RISMEDIA, Feb. 19, 2008-(MCT)-Most people do not care about fonts, which is mind-boggling to me. It’s like learning that most people don’t like Pop-Tarts, or Bruce Springsteen or, say, shoes.
Fonts are immensely important; they connote things that can’t be verbalized, they offer subtle and sometimes subliminal insights into the folks employing them and they can be very helpful in making preliminary, uninformed opinions about people you don’t know (i.e., “Oh, she’s still using Lithos? Pfft. Might as well use a dot matrix printer,” which, trust me, among font people is an extremely snippy thing to say).
If I sound a little defensive, it’s because I have more anger issues than the “There Will Be Blood” guy, but also because I spent a good bit of time as a designer, one of the many sadly unheralded folks who visualize, organize and lay out newspaper pages. For designers, fonts are like blood, or air, or one of those garbage-pail-sized coffees you can get at Starbucks now. You cannot imagine the level of discussion that happens in here regarding fonts; it’s literally the second-most frequent thing we argue about, right after how best to further our aggressive liberal agenda. (OK, that part’s a joke, but I’m not kidding when I say that when we redesigned the paper, font choice took a year’s worth of teleconferencing, culminating in an actual meeting in which many bright, innovative people went a little crazy over the decision of Bold vs. Semi-Bold. Dozens were injured.)
Anyway, in my glory days-which are well behind me, in the field of fonts as well as everything else-I had the unlikely gift of being able to spot-identify fonts ON DEMAND. I could walk into restaurants, briefly scan the menu and immediately be all like, “Ooh, that here looks like some Garamond Condensed, sweet babies-12 point Garamond Condensed! Send it to your momma!” And then I’d sit back and light up a huge Cuban cigar and just revel in my own awesomeness. This went on for years, right up until I didn’t have any friends left.
I bring this up because fonts are enjoying something of a resurgence in the entertainment community, and by “resurgence” I mean “surgence,” or whatever the word is for something that hasn’t happened yet. A well-received 2007 documentary titled “Helvetica” commemorated appeal of the classic typeface on its 50th anniversary, and a mere Google search will reveal upward of 50,000 fonts available for your MySpace-page-ruining needs.
Fonts have even invaded the Halls of Academia- researchers at Wichita State University recently published a series of studies exploring what font choice says about people, partly because it’s an untapped research field and partly because there is alarmingly little going on in Wichita. Researcher Dawn Shaikh’s work reveals that people looking to make a strong impression would do well to stick with the basics (Verdana, Arial, Times New Roman, etc.), and to avoid loud, bold monstrosities like Rockwell Xbold (well, yeah), Impact (duh), Gigi (oh, for Pete’s sake) and Courier New (people who use Courier New are dead to me- dead).
“Those (negative) typeface personalities do translate to the perception of the document,” Shaikh argues. So if you’re just glancing at these words giving little thought to the moods and ideas built into them, you’re missing out on some of the message. Unless you’re reading them in Lithos, in which case let me know, because I will probably go completely nuts.
© 2008, The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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