IADT Blogs

What Kind of Font Person Are You?

April 7, 2011 IADT General, Graphic Design 1 Comments

James Bennett, dean of instructional technology at IADT-Online, pokes good-natured fun at how different people use and understand fonts in this piece from Artistik magazine's spring 2011 issue.

Back in the earliest days of recorded history, when vinyl was the main medium for music, there were really only two kinds of Font People in the design business: those who knew something about fonts, typefaces, and measurements called "picas," and those who knew nothing about any of those things.

In that ancient era, designers selected fonts from a stack of thin sheets called “press type" and added titles to pages by lining up the little letters and rubbing them onto paper like children’s fake tattoos. It was slow, tedious work and very limiting in font choices. If you were working on a project late at night, you were either stuck with whatever you already had in your stack or you had to wait until the local art supply store opened up the next morning. To make matters worse, even the really big art stores didn’t have a wide selection.

Then somebody invented desktop publishing, and everything changed.

Designers now had access to a myriad of fonts – even a font called Myriad. This new development opened up the world of fonts to nearly anyone who could afford a home computer, and then there were suddenly many kinds of Font People. What follows is a general breakdown of each category. This list is intended for use much like a birdwatcher’s guide. As you encounter each, you can check them off or write notes about them in your field journal. It can also be used to help self-diagnose in case you may be afflicted with some of the worst cases of the font maladies detailed here.

The Grand Fonter. Like a Kung Fu Master, this Fonter knows how to use fonts in any situation. Their powers are unearthly and they can make an ad sell millions by a simple adjustment of the leading. Who knows the secrets they keep or what arcane knowledge they possess?

No one knows where Grand Fonters come from or if there is an ancient Font Fu school where they learn their craft, but befriending a Grand Fonter is always a good idea as long as they are the kind that uses their talents for good. If you ever encounter an evil Grand Fonter, don’t read anything they produce. They might be able to make you purchase the kind of things sold on bad infomercials or even hypnotize you into posting something embarrassing on Facebook.

Type Hogs. These are font gluttons. Their approach to using fonts is to cram as many different kinds into the same piece as possible. Their attitude is, “If God had not wanted us to use so many fonts, He would not have invented Adobe!” Their work is easy to spot because it often looks like a circus poster from the 1930s or a ransom letter from a kidnapper.

Reading anything in a Type Hog’s work is difficult and disjointed because we automatically assume that any bit of information presented in a different font has a different subject from the last. The exception to this might be titles or call-outs. Although it is not true, there is an old wives’ tale that says reading too many fonts on the same page can make you dizzy or even cause blurred vision.

Pretty Letter People. This isn’t really a kind of Font Person, but it is a category in the Great Pantheon of Fonters. These folks recognize that there are different kinds of letters (e.g., fancy letters, unfancy letters), but that’s about it. They think that a serif is a dirty peasant that rolls around in a little hut during the Dark Ages and talks like everyone in a Monty Python skit.

Font Freaks. This kind of Font Person is recognized by their obsession with using the wildest font they can find. It doesn’t matter if the words are readable; the most important thing is that the font looks “freaky.” They write love letters with typefaces that are best used for the names of Death Metal bands and they think Jokerman font is too plain and boring.

Font Snobs. Font Snobs pride themselves on knowing which fonts are hot and trendy. They say things like, “Arial! Who uses Arial anymore?” They also try to impress others by using technical words like descender, stress, and kerning in everyday conversation (“Please pass the mustard. The one with the tight kerning on the label.”) Like a yuppie that has just begun to learn the art of wine tasting, they love rejecting or ridiculing the common fonts or any that may have been fashionable as little as six months ago. Font Snobs are sad, lonely people.

Type Pragmatist. These Fonters are fixated on the media. They know which fonts are native to Macs and Windows, as well as how they look in each of the major browsers. They also know that serifs used to look bad on computer screens and they are still hung up on anti-aliasing. As far as they are concerned, the only font that is any good is Century Gothic – mostly because the lowercase “o” makes the closest thing to a perfect circle of any typeface. This type of Font Person needs to relax occasionally.

The Ghost of Fonts Past. Somewhere along the line, these designers were probably one of the other kinds of Fonters, but they became ghostly souls that lost their way to higher realms. No matter what sort of project they are working on, they use the same handful of fonts over and over again. The fonts they use might not be old, but may be newer fonts like Helvetica. Regardless, they only stick to those fonts that they have worked with before. There is a great deal of speculation over what causes a person to become this sort of Fonter, but most agree that some horrible design trauma in their past may lie at the root.

Font Weirdo. This Fonter is often difficult to identify because they can easily be mistaken for one of the other species without closer observation. For some reason, the Font Weirdo is fixated with a font that does not make sense. They do not choose it because it is wild (see Font Freak) or because of some technical issue (see Type Pragmatist), but they continue to use a specific font due to some strange occurrence known only to them. Perhaps they used that font on a successful project or maybe their mother used it during family outings. Whatever the reason, they try to use that particular font whenever they can. Favorites of the Font Weirdo are Bauhaus, Broadway, and anything with a slab serif.

Although there are a few more Font People types, you will find that these are the most common in the Design field. Always remember that just like the bears you may happen to encounter in a National Park, they may look cute and friendly, but they can be dangerous, especially when provoked or poked with a stick.

As for your own font-i-ness, try to use fonts responsibly and keep in mind that, “Friends don’t let friends use Comic Sans.”


Ted P April 13, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Say what you want, I'll always be a Helvetica guy. I blame an early life design trauma.

What do you think?