Best and Worst Typefaces of All Time!

quadibloc's picture

Found this page

by that title.

Most of the list is not that unreasonable. However, including Verdana and Myriad on the "best" list while not including, oh, say, Caslon (or Baskerville, Optima, Century Schoolbook, or Palatino, or many others) seemed to me to be favoring the recent too much (among recent ones, there's Stone... typefaces that happen to be on everyone's computer shouldn't be the only ones considered)... and I couldn't see the justification for listing Brush Script and Copperplate Gothic among the "worst", even if I wouldn't argue too much about the other three choices there.

oldnick's picture

De gustibus non est disputandum

altsan's picture

I notice this list seems almost entirely focused on display typography, which probably explains the neglect of good text faces like Caslon and Baskerville. (They included Times mainly as a sop to its popularity, I guess.)

It also seems that their 'worst' list is mostly based on how overused those particular faces are, not on any objective measure of their quality (barring Comic Sans, I suppose). Although it seems odd that they'd then put Times on their 'best' list when it's almost as overused and abused as Papyrus and Arial...

hrant's picture

I now have a candidate for #1 when I compile my Worsts Typeface Lists of All Time!


quadibloc's picture

Although it seems odd that they'd then put Times on their 'best' list when it's almost as overused and abused as Papyrus and Arial...

Well, if Copperplate Gothic was chosen not because of its quality, but because of its use, that might make sense. But if you go back to 1969 in your imagination, when Times Roman existed in quality authentic forms and was used well, I think it stands up to comparison with Caslon and Baskerville... and thus it should be on a list of the best typefaces of all time.

Even if some of the digital versions today wouldn't be that far out of place on a list of the worst ones either.

But a list of the "worst typefaces" is sort of like a list of the worst comic books or the worst movies - those lists never seem to include the really bad ones, only the bad ones from sources that should have known better.

Thus, you won't find Caslon Roman - or, more appropriately, the typeface from which it is derived (and I don't mean Caslon) - on a list of the worst typefaces of all time. Not that I fault George Williams; I praise his effort in making available a Unicode font with a wide character range for free.

But the face itself is based on older Chinese and/or Japanese versions of the Latin alphabet, made without the proper cultural basis for the aesthetic of the Latin script. It is hideous in appearance, to put it briefly.

And then there's Fifteenth Century, now known as Caslon Antique. Before we had Comic Sans to kick around, that one used to get a lot of criticism from typographers.

hrant's picture

BTW one best/worst compilation that I do recommend people pay attention to is the book "Types Best Remembered / Types Best Forgotten". One way you can tell it's good is that some fonts are featured in both the Best and Worst sections! :-)


canderson's picture

I regret clicking the link.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

You mean, your Worsts Typeface Lists of All Times New Roman Italics?

Ruira's picture

I know that copperplate is used for Moleskine logo, it looks not so bene in there.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Articles like these really annoy me because it perpetuates flawed ideas on typography coming from the mainstream rather than making informed judgements on these typefaces. For example, while I agree with some of the statements on Copperplate Gothic, it seems really silly to criticize a glyphic, industrial-inspired typeface designed more than 110 years ago for not being inspiring to the modern viewer. Would we expect it to? It's not like we're marvelling on the modernism of Akzidenz Grotesk either.

"but it has made it on this list because it is so madly overused by the amateur or lazy designer, often thrown onto a page because it has that "basic blocky text" look to it. Professional designers find Arial quiet nauseating."
Do you find this to be true? From my experience it's not like that at all. A professional designer wouldn't use Arial because it has that "basic blocky text" look to it, or I would argue the designer is seriously lacking in knowledge and judgement (but then I've also seen professional designers make the most laughable remarks about Helvetica in the Helvetica documentary, so who knows.), but a professional designer would use Arial when applicable. I know in this context Arial wasn't necessarily selected just for its design, but the government of Rotterdam uses Arial for its branding and I'm actually damn glad they didn't use Helvetica.

The article features a picture that says "Arial. The perfect way to show that you just don't care." Helvetica often seems to fit that statement as well, possibly more so than Arial. It's not the average user but the amateur designers who think Helvetica is the designer's choice and therefore make a judgement based on misinformation. In fact, it's this same misinformation with which articles like these are written.

I can see the tradition of judging typefaces on their popularity rather than its design and application, which I think is a sad practice. This way the mainstream tends to outlaw typefaces which were perfectly fine before they started misusing it. I would rather educate people on the use of certain typefaces than ban these typefaces for its misuse, which is particularly the case with Comic Sans. The shirt that says "I love to hate Comic Sans" actually seems to be the sentiment of the bancomicsans movement. It's not that the website is so bad, but it's just wonderful to hate something together because it validates your taste, even if that taste was influenced by the movement in the first place.

If it's all about popularity and application then I tend to put Trajan on the bad list. "Some designers criticise its over-use in the movie industry - it has even earned the nickname "the movie font" - but it rarely looks bad and can always sell a movie!". It rarely looks bad, but it almost always looks contextually bad.

Where does that practice come from anyway? You would think for movies there is a budget to hire a professional typographer and type designer and do something with the title of the movie. Something different from putting a glyphic roman typeface on a poster about Egyptian mummies; something different fom using a glyphic roman typeface for a British ship from 1912. Neil deGrasse Tyson complained about the sky in Titanic in the scene after the Titanic sank not being the correct one and a portion of it being mirrored ( and it was fixed. I feel like our knowledge should be valued more, and perhaps we should be more expressive about the mistakes in typography. I think we're relatively humble while I don't necessarily feel a reason to be.

Also, there was no mention of Futura being used in the fashion industry. I don't think the author of the article looks at fashion magazines.

quadibloc's picture

One could argue that it's perfectly acceptable for a professional designer to use Monotype Grotesque where it is appropriate, but anyone who would use (gasp, shudder) Arial for anything important is showing he has no taste.

And it's also possible to say that this position is one of mere snobbery.

But it is legitimate to say that Monotype Grotesque was, like other typefaces, designed to look good... and it could hardly have been improved by being thrust into the Procrustean bed of Helvetica metrics. If you want a sans-serif face more suitable to body copy than Helvetica, there is Univers!

Arial isn't all that terrible, though, and even if one can make an ironclad case that there is almost never a case where Arial is best if Monotype Grotesque, Univers, and Helvetica are available, lots of people do not have lots of typefaces available (not having bought a Corel product for the Bitstream collection) and just use what was built into Windows.

It is, I suppose, an entirely legitimate part of a professional graphic designer's job to make his work not look like it was done by Joe Average on a laser printer, and that means avoiding overused faces even though there is nothing bad about them. But this is about something other than pure aesthetics, and when that fact is not noted, arguments result from the confusion. Times Roman doesn't look different because of how many other people are using it, but typography is also used as an exhibition of status.

JamesM's picture

Most professional designers would strongly prefer not to use Arial (and some other fonts), but with most corporate projects you need to follow pre-existing brand standards, including fonts. And I've seen many corporations specify Arial because they know that every employee and vendor already has it.

Of course a designer could refuse to do those projects, but in this economy it's tough to turn down work.

Igor Freiberger's picture

One couldn't expect to find a list with good criteria on a site so badly designed.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Most professional designers would strongly prefer not to use Arial

Yes, because of the controversy, not because of its design. Professional designers wouldn't touch Comic Sans either while it's not a bad typeface for comic books.

but anyone who would use (gasp, shudder) Arial for anything important is showing he has no taste.

I'm personally convinced this is a placebo effect. If Arial was just another typeface without all the funny business with licensing etc. which made it controversial, I don't think as many people will dislike Arial. It's also a strange practice to compare it to one other typeface and consider Arial to be of poor taste simply because it doesn't look like the other typeface. I'm not accusing you of this, but it's very common among people who actually don't know much about type. The fact that we type designers also get affected by this controversy is painful to me to see.

I tend to avoid Arial because of the controversy, not because of the design. I have to say though, it has never been a particularly beautiful typeface to me, but there are many typefaces like that. There's plenty to dislike about Helvetica as well. In fact, whoever uses Helvetica likely has no taste either. Not that's it's distasteful, but usually it's not a design-conscious choice to select Helvetica. It's the placebo effect again, where people will use it simply because they hear it's good. It's not, but it's very hard to alter the reputation of a typeface.

I don't think it can be said that Studio Dumbar has poor taste either. It's one of the best design agencies of the Netherlands and among the top design agencies of the world. Obviously that doesn't make each and every one of their choices objectively good, but it does show how Arial can be used well and I appreciate the fact that the agency doesn't seem affected by what the mainstream thinks. It's our job to create trends, not to let the mainstream restrict our design decisions.

And I've seen many corporations specify Arial because they know that every employee and vendor already has it.

And probably this is a primary reason for selecting Arial, but there were several other options for free and/or default fonts.

I also have to say I think Arial is actually a better typeface, technically. It's more legible due to the greater variety in letter shapes, the hinting is far superior to Helvetica (Helvetica renders horribly on the web in Windows environments) and in Helvetica I can see it's not designed by a proper type designer while Arial is. I can see why people prefer Helvetica though, because there are more alignments so it looks more orderly, but this is also why it's not a good typeface for body text. You may dislike Arial aesthetically but it's technically better than Helvetica. Saying anyone who uses Arial for anything important is rather silly in my opinion.

quadibloc's picture

Professional designers wouldn't touch Comic Sans either while it's not a bad typeface for comic books.

No. Comic Sans is a terrible comic book typeface. If you want a real comic book typeface, go to Comicraft or Blambot. Canada Type, a foundry producing fonts for conventional typefaces, even makes some good comic book typefaces.

This is a sufficiently specialized field that the handprinted faces you find on legitimate free font sites like Dafont aren't generally usable as comic book faces. There are a very few legitimate free ones, like Odaballoon, in addition to those from Blambot.

seaphorm's picture

Most clients don't know or care about the controversial history of Arial, and the don't know that Copperplate Gothic is archaic. They also think Comic Sans is a quirky font to use on their cousin's birthday invite.

Professional designers primarily focus on finding a solution that is in line with what the client wants and is paying for. They can steer a client in a certain direction and influence what the client wants, but if a large government or corporate body comes to them and says 'we need to use Arial for consistency with existing material' then that's what is used.

It can seem heart breaking. But for a large branding you're going to need fall backs and Arial is the best in the business at being the backup/emergency/alternate typeface for any corporate. You know it's going to be on any computer that company owns - so if you add it to the brand guide as an alternate for that beautiful modern sans font, you can be guaranteed that when random office admin is using the brand guide for end of year party invites on their home computer... that they will at least use Arial rather than pick some other random font their daughter installed on the machine from Dafont, or heaven forbid... comic sans...

I find lists like this often seem to be as much about fashion as quality... Sometimes the two align...

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