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Do people get typefaces?

In a client meeting once, I explained that we were changing one of their corporate typefaces to something with more personality. One of the clients impatiently broke in with, “I never knew that typefaces even had personality.” I was devastated.

A design friend recently pointed out to me that AOL and Lycos both use Futura Extra Bold in their logotypes and that consumers may think that they are the same company or that one owns the other. I thought is was unrealistic that people would make that jump when seeing the same typeface or even realize that they were the same. We argued, then laughed at each other.

I know there are typefaces out there that specifically look wedding-like or Western or childlike etc. So barring the extremes (like sending a business letter set in Nuptial Script), do people recognize fonts or take away from them any sort of meaning? What is the difference between sending a business letter in Times or Helvetica? Do people think that Thesis has more personality than Univers?

And most importantly, how do you explain typeface decisions to clients? And, do they get it?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.19.2003 BY David Weinberger
Bob’s comment is:

I don't think regular people get typefaces at all. One of our clients has EVERYTHING in their office (I'm talking the phone lists, the refrigerator cleaning schedule, the "if you sprinkle when you tinkle then wipe the seat" sign, yes, everything) set in Comic Sans (cue ominous music).

All of their websites were in Comic Sans before I got a hold of them. It was ri-goddamn-diculous.

Granted, as a designer, any time I see Comic Sans, I have a negative reaction, but damn. People just don't get it. When I try to push them towards a different font, I simply tell them that Comic Sans is amateurish and you are trying to run a professional business. That's probably an easy one compared to Helvetica vs. Times New Roman, but you might as well win the easy ones first, right?

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:28 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I think clients usually don't care if you used Univers Condensed or Trade Gothic Condensed, in that realm of closeness it makes no difference for them.

I rarely have to explain typeface deicisions to the client. At the most, I do explain why I chose a serif over a sans serif or why I decided to use a script, slab or God forbid a grunge typeface. What can be a problem is when clients come in with a set idea of what typeface they want to use and that usually means that typeface came from either PowerPoint or Corel — which means it sucks. On the other hand a client might need to use an existing typeface, in that case there is little to no way of getting out of it.

When I graduated from college I threw a small taco-bash at my house with all my high-school friends and stuff. My thesis was designing a typeface, so everytime my friends asked me what I did as a thesis I got nothing but blank stares... “A typeface, yeah, like when you write in Word and choose Comic Sans."

People (non-designers) don't get it. And it's not a bad thing, they are not supposed to get it or care about it. Do you hassle an architect over what type of beams they are going to use to build your house? No, you trust them and as long as your house doesn't fall down you are all good with a sans serif beam. I love the fact that typeface design is such a mystery, that only a few people know the hard work it entails and the beauty of each rendition of Bodoni.

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:30 AM
Su’s comment is:

I'd find a business letter set in Nuptual Script absolutely hilarious. But that's not what you were asking about.

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:33 AM
jonsel’s comment is:

In general, clients (and regular people) understand the serif, sans serif and script categories as specific typefaces in themselves. They don't understand or often perceive a difference between Baskerville and Century or Helvetica and Avenir. But then they don't have to. What they need to understand is why the typeface is appropriate - solidity, boldness, easily readable, etc.

Of course, they do get a little nervous when you tell them the typeface is named Akzidenz Grotesk. I've actually had a client reject that face solely because of the name. Changed an entire corporate identity program and ad campaign in the process. Lost in the details, as they say.

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:46 AM
Tracy’s comment is:

Hate Comic Sans?!?!...Join the Uprising!

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:46 AM
Day’s comment is:

The best thing I've ever seen to demostrate quickly and powerfully that typefaces matter (and have personality, etc.) is a magazine ad by Dalton Maag, which simply lists a dozen or so major brands with their typeface alone (all created by DM, of course).

You can see it on page 24 of the Summer 2001 issue of Eye Magazine (typography special issue). Sorry I don't know of a more recent appearance.

This site might have that ad online, although I can't find it there:


On Aug.19.2003 at 10:51 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

We just purchased as help desk system at work. The entire interface is set in Comic Sans. *sigh*

I think clients understand personality. I've always had mixed fealings about 'personality boards' or 'tone and manner boards' namly because they can be used poorly. But the concept is valid. Get a client to communicate what personality they hope to eminate through their identity materials. Once you and the client are in agreement on that, the typeface selection becomes a bit more meaningful for the client.

There's actually an interesting thread over at typophile sort of discussing the same thing. It's a long thread and the applicable posts are near the end.

On Aug.19.2003 at 10:56 AM
dave’s comment is:

I usually refer to typefaces in levels of formality. Formal, semi-formal, and informal, but then my clients call them fonts. People seem to understand when they want to appear formal or informal. It's more difficult to judge the semi-formal.

On Aug.19.2003 at 11:21 AM
marian’s comment is:

Yes, for me it's usually the very basics that a client will understand or care about (serif vs. sans, etc). I'd bet that if the client objected to the name Akzidenz Grotesk you could tell them you changed it without actually changing it, and they'd just say, OK.

However, I had an exciting moment last year explaining to a client why I used small caps (instead of all caps), how they worked with the text and why I didn't recommend changing them back to all caps, and she got it!

The really hard one is old style numbers. Once a client notices and takes a dislike to the way those numbers stick up and hang down ... well that's a hard one to sell.

On Aug.19.2003 at 11:37 AM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

Do clients know Emigre, House, Agfa, or that Adobe is a foundary and who their designers are? No.

I saw Chank speak on this subject earlier this year - saying he often gets a puzzled "people make fonts" reaction after telling people what he does.

I'll say, better than even, that people understand the baggage a typeface carries (emotional or otherwise). But to get to this, you'll need to show them options and ask them direct questions: "Which face looks more sophisticated to you?" or "Which face looks like a supermarket tabloid?". Yes, like the personality boards Darrel speaks of.

This is a great topic though - the idea is to educate the client in all the ways the new face matches their corporate personality. Walk them through the selection process, then they have a better face AND they know why AND can explain it to people that use Comic Sans for everything.

On Aug.19.2003 at 11:39 AM
David E.’s comment is:

I've never discussed specific typeface choices with clients. I always assumed it was understood that the designer ought to know enough to choose something appropriate.

Now I'm working in-house, and the marketing people will ask "what font is that?" just to appear knowledgeable. I'll usually say something like, "it's a more sophisticated san serif typeface than what we were using. It's much more appropriate for what we're doing." This usually gets them off my back.

...and hey, I've always thought Nuptial Script looked kind of satanic. I've never seen it used in a wedding invitation, though it worked pretty well in those doc martin's ads a few years back.

On Aug.19.2003 at 11:58 AM
David W’s comment is:

Often, I think it is a mistake to bring up the issue. I cringe when someone asks the client, "What do you think of the typeface?" It leads to such an unnatural way of thinking. Sometimes though, I will explain how we arrived at a particular typeface and why it is the right one.

I have found noticed that if we don't bring it up, neither will they. That is almost always good.

On Aug.19.2003 at 12:38 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

I cringe when someone asks the client, "What do you think of the typeface?"

Oof. I've never gone that route. When showing typography for an identity system, I'll show them the faces that I chose and then use them throughout the presentation to show them in practice. If they have a visceral hatred to the typeface, then that can be discussed. Unless I've used a somewhat quirky or distinctive typeface - like Tarzana - I'm not usually questioned on it. No client can object to Avenir, though.

On Aug.19.2003 at 12:48 PM
Tracy’s comment is:

Marian, I've fought that "no, there's nothing wrong with the numbers, those are old-style figures" battle several times...I've had a couple of clients question oldstyle Garamond...especially the number "1"... "it looks like a little capital 'I'", since its serifs hang off all four corners...

Normally clients that want to use Times New Roman or Arial understand when we explain that their logotype needs to communicate who they are in a unique fashion...and that the typface choice is a vital aspect of this...

And then sometimes they just want Times New Roman set in a faux italic (because the real italic just looks too curly)...those are the projects that just suck, I tell ya.

I have found noticed that if we don't bring it up, neither will they. That is almost always good.

agreed. Just assume that they are trusting you to do your job!...until they prove otherwise!

On Aug.19.2003 at 12:53 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Just one brief comment and then back to work.

Typefaces are like herbs and spices in a dish. Most consumers only notice the ones they hate, or they don't notice it at all. If it blends in and works in the dish the way it's supposed to, then no one will notice or object.

If they pick out the onions cause they don't like onions, there's little use in convincing them to eat it after that.

If you cook more for them -- know not to use onions.

On Aug.19.2003 at 02:04 PM
kev’s comment is:

What I've found is that yes, they do see the difference between typefaces, but could never tell you that. You show them a poorly-kerned advertisement set in Arial and one that's fine-tuned and professionally set in a more proper type (hell, against Arial, that could be just about anything). If you were to ask them which is more professionally-done, they'd all point to the opposite of Arial, but would have little success in telling you it's the typeface (all other things being equal) making the difference. Try it and see for yourself.

On Aug.19.2003 at 02:40 PM
Paul’s comment is:

Very nicely stated, Tan.

As an indication of how strangely my mind is working today (and why I've been drawing thumbails for the past 2 hrs. for the same friggin' POSTCARD!), your post made me think of a graphic design competition done up a-la Iron Chef:

Voice over: "Look at this! Designer Tan has chosen now to mix a Blackletter with a modernist sans! This is very risky territory...I hope he has his grid laid out very carefully!"

(cue dramatic music...)

On Aug.19.2003 at 02:42 PM
Tracy’s comment is:


"yes, yes, go ahead...."

"Iron Designer Tan is actually using a customized Fette Fraktur...when asked where he was going with that design he simply stated that we'd just have to wait and see!"

cute Japanese actress: Oooh hoo! so delicate...I can hardly wait!...

On Aug.19.2003 at 02:52 PM
Tan’s comment is:


announcer: "ah yes, he's actually mixing Cooper Black with our ingredient of the day -- Helvetica Neue -- to form a new product brand."

actress Sakato-san: "oooh, it reminds me of a spring day at the ballpark in Tokyo! How unusual."

commentator Hatori-san: "actually, it's a common practice for designers who love the 70s."

all: "...aaah, yes...quite right."

God I love that show. Morimoto rules.

On Aug.19.2003 at 06:17 PM
Rick G’s comment is:

If it ever seems like I'm a crank or don't feel grateful to still have a job in the industry after everyone else got laid off, I wish to relate this little bit of depressing interaction I had five minutes ago.

I work in-house with two other designers. Being a big fan of Shepard Fairey, I thought that Tracy's link was awesome and that the Comic sans has a posse sticker was hilarious. So I printed it out and slapped it on my monitor.

Well, I then had to spend almost ten minutes explaining to on eof the designers what the sticker meant, and why Comic Sans is worthy of ridicule! "What's wrong with it? I use it all the time, when I want something to look handwritten!"

I've kind of been looking for a new job.


On Aug.19.2003 at 07:15 PM
marian’s comment is:

Panelist #1: "Ooooh very tasty! This design is so unusual ... it reminds me a little of an iron-on T-shirt, but with a hint of Sagmeister ... so sophisticated, but with the comfort of street vernacular."

Panelist #2: "Well, yes --[giggle]--but it looks funny to me ... I don't understand why Cooper Black ..."

Panelist #3: "Oh, no! It is very smart! I look forward to seeing the business card, as I hear it is Designer Tan's specialty!"


Anyway ... just as an aside over the old-style figs--way back in the mists of time when I was a book typesetter, we had a client complain about the small "i" appearance of the 1, and so we switched the font on the 1 throughout the book. this was in the days of an older Linotype imagesetter with pieces of film for each font, and a non-wysiwyg text editor, so this was more of a pain even than it would be now. The other one that causes problems is the 0 (zero) that looks like a uniform circle. It's little things like this in a typeface that can cause last-minute havoc with a client who previously didn't notice or care about the face at all. Next thing you know they're saying "There's no dot on the 'i' in 'find'."

ALSO, another reason why I have a certain cavalier attitude about what they notice or not ... a year ago I worked on a logo that was (ack) a last minute mad rush (I know, I know). Out of a couple of options, the client chose the one using Shaker Wide. I went on holiday, and when I came back, I discovered the logo was in production, things were being printed using Shaker Regular. Our account manager hadn't noticed, and neither had the client (despite having previously preferred the Wide over the Regular). So, really, whatever.

On Aug.19.2003 at 08:27 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I talk about typefaces to clients in three contexts.

First, consistency. I often tell them the cheapest, fastest way to a powerful identity is simply using the same typeface again and again. This works when the typeface is ubiquitous (Volkswagen and Futura) or hideous (Apple and ITC Garamond #3 horizontally scaled 85% - until recently) (by the way, what happened there?). Oddly, ad agencies seem to get this more than design firms; both the examples above started as ad campaigns.

The second is distinction. I can usually beat down Times Roman or Ariel by saying that they're in such common use that they've lost their mojo. (Unless for some reason I want to use Times Roman!) The extreme is convincing a client they need their own custom font. I've noticed that even clients that don't know or care about typefaces find this idea really exciting -- mine, all mine.

Third, association. I occasionally use quick shorthand ways of introducing typefaces. I've actually said, when showing Bodoni, "This is the typeface that Giorgio Armani uses in their logo." It is kind of ridiculous but it does provide a whole universe of associations, all wrapped up and ready to go.

By the way, I agree with jonsel that the name of the typeface can be more important than the way it looks. I love Hoefler's Requiem, but I've told my designers not to say the name to certain clients who might find it morbid.

The funniest memory I have of this was doing a job with Massimo Vignelli and having the client like everything except the typeface (probably one of the Big Five), which was rejected for "not looking French enough." (The client was sort of a tragic Francophile.)

So I looked and for no particular reason found a substitute named Empire. We put it in the next presentation. When Massimo came to it, he said something like, "And you can see we've taken your advice and changed the typeface. The new one is called...Ahm-PEER."

I almost corrected him before I realized he was using the French pronunciation of Empire.

The client bought it.

On Aug.20.2003 at 05:16 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

No one gets it, ever!! I have tried to explain the "beauty" of type to non-designer artists, and they just DONT GET IT!! My friends work in fashion in NY, she deals with design-like things, packaging, etc... all of the time...and will say things like "I found the coolest font for this label" which is all and good, but she only likes it cause it looks cool. And dont get me wrong, I LOVE to have fun looking typefaces, but I have an appreciation for the simple ones too, the classics (as all of us here do).

And that was an artist - someone who has a degree in Visual Arts ... and clients, forget it. I did some pro bono for a small library here for a fundraiser, and they insisted on using ZapfChancery, because it was "pretty". I simply told them that that particular typeface was not suitable for a Spagetti Dinner - and that something more bold, home-cookin' like would better suit them. At first, they said no, but i went ahead and did the poster in another typeface (cant think of the name now) - and they ended up choosing the one I thought would be better. Usually I combat that dilemma in that way - force them to see it the way you think it should be!

It is just so odd to me that unless you have designed for print that there is no understanding about what goes into making and deciding on what typeface to use. But at the same time, I am glad I am 'in' on it, and that the world ISNT full of 'designers'

On Aug.20.2003 at 10:58 AM
Sam’s comment is:

One of my gripes about "people" not getting type is the difference in readability of roman versus italics. Somehow the idea that italics are less readable seems to have reached the non-design public, but not the caveat for long passages of text (ahem, visual pun intended). I once had a client ask whether the phone numbers on her business card, which I'd set in Univers italic (and like 10pt), would be more readable in roman. Phone numbers! Ten digits! No!

Some resources for counteracting this kind of silliness here.

On Aug.20.2003 at 11:50 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

I think distinction needs to be made between display type and body type. Because of display-type scale, the nuances and details of the type are much more prominent. These are the areas where I've had clients react a lot more.

For body text I feel like I need to know the emotion and company personality of the client well enough that any body copy I set for them will be completely transparent.

The place where our clients' opinions come out the strongest is not in typeface, so much as type size.

A rule we use for body copy is that we never use body copy smaller than the body copy Wall Street Journal (to be more specific, the x-height of the WSJ). We've never had a client disagree with that one.

On Aug.20.2003 at 11:58 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

ahm-PEER. Very nice. I once had a service bureau ask if we had fru-TIGER. Roar.

On Aug.20.2003 at 12:03 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

Helpful link Sam, Thanks!

On Aug.20.2003 at 12:28 PM
Rick G’s comment is:

fru-TIGER. ha ha ha.

Can we discuss "Neue" for a minute? Noy-ah. How many times have I heard "New", "Noi", "Newee", "N'yoo" or "Nnn{mumble}ah"? Too many.

Here at my work, Helvetica Neue is one of the house typefaces*. We use it all the time. I have taken to sending out this link on a regular basis. I mean, I don't speak German either, but get it right if you're gonna use it, y'know? =)


*Our other official ones: Avenir, Bembo and Univers. sigh.

On Aug.20.2003 at 12:30 PM
David E.’s comment is:

The extreme is convincing a client they need their own custom font. I've noticed that even clients that don't know or care about typefaces find this idea really exciting -- mine, all mine.

Only until the in-house designers give it to their friends. I worked for a design studio that had "Apple Garamond" in their type collection, and freelanced in-house for a toy company that had a bunch of "techno" fonts who's names all started with "Fox Family"...hey, if i did rave flyers i'd have burned myself a copy.

ahm-PEER. Very nice. I once had a service bureau ask if we had fru-TIGER. Roar.

Oh c'mon...I'm sure everyone here thought Fenice rhymed with tennis when they first got out of school. Actually the worst I've ever heard (by a designer) was Tiepolo being pronounced "TIE (as in 'necktie') polo".

On Aug.20.2003 at 12:59 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

And how do you pronounce these - cause I am SURE I have been pronouncing them incorrectly forever!

1. Trebuchet (Tre-BU-shea?}

2. Batang

3. Amasis

You see, I am the girl that was confused when the professor said - Chickhold.....(Tschichold) - I was like "WHO is he taling about?"

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:02 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>You see, I am the girl that was confused when the professor said - Chickhold.....(Tschichold) - I was like "WHO is he taling about?"

Man, don't get me started on pronunciation. At typecon I was having a beer with Michael Clark (calligrapher and older fellow) and we were talking about design history. He says "Do you know Lubalin?" I was like "No, I'm not familiar". He started saying that that was the problem with us young designers who didn't know anything about design's pioneers and shit and how the work Lubalin did for Avant Garde... hold up "you meant Lubal�n? Herb? Of course I know who the hell he is." See, as a spanish speaking person I was putting an accent, as emphasis, on the last syllable of Lubalin. Plus, I've never heard the correct pronunciations for many designers: Glaser, Valicenti, Makela, etc. So when he first said it I obviously had no idea who he was referring to. It was almost an embarassing moment.

Anyhoo, yes, Chickhold rocks.

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:16 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I admit, after 10 years in design, I still don't know how to pronouce "Lubalin." His name's never come up in conversation.

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:19 PM
David E.’s comment is:

How funny...I posted that BEFORE I read Armin's comments.

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:20 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Helvetica NoiYa. Hey. I learned something!

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>I still don't know how to pronouce "Lubalin."

It's like Stalin. And some people don't pronounce the "u." So think of Stalin and then say "Lbalin."

>How funny...I posted that BEFORE I read Armin's comments.

See David? We are not that different.

On Aug.20.2003 at 01:45 PM
Tracy’s comment is:


I saw Milton Glasier at th HOW Conference and they pronounced it Glay-zcher...hmmm.....that's hard to write phonetically...take the sound from the middle of "measure " and you'll have it...I think...

On Aug.20.2003 at 02:13 PM
Tracy’s comment is:

and there I go spelling it wrong...

On Aug.20.2003 at 02:15 PM
Grant’s comment is:

From Norman Walsh's venerable comp.fonts FAQ:

Pronounciation [sic] of Font Names

On Aug.20.2003 at 03:10 PM
Tracy’s comment is:

I met Milton last fall, that is definately how you pronouce it, well, that is how they announced him! Cool guy!

On Aug.20.2003 at 03:10 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

whoops, Tracy didnt post that - I did....whoops...meant to direct it to Tracy..

thats what you get for typing fast!

On Aug.20.2003 at 03:11 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

I met Albert Jan Pool (a famous Dutch font guy) in Rome last year, and he introduced himself by saying he was the designer of FF-DIN. I go: "F-15? I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with that typeface." I guess the impending war conspired with his Northern European accent to throw me off momentarily.


Layman awareness: like somebody said above, parallel to the distinction between display and text fonts, there's a distinction between what can be conveyed. The former can be very literal, but the latter can only convey what might be called "atmosphere", because their effect on us is subvisible: they works through our subconscious. For example, Eureka will convey a much more austere atmosphere than ITC Garamond, even though laymen will say "Hey, this Times looks smaller than that Times".


On Aug.20.2003 at 05:26 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

Some atmospheric stuff here:



On Aug.20.2003 at 06:05 PM
april’s comment is:

May I just say: this is THE best forum! I had abandoned HOW a while ago and then somehow managed to stumbled across this site-which has revitalized my interest in design discussions. Many thanks for informative posts and witty/positive responses!

On Aug.21.2003 at 01:36 AM
stew’s comment is:

My best mis-pronunciation of a font by a client was Verdana pronounced as Ver-Dan-A

Lets just say that I had to stop myself from laughing very hard.

The problem with the clients I get is that they want absolutly everything done in Comic Sans... I mean why do so many people believe it to be the best font?!

For the first time ever I actualy told a client I would not be continug the web site and logo design he had asked for because after showing him both a logo and demo site he said that the logo should jsut be the company's name in Comic Sans "because it looks more fun" and the text in the page should be Comic Sans "to go with the logo thingy". I came so close to hitting him!

On Aug.21.2003 at 03:15 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

Firing clients is a blast.


On Aug.21.2003 at 11:51 AM
Zander’s comment is:

It's what you experience not what you understand that affects you. You don't have to have a cognitive understanding of the music you listen to, the typeface you read, the composition of the book etc. In order to be affected by it. Another thing that has crossed my mind in this subject is that clients usualy by "universal law" get the design they deserve, if they have no sensibility towards communication, they will be communicating badly no matter what. If your client wants it done cheap, and you do it cheap, then the result will look cheap and they will communicate cheap, which is what they are. If the owner of a restaurant understands the effect of visual signs and that they have an influence on how something is perceived and he hires you to give the restaurant a visual identity that reflects his cooking.. etc etc.. thyen he will get what he deserves.

Take a relatively "neutral" political newspaper article from a third newspaper. Set it in the form of a leftwing paper and in the form of a rightwing paper that the human test subject knows of. Give each of the articles to him (theoretically both first ofcourse..this test can't be made with one person and need hundreds in order to prove the point) and tell him to tell you if it's written by a leftwing or rightwing journalist. This is an example of how subconscious affects work on people.

Ever try seeing a portrait shot of a unknown person and feeling you know if you like him/her or not?

Sorry if this makes no sense, it's late and im drunkish..

On Aug.21.2003 at 06:36 PM
.sara’s comment is:

Do people think that Thesis has more personality than Univers?

well, i think AOL thinks that Thesis has more personality.. The Thesis family is what AOL uses for any/all type aside from the logo(s). (:

(and also: hi! long time listener...)

On Aug.21.2003 at 07:05 PM
kev’s comment is:

for the record.. how do you pronounce Rotis (Yes, that Rotis) ? We said "ro-tiss" but then I was on the phone once with david siegel and he called it "ro-tee." We made fun of him at the time but now I'm not so sure...

On Aug.22.2003 at 06:20 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

It's the name of a German village (where Aicher lived - as an autonomous state, in fact), so you'd pronounce the terminal "s". Maybe something like "GHOH-tis". The way Seigel pronounces it is like part of a French dish.


On Aug.23.2003 at 12:28 AM
Katie Wilson’s comment is:

I am a 23 year old Graphic Design student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Outside of school I work full time for a reprographics company. I deal with architects and engineers constantly. They are more anal about type-face than I am or have ever seen. However, I don't consider them "regular" people because they have some sort of art/design background. I do agree that "normal" people have little to no understanding of type-faces and why one is better than the other.

I agree, comic sans----UGH!

On Aug.25.2003 at 03:16 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Many architects, for some strange reason, think they can be graphic designers. Hey dudes! Just because you can build big ass buildings it doesn't mean you can letterspace. Or steal sheep.

On Aug.25.2003 at 04:27 PM
monkeyinabox’s comment is:


Go through Architecture school and then come and make that statement. :)

On Aug.25.2003 at 07:00 PM
Armin’s comment is:

While I see what your point is, I hardly have the time or the money to go through 4 years of architecture to make an already valid point.

On Aug.25.2003 at 07:30 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I once consulted design/brand implementation at a large Seattle architecture firm. Their architecture work was amazing, but their typographic use and presentation design was absolutely atrocious. And I'm not being picky either. There were more than 20 teams of architects (the firm was about 150+ people) and each had their own grab-bag of bad fonts -- Eurostile chrome, some shitty font called Architecture, brush script, and hundreds of other dogshit fonts that wouldn't see the light of day in a design firm. And the teams were plastering them all over these huge and expensive presentation boards and portfolios. Drop shadows all over the place, not to mention about a thousand things all in tracked-out, all-cap sans serif.

I didn't know where to start.

I know that most architects have great design tastes. But I think they underestimate the discipline of graphic design and typography. I don't mean this as an insult, but most architects think that architecture rules all other forms of design. And that anything less than an architecture degree is just decorative arts.

monkeyinabox's response above is typical.

The only exception I know of is NBBJ -- they have a number of national and international offices. In their seattle office, they actually have a formidable graphic design department that is primarily responsible for in-house pitches. Their pitches are like $400 million stadiums in Korea and shit -- so their internal pitch budget can be in the hundreds of thousands each.

On Aug.25.2003 at 07:56 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I'll back up Tan on this one. Most architects don't know anything about typography. The worst ones get hooked on a favorite typeface, decide that makes them an expert, and beat it to death for the length of their careers.

I know one large firm that does everything in Futura, from their business cards to the signage on their buildings. Another one has the same dedication to Times Roman. On the other hand, I suppose either of these is superior to Comic Sans.

By the way, if you ever want to get an architect excited about typography, show them Cheltenham. It was designed by Bertram Goodhue, the architect of St. Bartholemew's in New York and the Nebraska state capitol building. For most architects, this makes Cheltenham superior to typefaces designed by lesser mortals like, say, Giambattista Bodoni.

On Aug.25.2003 at 08:51 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

Slightly off-topic. A couple months back, I was in a meeting with a variety of creatives (architects included). We were discussing plans for an upcoming design conference for architects. As the meeting shifted towards design collateral to promote the event, a couple of the architects questioned the value of having posters/postcards/etc. for the conference. The rational was back in the 80's they had hired some artists to do some "stuff" and it didn't get many people out to the events. I had had a long day already so I was more open to being diplomatic about why design mattered. Thankfully at the end of the meeting they realized it was probably a good idea to have some things designed.

On Aug.26.2003 at 01:01 AM
G A Foster’s comment is:

Very interesting and enlightening discussion. I qualify as one of the uniformed masses in regards to typeface.

I recently finished writing a Business Plan. The purpose is to secure funding from a venture capital firm. While I was writing the document, I used Arial. According to previous comments, this was a faux-pas. My CEO heard that serif fonts are easier to read and suggested we send the document to print using Times New Roman (thus me poking around the internet and finding this web site).

After reading this thread, it appears that the font selection can be used as a marketing tool. I never considered it, but it makes perfect sense.

Can I get some suggestions on an appropriate font for a Business Plan written for the purpose of securing a significant amount of money from a Venture Captial firm? Different font for Chapter heading, Section headings and body text? The document was composed in Word format and we are using standard BP Heading 1, BP Heading 2, BP Heading 3 and Body text. Suggestions for font alternatives that make the document stand out in a professional manner (other than our content)?


On Jan.29.2004 at 10:48 AM
Armin’s comment is:


Glad you found this post interesting. I am not very well versed in Word, but I know that going with default headlines can lead to not-so-good looking results. And you are probably on a PC, so I'm not sure what fonts you would have.

I'd say stick with the basics, use Helvetica bold for headings, but try doing it ALL CAPS, at 12 or 14 pts then under the Format > Font > Character spacing try a setting of 1 or 2 pts, that will give your titles a bit more breathing room and look more elegant. For body copy I'd reccomend Georgia (if available on PC) at 9 or 10 pts, and give it some spacing between each lines, a bit less than 1.5 line-spacing.

Avoid Times though, it is just too boring. Not sure if this was at all helpful� probably not. Anyway, sometimes it's not what typeface you use but how you use it (where have we all heard that before?).

Best of luck with your Business Plan and, like you said, the content should set the tone, if that ain't working no matter how well you dress it up it won't fly.

On Jan.29.2004 at 11:41 PM
Sam’s comment is:

GA, you might NOT want to use Courier. From the article:

In an internal memorandum distributed on Wednesday, the State Department declared "Courier New 12" -- the font and size decreed for US diplomatic documents for years -- to be obsolete and unacceptable after February 1.

"In response to many requests and with a view to making our written work easier to read, we are moving to a new standard font: 'Times New Roman 14'," said the memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by AFP on Thursday.

The new font "takes up almost exactly the same area on the page as Courier New 12, while offering a crisper, cleaner, more modern look," it said, adding that after February 1 "only Times New Roman 14 will be accepted."

Times New Roman 14 more modern?! Colin Powell is on the fucking job!

(First seen in my lunchbox).

On Jan.30.2004 at 09:28 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

Next, the government will be banning the use of Caslon because it is too cutting-edge. Oy.

On Jan.30.2004 at 09:51 AM
Sam’s comment is:

What they don't tell you is Matthew Carter is going all black-ops on "Times New Roman 14"--seriously classified military-grade hinting and GPS-guided kerning and ligatures that will never be available to the general public. Word on the conspiracy sites is he's locked in a clean room at Pfizer. Just goes to show you the power of the typography lobby--they're all in bed with the DoD!

On Jan.30.2004 at 02:17 PM
Hrant’s comment is:


What will the [proposed] company do? Although the "customer" of this proposal is a very different demographic than the [eventual] customer of the actual product/service the new company will support*, typography that supports the overall "atmosphere" of the proposed product/service has a better chance of hitting the right nerves in any human.

* Unless the new company's product is software that helps you write Business Plans. :-)

BTW, don't use too many fonts (dilutes the focus, and gets designers' nipples in a twist - we wouldn't want to dent sales of black clothing), but a pairing of a display face for the headings with a text face for... the text is a great classic formula. For the former you have more room to play, although you have to be careful that the greater capacity for literality in display faces doesn't turn into a caricature. For the latter it's a very subtle art, picking The Right Font.


On Jan.31.2004 at 12:07 AM
G A Foster’s comment is:


I am currently using a PC. Using a PC and Word is not a limiting factor. A Mac is an option, and we are open to converting the document to something other than MS Word.


I agree. Not going with Courier.


Excellent question. VC targets are indeed very different based on type of industry. Our business is providing a hosted suite of software applications. Software is ours and has been developed by an in-house team. VC targets are in the technology sector. More specifically, web technology and/or software VCs. Do you have any additional info based on our targeted VCs?

My current thoughts are a single font for Chapter and Section Headings with Chapter using a slightly larger font than Section. Then, use a second font for the remainder body text. Sans Serif headings and Serif body text?

I appreciate everyone's input.



On Feb.03.2004 at 12:48 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

Serif body, definitely. Something with some rigidity, to convey technology. If your point size will be large (like 12), try FF Eureka, just track it tighter. You could also consider Form-Serif from The Foundry (which has a sans counterpart too). And if your venture takes off and you'd like a custom typeface for your exclusive use, let me know - I have just the thing.

For the heading font, check out Sensa here:



On Feb.03.2004 at 04:43 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

G A,

I'm going to part ways with Armin and Hrant and suggest that you stick with good old Times Roman. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with it for business documents, you'll avoid the problem of having your materials look "fussy" (a real risk when you're using fonts with which you are not already well-acquainted), and it has the added bonus of being free.

If it's important for your report to have a polished look for marketing purposes, I think your money would be better spent hiring a designer than buying new fonts. It doesn't sound like a project that would set you back very much.

Good luck!

On Feb.03.2004 at 05:02 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

Avoiding fussiness is indeed usually good, but certainly Times isn't the only non-fussy font out there. If you choose carefully, you can avoid both fussiness and facelessless (which is something Times suffers from).

BTW, when you buy a font you are paying for a designer! In fact you're paying for a designer who [nominally] knows more about text than the typical Illustrator/Photoshop monkey.


On Feb.03.2004 at 07:33 PM
aj’s comment is:

I've done work for voluntary organisations and I am often frustrated by the tiny selection of fonts installed. I will avoid all the usual suspects - Times, Arial, Comic Sans, Courier etc, as they have zero personality, and makes all the artwork look so generic.

If a client has Corel Draw, then chances are, they will have most of the Bitstream foundry's collection on CD lying around somewhere, as these fonts are bundled with Corel Draw. Likewise, if they even have a copy of Adobe Photodeluxe, which was bundled with their inkjet printer or scanner, then there are some more options to choose from. If I remember correctly, Photodeluxe has a good selection of Image Club Graphics fonts, and some other good fonts from Adobe's library, such as ITC Fenice.

So, sometimes it is possible to add a lot more flair and personality in limited circumstances.

One think which I resist completely though is the Microsoft Clip Art collection. So many voluntary organisations use these routinely, in the mistaken belief that their posters, letter heads etc, will look more "professional". But in reality, they look really cheap, cartoon-like .... and you see the same clip art images cropping up over and over.

I have had to resist people who entheusiastically suggest using this kind of clip art. Not only that, but they want to stick a silly border around everything too. But that's another topic, really.

Most people cannot see the difference between one font and another, such as Arial and Frutiger, for example. It does get very frustrating, especially when you are trying to do your best for people and trying to make them realise that if they do not produce attractive and professional publicity materials, no-one is going to know they exist, or support them. �nd that is the bottom line, really.


On Feb.04.2004 at 06:38 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

> Most people cannot see the difference between one font and another

This is certainly very true. But there's something else: our subconscious "processes" things from our fives senses in ways that are never brought to our conscious attention*, but affect us nonetheless. Although there's no direct empirical proof** that one font has a certain effect on us that another doesn't, it's pretty safe to assume that different fonts have different effects. In some cases it's obvious (like almost anybody would balk at a STOP sign set in Balmoral), but in other cases it's just more subtle.

* This is because conscious analysis is slower, so it has to be pickier. It depends on what you're "tuned in" to, what you've decided over time matter in your life. For example unlike a layman, a designer will notice more differences between fonts because that's his livelihood - although he does need to mind that his conscious appreciation is different than what the subconscious does. This danger is reflected in the phenomenon that many designs design too much for other designers, as opposed to users.

** Few of our [individual] decisions are based very much on empirical proof anyway.


On Feb.04.2004 at 11:09 AM
aj’s comment is:

I agree completely that we do react to visual stimuli on a subconcious level, but the general public is not aware of their own response to type and the use of colour. Even so, we all "feel" when something is right or not. Our first impressions count.

Bodoni gives an impression of being traditional, upscale, stylish and timeless, just to use one example. It's used a lot in fashion publications and upscale clothing retailers, here in the UK at least.

Humanist sans serif fonts such as Frutiger, Gill Sans, and Ergo look a lot more "friendly" in comparison with Helvetica and Arial, which can look very stark.

Of course, a lot can depend on context, and the cultural references of your target audience, which vary between not only regions of the world, but also within different socio-economic groups within one country.

Seemingly small differences, can ultimately make a very big difference in the way your end product is perceived. Not just in graphic design, but also with street signage, park benches, lighting, architecture. Where people do not give any consideration to detail, and go for the cheapest option, or the option which requires the least skill, you end up with an overall impression which is negative or generic.

Most people cannot put into words why something isn't very good. But they will generally come away with a poor impression, or more commonly, no impression at all. If the message didn't get across, the whole exercise has failed.

I believe that you can add so much with type. You can create visual impact, and you can add personality or mood. If you don't attract peoples attention in the first place, you've failed to get your message across.

On Feb.05.2004 at 08:34 AM
Heiko’s comment is:

@kev: Rotis is not a German, but a Swiss village. Anyway, it is pronounced like "ro-tees", stressed on the last syllable.

On Mar.01.2004 at 06:27 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

Are you sure? Rotis is in the region of Allg�u, which is in Bavaria.


On Mar.01.2004 at 11:38 AM