Fun With Fonts

| March 7, 2013 | 2 Comments

I must have been a designer in a past life (or perhaps I’m one of Tino’s Jacks), because typefaces are among the many things that make me nerd-out. So when I saw that fonts were the subject of last week’s HTC Agora, I knew that I had to be there.

I know what you’re thinking: “fonts? What’s the big deal? So long as the words are the same, does the font they’re written in really matter?” Allow me to answer that question with a picture.

You would not attend this school.

You would not attend this school.

Okay, so that’s an extreme case. Only a clown school would consider using Comic Sans for their logo. But I think I’ve illustrated my point: the fonts we use are not accidental, and a simple change in font can radically change the tone of the message. Consider the differences between Gotham, the font used by the Obama-Biden campaign, and the sterner appearance of Trajan, as used by Romney-Ryan.

One chose a modern font, the other chose a font designed to look like the lettering found in Rome.

Why does the N in Romney connect to M, but not to E? The kerning could use some work.

I doubt anyone’s vote was swayed by the choice of typeface, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that the fonts reflect their intended audiences: Obama used a font designed in 2000 in a campaign aimed at young voters, while Romney proposed a very straightforward return to tradition with a font designed to look like Rome. In 2008, John McCain’s campaign used Optima—the font used on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. These choices are not made lightly; designers and experts get paid hefty sums to know how to present every detail of a campaign or business.

Look at the logos for Pepsi and Coca-Cola and try to guess which one has been in use for decades, and which one was redesigned within the past few years to appeal to the youth. If you didn’t know better, it’d be hard to guess that the two companies are in the same business.

Pepsi

For just $1.2 billion, you too can remove capital letters from your company’s wordmark!

But if you aren’t majoring in graphic design or advertising, why should you care?

Well, if you’re writing a paper perhaps you’d like to know that a study shows that people trust Baskerville more than any other font—perhaps you’d also like a professor who allows you to make that choice. But if you spend more time reading words than looking at them, it’s because the fonts are doing a good job of fitting in. You would notice (and hate) if a textbook was written in Impact. On a sign or a headline, it wouldn’t steal a second glance from you. 90% of the time, fonts are there not to seem out of place.

Culture Shock posts are written in Arial, a fairly standard font that doesn’t have serifs, those fancy add-ons at the end of letters. Does that say something about us? Does your font choice, if you’ve ventured beyond Times New Roman, say something about you?

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Category: Art and Literature, Campus Culture, featured, Thurman Thoughts

Ryan Brister

About the Author ()

Ryan is studying journalism in the college of communication. He hails from Rochester, New York, and is slowly growing tired of explaining that it's really quite far from NYC. He watches far too much sports and likes to think of his life as a really long (and occasionally boring) book. His guilty pleasures include most of the music from the 1980s and every movie Sylvester Stallone ever starred in.

Comments (2)

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  1. Jeff Fox says:

    Fun facts about Comic Sans: though it looks ridiculous, it’s actually one of the easiest to read, and great for people with dyslexia. Also, it’s the only/one of the few fonts with a proper lower cas “a,” which makes it great for children learning to read and write.

    Also, PowerPoint presentation to announce the Higgs boson, the most important discovery in physics in years, was written in Comic Sans. For a significant fraction of the Internet, this was the most important thing to talk about from the discovery.

  2. Jeff Marks Jeff Marks says:

    I’m a big fan of the fonts used in the title sequences of TV shows and movies. Wes Anderson refuses to use anything but Futura Bold. And for some reason, sci-fi movies predict that in the future, the letter A will become an upside-down V. I’ve always found that funny.

    Best font, hands down, goes to Twin Peaks: http://tinyurl.com/7f45oah

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