Type gripe #1: Why I don’t have a “favorite” font

December 6th, 2010

As a typography specialist and educator, one of the first (and most common) question I’m asked in my travels is “What is your favorite font?” If I had a dollar for every time I’m asked this, I could buy an iPad or two!

It is completely understandable to get this question from non-designers such as friends, family, and as a “conversation-starter” at a party (UGH!) or other social or networking gatherings from people whom I’ve just met. In fact, I can even see it coming — when upon my reply to the inevitable question, “what do you do?” I see the eyebrows raise, the facial muscles come alive, the head tilt to the side or forward just the slightest bit, and the face perk up in general in anticipation of asking their very “clever” (and predictable) question. This is forgivable for non-professionals. But, unfortunately, I am asked this question on a regular basis from design students and professionals alike.

So what is my reply, and why do I have a problem with this question? First let me start off by saying I am not into font bashing, font snobbery, or font elitism. I don’t pretend to be able to recognize every single font upon sight, nor do I try to impress with my knowledge of fonts, typeface design, typesetting conventions, and the like (unless I am ‘on the clock’ so to speak, and even then it is more information-sharing than impressing). I don’t want to see everyone using the same fonts (as me or anyone else), in the same way, or to get them to design or use type exactly the way I do.

What I do want to see, in a perfect typographic world, is everyone (designers and non-designers alike) becoming more equipped to make their own font decisions, that is, to be able to make better decisions regarding what font to use for any particular job. What I try to achieve in all of my typographic endeavors is to give designers a better understanding of what factors go into how to select a typeface, such as understanding the goals of the job and/or client as well as the demographics of the target audience. But just as important (and the more challenging of the two) is to educate designers how to “see” type in terms of understanding what makes a good typeface. (If this reduces the dependency by some on free fonts, all the better!). My goal is to help increase one’s typographic visual acuity which will (hopefully) lead to more confidence in identifying the individual features and characteristics of each typeface, and subsequently the selection of the right font(s) for the job.

It does no favor at all to a student or designer to tell them my favorite fonts, just to have them use it in their next design project. That robs them of them of the very critical task — the font exploration — that should precede any design job, and in fact, should probably take a lot more time than it currently does for many designers. (There have been times when I have spent many hours on the preliminary font exploration, and then a much shorter time to execute the actual piece.)

It matters not that my logo and business identity use Harmonia Sans, that I set my book, Type Rules! in Scala and ITC Blair, or for that matter, that I have an admiration for Coquette, any more than it matters what design motif or color scheme I use in my home, what brand jeans I wear, or what music is currently on rotation in my iTunes — these choices are all very personal and are what define me as an individual. Font choices should represent individual choices in a similar manner, albeit within the context of what works best for the job at hand, and not solely as an expression of personal taste.

So there, that is my typographic beef #1. Thoughts, anyone?

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