volkswagen, and they still use it today. One warning, however: what reminds you of something may remind someone else of something else.

8. Because it's beautiful.
Cyrus Highsmith's Novia is now commercially available. He originally designed it for the headlines in Martha Stewart Weddings. Resistance is futile, at least mine is.

9. Because it's ugly.
About 10 years ago, I was asked to redesign the logo for New York magazine. Milton Glaser had based the logo on Bookman Swash Italic, a typeface I found unimaginably dated and ugly. But Glaser's logo had replaced an earlier one by Peter Palazzo that was based on Caslon Italic. I proposed we return to Caslon, and distinctly remember saying, "Bookman Swash Italic is always going to look ugly." The other day, I saw something in the office that really caught my eye. It was set in Bookman Swash Italic, and it looked great. Ugly, but great.

10. Because it's boring.
Tibor Kalman was fascinated with boring typefaces. "No, this one is too clever, this one is too interesting," he kept saying when showed him the fonts I was proposing for his monograph. Anything but a boring typeface, he felt, got in the way of the ideas. We settled on Trade Gothic.

11. Because it's special.
In design as in fashion, nothing beats bespoke tailoring. I've commissioned custom typefaces from Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones and Joe Finocchiaro, and we're currently working with Matthew Carter and Chester. It is the ultimate indulgence, but well worth the extra effort. Is this proliferation? I say bring it on.

12. Because you believe in it.
Sometimes I think that Massimo Vignelli may be using too many typefaces, not too few. A true fundamentalist requires a monotheistic worldview: one world, one typeface. The designers at Experimental Jetset have made the case for Helvetica. My partner Abbott Miller had a period of life he calls "The Scala Years" when he used that typeface almost exclusively. When the time is right, I might make that kind of commitment myself.

13. Because you can't not.
Princeton Architectural Press is about to publish a collection of essays I've written, many of which first appeared here on Design Observer. I wanted it to feel like a real book for readers — it has no pictures — so I asked Abbott to design it. He suggested we set each one of the 79 pieces in a different typeface. I loved this idea, but wasn't sure how far he'd want to go with it. "What about the one called 'I Hate ITC Garamond?'" I asked him. "Would we set it in ITC Garamond?" He looked at me as if I was crazy. "Of course," he said.

The book is beautiful, by the way, and not the least bit slutty.
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Comments (71)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Wonderful read, as always Michael. Your collection is next on my to-buy list.
Joey Pfeifer
05.12.07 at 11:05

Brilliant! Michael, thanks for making my semi-boring Saturday night a little more tolerable - you big slut!

Your fan,

Bill G
Bill Grant
05.12.07 at 11:14

I'm glad i'm not the only commenting on this at 11pm on a Saturday.

Not so sure i'll ever find a use for Comic Sans though, no matter how ironically I could use it.


josh
Josh
05.13.07 at 12:49

Michael. thanks for making me laugh after a long (Satur)day at work. At university, I once set a theater poster in Times New Roman because the play had been written the same year that this typeface became available.

Anyway, I look forward to the book.
Ricardo Cordoba
05.13.07 at 01:01

Hahaha brilliant. The Catholic analogy is especially true...
Ben
05.13.07 at 04:00

love how the web has 'simplified' this question. long live verdana (ugh)..
feedmashr.com
05.13.07 at 11:01

There are really only three valid reasons for choosing a typeface in a design context.

In order of importance:

1. Availibility (as a practical matter, e.g. for html body text, most people have only a handful of standard fonts installed on their pc's. Sorry you hate Arial, but...).

2. Legibility. If people can't read it, or find it difficult to do so, they generally won't bother. Careful though: perfectly legible typefaces can easily be made illegible through any number of stupid computer tricks, and/or mishandling by the ignorant and impetuous.

3. Congeniality. Appeal and appropriateness for the message and the audience.
David Smith
05.13.07 at 12:30

A 14th reason: You already own the license. As an independent designer I can't always justify purchasing a new font for every job, much as I might want to (on my current wishlist: Verlag, Nobel - altho one of the two would probably suffice).

David, your reason #1 might hold true for web design, but that's only a piece of the pie. I work in print where availability is a non-issue.
Paricia Fabricant
05.13.07 at 01:03

Patricia,

I only used html body text as an example supporting my point #1 concerning "availability". Your reason of using faces you already have (vs. those you don't, or the client is unwilling to purchase) is another good example of "availability", that applies to any media.
David Smith
05.13.07 at 01:39

Michael, I don't know about your years at Vignelli, but mine started with his looking at a project in my portfolio that was set in Korinna (ok, c'mon, it was 1977!) and saying something like, you know you are never going to use this font in this office, here we only use....and giving me the list; and I accepted it in that Catholic spirit of confession and contrition, relieved that now I would be living a life of typographic purity. And then, low and behold, the first project he assigned to me to work on was signage for the Mecklenberg County Courthouse, designed by a fellow modernist of Vignelli's, Harry Wolf: and the fonts (!) used were Bodoni on the building, and Avant-Garde on the parking lot signage. I could only hope that I had stacked up enough surplus indulgences via childhood prayer to get me past that one.
lorraine wild
05.13.07 at 02:34

The famous Vignelli line about five faces is a standard straw man for fans of unlimited typeface variety. I can't tell you how many online conversations have seen me arguing the value of type-choice restraint and someone coming back with the (presumably rhetorical) question "I suppose you agree with Massimo Vignelli when he said. . ."

I've always replied that I can't think of what the other two would be.
Gunnar Swanson
05.13.07 at 04:14

To add to the discussion, I have often dared my students to make an original design using a Neville Brody Typeface. I claim that it is not possible. The problem with his typefaces is that they "become the design." Therefore to a degree, there are a lot of Neville Brody designs out there that I am sure Mr. Brody would not want to take credit for...
hgLucky
05.13.07 at 10:01

One point you dont include and I see too often is "Because the font was born in my computer when I bought it"
Seriously, I could not imagine Vignelli today designing a label for a mayonesse to be sell in a big market with at least 50 different brands using just 5 fonts. We at Sudtipos decided to have focus on the concept to make the type more human, specially when the designer has so little time to have a design done and not too many skill to do the work by hand. But of course is easy, cheap and fast to choose native's application fonts fonts. And usually is easy to sell a design when it looks like the other one. The good thing is branding is not just a font. :) (sorry for my english)
Alejandro Paul
05.14.07 at 09:41

Great article.

I am very conservative when it comes to fonts, and I do believe that a good font like Minion or Adobe Garamond (for example) might suit almost all your roman/serif needs. Some fonts are simply classic and never go out of style.

But I do find it extremelly hard most of the times to use a font like, say, Helvetica and not fall under the category of "I've seen this before". I just love it when I come across a piece that uses Helvetica in a fresh way.

The only thing that bothers me is the topic about using a font based on its historical background, or simply it's name, if the visual outcome doesn't fit the theme. Like the article suggests, people won't usually see the difference between ITC Garamond or Adobe Garamond, so I think you should just use the one that looks best.

And if choosing fonts can be a tough task, mixing them just drives me nuts!
Marcelo Salvador
05.14.07 at 09:41

I am working on a completely pro bono, volunteer, labor of love project; the yearbook for my son's 5th grade class. For reasons I cannot explain to myself or my accountant, I splurged on House Industries Ed Benguiat suite of fonts. Ed Interlock was the only font that would make each kid's name look like it was drawn just for him. It's a noisy, colorful mess of a design project, and just a little bit slutty, but don't tell the principal!
Great post!
Stacey
05.14.07 at 10:21

Yes, I admit, I am an acolyte of Massimo's. OK, I will deviate here and there for special occasions, but have my own set of 10 or so. I may be a recovering Baptist, but catholic (the little c) in my type taste.

I just did a poster in 19 languages and it killed me to have to mix that many fonts. Don't they do Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc. in Franklin Gothic?

I was a few years into my career when the owner of an ad agency said "Do you ever use a serif type?"

Thanks Alejandro, for jumping in. You may have exactly what I need for a client.

And Michael, we are in a very special club to be called "slut" by Grant. (Pot calling the kettle...?)

Can't wait to see the book.
Michelle French
05.14.07 at 11:14

I just spec'd Badhouse Bold for some video game packaging and it about killed me. But, come on, the game is about zombies, what was I supposed to use, Bodoni?
greg
05.14.07 at 11:20

Very interesting - as a web designer I have to agree with what Michael said above. Though we want to use a bunch of really cool fonts it's hard because most people won't and don't have a lot of fonts on their comps.

We want to be able to design the site and be able to set it up and see what most people are going to see.
Abraham Chaffin
05.14.07 at 11:29

Another reason I often use for choosing a typeface is:

Because it has a big family.

If I'm working on something that has a lot of different types of information, I'll look for a face that has a variety of weights, italics, small caps, etc.

I've always been more of a Unitarian, typographically, myself. But now, as an avowed atheist I enjoy pairing things that were never meant to be together, and dredging up difficult fonts to see what can be made with them.
marian bantjes
05.14.07 at 01:08

13 reasons for not choosing a typeface:
(all of which I've done at least once)

1 - Because David Carson did it: (or any other "superstar du jour")
Those of you who lived through the "Template Gothic" years know what I mean.

2 - Because I have it on my PC:
Please don't set type on a PC. Yes, I know that opentype is making things a little better, but the Mac is the only typesetting tool that gives you the power to nuance the type to death.

3 - Because I don't have it on my PC:
Don't let the font menu be your taskmaster. The right font is somewhere. Find it before you typeset.

4 - Because I want to buy the font:
We've all been there. The new type catalog comes in and we see something we love. Then the little voice says, wouldn't that be the perfect font for ClientX? Next thing you know you own the font, and the project budget is reduced by the cost of new type.

5 - Because I don't have time to try another font:
I don't have time to elaborate on this one. Besides, isn't it self evident? Take the time.

6 - Because it looks great on the monitor: (speaking of printed typography only, of course web type has to look good on the monitor)
Don't make the final judgement on the type until it's on paper at actual size. Everybody knows that.

7 - Because it has a cool "&":
As a type nerd it's really easy for me to be lured by a sexy individual font character. Don't be fooled. Use the right type first, THEN steal the "&" that you want from somewhere else. No one will know.

8 - To "spice things up a bit":
When you fill a glass with a little dab of every soda in the fountain, it's called a "suicide." Fonts work the same way. Adding more seems like fun, but it tastes like crap.

9 - Because it's free:
Download it, play with it, have fun with it. Just don't use it on a real project. It's probably worth what you paid for it.

10 - Just to be different:
I want to be different, just like everyone else. Being original is so unoriginal.

11 - Because I'm tired of using some other font:
Don't let a short attention span erode your need for function — a great branding mind once said "by the time you're completely tired of it, in the public, it's probably just starting to catch on."

12 - Because it just doesn't work in one of the "Massimo 5":
Go back and try again. If you can't do it in one of the 5, you can't do it. Try photography or lllustration. Maybe typography ain't your thing.

13 - Because you were influenced by a "Sheepstealer" post on D.O.:
'nuff said.
Sheepstealer
05.14.07 at 03:51

Great article...I remember in school we were explicitly told NOT to choose a typeface because it's name matched the subject matter. :P (ex: the style of Chicago doesn't really match the character of the city).

Apologies to those fellow web designers out there, but I'm going to troll for a minute:

When it comes to headlines of an article, there should be no excuses for not using the typeface you want. With the widespread adoption of Flash, you should feel free to use sIFR and get some sexy headlines going.

As far as body text goes, from what I can tell, most books I've read are set in typefaces that are very similar to each other (this is probably why some designers might stick to a repertoire of 5 different typefaces)...so why are we still worrying about this?

You can still specify any typeface you want, just be prepared for the fact that the user might see a slightly less 'perfect' typeface than what you've chosen. Choose your top 4; the first choice being the one you prefer, and the last choice being the one you're sure the user will have and you should be fine.

In my experience of sorting through other people's code, I've found that web designers will complain about the lack of typefaces but never specify the ones they want anyways.

A little optimism, courage and an extra 2 min of work never hurt anyone. =)
Erik
05.14.07 at 05:27

Good thing that this blog is only read by us designers. Can you imagine trying to defend "because it just works" or "because you like its history" to an outsider?
"Because it has a big family" is an excellent point; it is a sign of quality, I think, and often the determining factor for jobs of some complexity.
Greg: zombies in Bodoni? That's a great idea!
Michelangelo
05.14.07 at 05:31

I love the clever use of type, even if it's for stupid or goofy reasons.

If I ever win the lottery and can travel wherever I want, I intend to roam all over the U.S. and document the use of Cooper Black in businesses that are named after people named Cooper. Here in Memphis we have "Cooper Moving" and "Cooper Blueprint", and I've seen it used in at least a half dozen other instances.

When I was still doing mass production graphic design, I tried to slip in this joke whenever possible.
Benito
05.14.07 at 07:38

Somewhere along the way i acquired a whole CD full of 'handwritten" fonts. You could pick almost any one at random and it would work for anything you needed a handwritten font for. However I tend to use the one named Stephen almost every time.

And 75 percent of the time it doesn't matter what I choose because someone along the approval chain will offer the stunningly effective feedback of "I don't like the font."
Stephen Macklin
05.14.07 at 08:30

Great article, on a related note I recently attended a talk in London by Wim Crouwel and I was amazed by the quality of his work and his wise words. I think he turned eighty this year and he was so full of life and knowledge.

I seem to recall him using Grotesk a lot until Helvetica came along, which became his new flavor, before he discovered Univers. Interestingly he was asked if he had ever designed a poster with a serif font and he replied that he did once for an exhibition of on an old painter (possibly Rembrandt). He used a sans serif font in the design but the client said that it was an old painter and therefore the poster should use an old font. Crouwel commented that the exhibition was now and not then so it should be a "font of our time". The client was insistant so Crouwel had to use a serif font for once.

Fascinating talk, some of the photos can be seen here.
Tony Goff
05.15.07 at 05:25

I absolutely loathe Helvetica. Hate it. Hate it.

Why? I think it's because I don't want to use anything that is chosen for me by Microsoft Word when I open a new document. I don't do design work in Word, and I sure as hell don't want my work to look like it was.

Same thing goes for Geneva, Monaco, Verdana, etc.

Maybe it's an age gap thing. I was a collection of DNA for most of the 60's and 70's.
greg
05.15.07 at 11:05

I was disappointed when Cooper Tires dropped their Cooper Black type. It was perfect!
paul dean
05.15.07 at 11:13

The default font in MS Word since v2000 has been Times(New Roman on Windows), and changed to Calibri in 2007?

[Yes, I'm nitpicking, but come on; it's a ridiculous complaint.]
Su
05.15.07 at 11:13

No it's not.
greg
05.15.07 at 11:42

Somewhere along the way i acquired a whole CD full of 'handwritten" fonts. You could pick almost any one at random and it would work for anything you needed a handwritten font for. However I tend to use the one named Stephen almost every time.

Um, "handwritten" fonts are crap. If you want something to look handwritten, WRITE IT BY HAND!!! "Handwritten" fonts are awful, especially in words like "coffee" and "career" or any other word that repeats the same letter twice. DOH!
mtmlvr
05.15.07 at 02:01

A note on SIFR:
Flash isn't the limiting factor. Everyone and their dog has it. Javascript, however, is. While 9 out of 10 people have it, that can still not be enough.

If your client's corporate tech policy is to have JS off in the workplace, it's *you* with egg on your face. "What do you mean, do I like the headlines? Is something wrong with them?"
James John Malcolm
05.15.07 at 03:02

James(Akaxaka, yes?): "Limiting factor" is a bit much; it's just a consideration for usage. If someone has JS turned off, they still get perfectly usable browser text, which still had to be properly styled to make the trick work in the first place. Same goes for not having Flash, which incidentally I don't generally keep active in my primary browser.

Pretty much everything about the web, and the fundamentals of the net itself for that matter, is nothing but a bunch safe-ish bets. "The web will always be a little bit broken," and all that. Your "if" is no less speculative. You should know about that situation before going about implementing sIFR in the first place.
Su
05.15.07 at 04:10

i feel fortunate that i have been born as a human being. We developed our senses became more civilized, developed a sense of sound, taste, smell, sight and touch. We then craved to express, at first in fewer emotions, and then moved on to grunts and hand movements. We then got inspired by the nature and life around us and started inscribing on the walls what we now call 'graphics.' And then many hundreds of years later I was born! I didn't have to take the trouble to invent or think what the cavemen or the romans went through. There it was... written language that was so simply yet efficiently developed that all i had to do is learn it and use it! It wasn't great... it was just... there. What do i care about how that T is formed or the tail of the Q or how that S sashays! Well... most of us have take the written language for granted. We don't bother about how hard it was to get to where we are now. How hard it was to develop these beautiful, intelligent, and yet timelessly sophisitcated systems of written communication. We play with them, beat them up, unclothe them, and rape them at times. And turn off the screen and leave. This assault has been paid for... it's all good. Sometimes it is important that there are things that dare not be touched, dare not be insulted and dare not be argued with. Helvetica. Baskerville. Futura. I salute you. Look at them that's art right there. You can see what MAX MIEDINGER was thinking when he created Helvetica. He wasn't trying to be a trendy designer. He wanted design to help evolve humanity. Let's keep on moving forward with new innovations, new trends, blends of past and future, old and new, risque and conservative. Let's keep playing, but let's always remember there are some treasure our ancestors have given us that can't be dirtied or overused. That's how they retain their value and their charisma. Let's always look at them with awe and with inspiration. Let's learn from these characters that play the most underrated role in our daily lives.
nitin budhiraja
05.15.07 at 05:24

You mention a lot of "old school" fonts, but there are hundreds of thousands of amazing free fonts on good quality websites such as dafont.com There are some amazing fonts people are creating for graphics work and I enjoy looking through them and always give them credit in the credits as should everyone.
Roy
05.15.07 at 07:19

Thanks Michael for your good read. It reminds me of a designer I once met in Switzerland who absolutely and passionately insisted that any given piece of text (for print) must be set in a typeface indigenous to the language of the text. He meant, for example, Italian could only be set in, say, Bodoni or Bembo; German in Futura, Stempel or Walbaum; French in Didot or Vendôme; English in Gill, Times or Caslon, and so on. By following this rule, he told me, type and the text gives proper and true form to the look and rhythm of language. He was very serious.

As much as I love hearing such strong and didactic opinions on typography, I'm just too catholic to stick with this Lutherian-like creed. Besides, I think language and understanding is too plural and morphic to be stuck in this bind, and it gives no credit to any cultural baggage. History, however, has its part. It's useful to know the contextual motivations behind the type designs of, say, Edward Johnston, Rudolf Koch, Paul Renner, Matthew Carter or, indeed, David Carson and Zuzana Licko. Alongside other considerations, knowing something about why some type designs came to be can help in choosing, or not, a typeface. Typographic design has its own language. Like any other, it's good to get beyond the basics of the phrase book.

Me? I like Lexus, URW Univers, Documenta Sans and Noble, if only for its quirky pointy verticals.
Paul Derrick
05.15.07 at 09:13

Um, "handwritten" fonts are crap. If you want something to look handwritten, WRITE IT BY HAND!!! "Handwritten" fonts are awful, especially in words like "coffee" and "career" or any other word that repeats the same letter twice. DOH!

Yes, they are crap. particularly with repeating characters and anything more than two words long. I never said I use them a lot! Only that when I have occasion to use one I always use the one with my name on it.
Stephen Macklin
05.16.07 at 08:42

Michael, since this is a post about being conscious when selecting a face; I'd like to know how conscious you were in selecting its title.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
-- Wallace Stevens

Never pass up an opportunity to quote a favorite verse, appear on television, or have sex (to bowdlerize Gore Vidal).
m. kingsley
05.16.07 at 10:45

personally, my #1 criteria for picking a typeface is whether it has both lining and oldstyle figures. it's also annoying when your numbers cry out for attention at inappropriate times.

also, fonts that are well spaced are always a nice perk. there are some really beautiful fonts out there that are ruined with bad spacing. and who has the time to kern anymore?
jonathan cho
05.17.07 at 12:02

Great post.

I've also just come across this: Helvetica A Documentary Film.

Link
E Nicol
05.17.07 at 06:58

Sorry I didn't post that correctly:

It's a Documentary film by by Gary Hustwit called Helvetica

Helvetica A Documentary Film
e nicol
05.17.07 at 07:24

Led Zeppelin's first album features the band name in Zeppelin, of course. It looks fine, and didn't hurt their career, but I wonder, how hard did anyone think about this?
paul dean
05.17.07 at 10:10

Great read Michael.

A friend just drop off an excellent book on type by my desk. Check it out: TYPOGRAPHY, An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Throughout History. (I'm sure you've heard of it since you're in it, but thought others might be interested)

Best,
Peter
Peter Roth
05.17.07 at 06:23

Su: Sure there's the fall-back to regular (html)-titles, but my response was more to point out that thinking "everybody has Flash - thus I can use sIFR" is wrong. It's more "everybody has Flash, and 90% have JavaScript, and the 10% fall back to html - thus I can use sIFR". That sets expectations of how many people will see the fonts-the-way-the-designer-intended at a more realistic level.

PS. Yes, I went by the moniker AkaXakA....how did ya know?
James John Malcolm
05.17.07 at 06:38

James: Ah, fair enough. Sorry; I'd read it as being more of a general dealbreaker, which is what I was arguing against.
Su
05.18.07 at 12:51

Designers are often inspired writers. Thanks for the chuckles.
Kimowan
05.19.07 at 09:58

Anything but a boring typeface, he felt, got in the way of the ideas.

This is why I submit legal briefs in Times New Roman -- it's the default font, it's what the judges are used to seeing, and therefore I can hope they won't notice it.

When I was a judicial law clerk, any funky font made me think, "ooooh, aren't YOU special?"

But for my resume? Futura LT.

(Came over from Andrew Sullivan -- great post, & I look forward to browsing the blog.)
Anderson
05.21.07 at 10:55

OK, that does it. I'm giving up fonts altogether.
What I write from now on will be in asci code.
Jim Treat
05.21.07 at 11:12

really nice article, well done. just can't understand why Design Observer will print this, and then let unleash something like that silly diatribe against Apple's rounded corners.
some guy
05.22.07 at 12:17

You say your name is Bierut. But come on, we all know it's Beirut. Why be ashamed.
Kyrre Nygård
05.22.07 at 05:22

Regarding the Brody font comment, I would argue there are a lot of Brody "designs" out there very few people would want to take credit for...Home Choice anyone?
mike
05.22.07 at 09:53

While this is certainly an excellent read with many interesting point, what's with the use of font instead of typeface? (A font is a specific size and style of a face, like Garamond 12 point plain. A face is Garamond.) Is it because most software incorrectly uses the terminology and we don't fight it?
lks
05.22.07 at 12:49

one of my favorite reasons to use a font is readability.. nothing brings me more delight than to read a blurb 'about the type...' in the back of a novel that I have just enjoyed reading.

to all of you setting long texts, please include a note on the type! :)
lauren
05.22.07 at 01:43

This is the best essay I've read on this blog. It is funny, informative, relevant, and true. Best of all, it is personal but not self-indulgent. I wish it were included in your book of essays, but then your book would have to be a blog...
Ellen Lupton
05.28.07 at 12:43

great post. likewise, was a font "slut". used all the butt-ugly ones, unfortunately. have to admit that i did not always have the greatest of taste. i am still partial to that freeware font, "porky".

anyway, will definitely come back for more.
panda
05.29.07 at 11:09

So, I just started reading you book. So far I've enjoyed you opinions and anecdotes, but I've been most impressed by your writing style and clarity.
Steve Pepple
05.30.07 at 10:22

i couldn't agree more with you. this article is very enlightening. ^^
raymond lee quijano
06.04.07 at 10:52

Interesting comments...

Josh ("Not so sure i'll ever find a use for Comic Sans though, no matter how ironically I could use it.")or anyone else that's interested, check this site:

www.bancomicsans.com

I fully agree..!
matt
06.07.07 at 09:05

I'm so happy to have happened on this article. It's great to hear someone give virtual voice to all the wacky reasons I have for using various fonts.

One other reason: because you've fallen in love. You're besotted, and must use the font in gratitude to it for beautifying the world so.
shorty
06.15.07 at 02:54

One more reason

Typography in Motion
Andrei
06.17.07 at 10:23

John Norman ( from Colorado ) said, "What font does this piece need? What font works?"

Like Michael's #1.

Feel it. Trust your gut.

VR/
Joe Moran
06.27.07 at 10:48

Massimo 5... what's that? Sheepstealer referred to this as perhaps a holy grail of typography, but I'm unfamiliar with the term and a google search produced nothing relevant. Anybody?
Keith Gardner
10.13.07 at 12:11

Can I add a 14th reason? "Because I designed it"
Granted, this reason is limited to typeface designers :-)
Chris Lozos
12.05.07 at 05:56

I drive through a town called Belpre (Ohio) on my way home from work.

They use (ugh) Belwe on their police cars.

I laughed pretty hard the first time I saw it.
Charlie Hartman
12.10.07 at 05:22

Your reason of using faces you already have (vs. those you don't, or the client is unwilling to purchase) is another good example of "availability", that applies to any media.
Cat food
konary
12.18.07 at 08:06

Thanks for make me laugh this morning.
I am look forward to your next read.
Soon Lon Fung
12.01.08 at 10:02

Excellent read! Thank you. I just purchased your book through Amazon. Looking forward to it.
Ernie
04.30.10 at 10:58

I had to laugh out loud when you mentioned the "Scala Years". I think I fixated on Scala Sans for about two years. I still have clients who think its the bees knees because I said so in my fanatical Scala zeal.

Truth be told Scala is a gorgeous collection, but I've moved on to a polygamous relationship...I guess I'm a font-slut now.
Jake
05.06.10 at 07:25

Eve r y o ne +=-- s h o u ld \ j us t use Gill Sans ++ Un iv e rs =++ a nd Herb LU b alin' s Avan t g a r de -----
Le ts Mak e --..th a t a RUl e. Oh, a nd Ha nd
Let t e riNG + t o o.
me
05.07.10 at 12:13

I splurged on House Industries Ed Benguiat suite of fonts. Ed Interlock was the only font that would make each kid's name look like it was drawn just for him. moncler vestIt's a noisy, colorful mess of a design project, and just a little bit slutty, but don't tell the principal!
mide
07.13.10 at 04:25

#47 Use it because Massimo Vignelli hates it. (no joking on DI, I forgot) Did I misspell Ibserver?
Andresen
09.19.10 at 04:20

A translation of this essay in Belorussian is available here: http://www.designcontest.com/show/thirteen-ways-be
Michael Bierut
03.18.11 at 08:59


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

Looking Closer 1
Allworth Press, 1994

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