Not My Type

Comic Sans, Brush Script, Chalkboard, Zapfino, Papyrus – some may say these types have worn out their welcome in the graphic design community… Some might even call them deplorable, but what does it actually mean to be bad type?

Often it can be the font, not the type that is poorly created. But wait, isn’t type and font the same thing? Actually, no. The reason these two are frequently combined today is because when the personal Mac computer first came out, the type options were incorrectly labeled as fonts.

Type is the character form in a type family such as Arial. Whereas a font is set type, such as Arial, set at size 12, tracking 10, leading 14, and optical kerning. Often, a type foundry will create a type, and they will sell it in the specific font that the type best functions. If a type of perfectly formed characters is set poorly, it will be illegible. If you can’t read it, then it isn’t achieving its basic function and therefore it is bad type. Simple as that.

Each type is created with its own intended usage to help express a message. When they are applied inappropriately, they lack purpose and, in turn, have the potential to harm a brand’s message and identity. Helvetica’s popularity grew rapidly because it was built with the intention of being used in a wide variety of applications. Its clean, neo-grotesque form allows it to be applied across multiple brands and remain neutral. But when type with unique characteristics, such as Comic Sans, are utilized in a widely inappropriate way, they become thought of as bad type.

Let’s talk about Comic Sans. If the typographic world existed as a high school social ladder, Comic Sans would be the one weird, loud kid who made their presence known by talking unnecessarily, while everyone else wished they would just shut up.

But Comic Sans was intended to be weird and loud – that’s its purpose. It was created by Vincent Connare in the 1980s when the entire advertising world embraced an unraveling level of loud and offbeat creative approaches. Comic Sans was intended to be a relief from the arguably boring accessible alternatives of Arial and Times New Roman. For all art and design, Connare stated, “If you didn’t notice them, I’d consider that as bad. And if you did notice, it was good. Because at least that made you stop and look. It either shocked you or you really liked it. If you didn’t really notice and just walked through, it was a disaster.” This unique approach is the reason that it took off as well as it did. But, unfortunately, and all too often, it is selected by the “do it yourselfers” in applications which Comic Sans should never be considered.

So please use Comic Sans. But only use it as it was intended: to support the funky patterns, bright colors, and the best of the 80s. Comic Sans is not appropriate for a church marquee or law firm’s advertisement because it does not express an air of reverence, professionalism, or trustworthiness. It screams juvenile, rebellious, and irregular. These inapt applications make Comic Sans the hated and over used type that it is today.

Another inappropriate application that creates bad type is the choice of kerning, tracking, and leading. As we discussed in a recent Blender post, tracking indicates adjustments to the density of a body of text, uniformly increasing and decreasing the amount of space between letters and words. Kerning is the adjustment of space between specific letters to achieve balance and the proper aesthetic. Leading is the vertical space between lines of text or commonly known as “line spacing.” Its name originates from the metal pieces of lead that typographers used to create space between the hand set mechanical type.

So, why is type important to marketers? Whether you realize it or not, type sets the tone for your brand and plays an enormous role in the way your audience experiences your brand. Maybe these misfits and weirdos of the typography world don’t work for you at all. Frankly, they’re not really our type either, but even the outcasts have a purpose and a place to shine. Don’t believe us? Check out our booklet of our favorite “bad types” and decide for yourself!

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