What are your pet peeves about common typefaces?

mwebert's picture

OK, yesterday I rejected Freight Sans for a project. It's simply beautiful, but I believe its narrow word spaces hinder legibility, especially in comparison with other humanist sans faces.

This morning I briefly considered using TheSans, until I got a look at that uppercase "Q" with its disconnected tilde for a tail. Please, Lucas! I absolutely love TheSans, but no alternate for that Q?!!

So it got me thinking... What common typefaces are "spoiled" for you by their quirks? And what makes these features deal-breakers?

Thanks in advance,

ultrasparky's picture

Michael, your pet peeve is a daily aggravation for me. I do a lot of intensive math and engineering typesetting, and we're forced to pull characters from about a dozen different fonts to set everything we need. Rarely do any of the special characters mix well with the text fonts (in terms of style, size, or spacing), which have almost none of the math characters we regularly use.

Technical stuff presents specific problems that have caused us to switch typefaces over exactly the kind of details everyone is talking about here, since characters so often appear in formulas or by themselves, rather than within normal words. If the lowercase l looks too much like the uppercase I or the numeral 1, a typeface will never work for most of what we publish. Or if the lowercase x looks too much like the times sign, etc.

So many headaches...

Randy's picture

My biggest pet peeve with common fonts is:

It is nearly impossible to know if the design you're working on will become a common font.


.00's picture

Daniel (ultrasparky)

I see your live in Brooklyn, so do I. If you want to put together a brief on what you desire in a math font, I'd be happy to discuss it with you. Always looking for a problem that needs to be solved.


ultrasparky's picture

James, that's an awesomely nice offer, but I'm a few days away from leaving Brooklyn to go to Reading and start working on that very problem (and many others) for the next year. Can I seek your advice when I'm a little more deeply immersed in my thesis?

mondoB's picture

Quote: Adjusting wordspacing is a snap in Quark.

PATTYFAB, could you take a moment to walk us through just how to adjust wordspacing in Mac Quark 7? I've been looking in vain for the right place to click for that. Thanks...

.00's picture

Any time Daniel.


mwebert's picture

A quick suggestion, Daniel & James.

I almost think that an effective software solution for mathematical typesetting has to go hand-in-hand with new OpenType fonts that cover tons of bases. The MathType-esque software is useless without good, homogeneous font families and the fonts are useless without the right software.

Whatever you do, please hit the ball out of the park. :-)


// love what you do or do something else. //
Michael Ebert -- graphic designer, jazz saxophonist, horror movie devotee

Termopolium's picture

William Berson:

My main gripes are the following. I prefer umlauts that harmonize with the dot above the "i", they may be a bit smaller but not tiny. Others may think differently.

I dislike:
* fonts where the umlauts don't have the same basic shape the dots over the "i". For instance, in ITC Frankling, with round umlauts and a square "i" dot.
* also fonts where the umlaut dots/squares are tiny and not of the same proportion as the "i" dot. Example: Bitstream Franklin.
* fonts where the umlaut dots are placed too close together. Like Bitstream Franklin, again.
* Typefaces where the umlauts on the capital O sit like little ears almost on the sides. Like Typeshop Franklin (simply impossible to use).
* as an example of great umlauts in a Franklin, check out the Eisner+Flake cut. Now that's good umlauts and my favorite Franklin.

That's just off the top of my head. In fact many great cuts are ruined by poor umlauts.

I think it's pretty obvious that Swiss or German designers (languages with umlauts) pay more attention to this whereas for instance English- or French-speakers often do not.

William Berkson's picture

Thermopolium: So the i dot being higher than the umlauts is not a problem in your eyes, just the umlauts being too small?

poms's picture

The strange "baskerville"-g in Postscript-FF Meta, especially if set in display-sizes. I was not the only one... The new Meta has an alternative g to offer.

mili's picture

William Berson wrote: "If I’m not mistaken, you never have an i and an umlaut next to each other in German. Is that right? What about other languages?"

Well, yes, in Finnish you can have i and umlaut next to each other, eg. öitä, äiti, äimänkäki, mäihä...

Wouter Spaak's picture

To the people with problems concerning mathematic placement in technical documents;

wouldn't LaTeX (or any other TeX parser) be a solution? Though it has a steep learning curve, I find it great for typesetting anything with a lot of mathematical equations. The only big problem would be customising the look of the final document, as they usually look like university dictates.

ben_archer's picture

Hey Thomas – nothing wrong with that FF Meta lowercase 'g' IMHO. It's just part of the charm, especially at display sizes. But then I think Michael knew, with the original post, that one man's peeve is another man's perk (or indeed, that one man's perve is another man's pique!) – which is why he framed the question that way.

But then if you're picking holes in Meta you'd probably also claim that its punctuation is much too big...

As for could you take a moment to walk us through just how to adjust wordspacing?

I was trying to figure out how old a version of InDesign Michael must be using in order to avoid his 30 lashes for H&J laziness: the following screenshots are from InDesign CS and QX6 respectively (I haven't had the chance to look at QX7 yet but I would assume you'll find this in the same place)

In either case the mechanism is essentially the same and the resulting H&J can be incorporated into a specific style sheet within minutes – as Patty said 'it's a snap'.

mwebert's picture

ID2 has the same H&J settings... it's not the version that was the problem, it was my quick-and-dirty typesetting that day: set size & leading and move on.

Of course, when I have more time, I am in the habit of adjusting H&Js...indeed, it's a snap. But very often, I must confess that I simply grab a face and go.

Does that make me a hack? Perhaps. But I feel that many faces work well in text settings without custom H&Js. What does everyone else think? Should faces "require" H&J adjustments? Do most faces require them anyway, regardless of whether they should?


// love what you do or do something else. //
Michael Ebert -- graphic designer, jazz saxophonist, horror movie devotee

ben_archer's picture

Hey Michael

Does that make me a hack? well you said it, not me. I think you just answered your own question about pet peeves. Mine is laziness. Make that 90 lashes ye swab!

lotter's picture

You asked: `... really any good solution for typesetting mathematics with a sans.'

Math typesetting with a sans is quite unusual (at least in print --- about the only time I see it is in slide presentations). Some reasons for this were discussed in Johannes Küster's presentation on `Fonts for Mathematics' at ATypI 2004. A pdf of that (excellent) presentation is available at:


The only two (complete) math sans fonts that I know of are
* HV math (a sans `inspired by Helvetica'), and
* Computer Modern Bright (designed by Walter Schmidt),
both marketed by MicroPress:


Both of these come with LaTeX support; I have no idea how difficult it would be for you to use them in MathType (but at least they have a complete AMS symbol set, which should be adequate for almost all math typesetting).


mwebert's picture

Thanks so much for teh great links, Grant. I'll check 'em out.


// love what you do or do something else. //
Michael Ebert -- graphic designer, jazz saxophonist, horror movie devotee

TBiddy's picture

Sorry to keep raggin' on the "Q" in Thesis, but I completely agree. There should be an alternate, I also am not a big fan of it. But, this leads me to my typeface pet peeves.

1) Too few sans serif typefaces have "small caps." When setting copy or used to display many levels of information, this is a necessity for me.

I use Thesis a lot of the time for this reason. Zwo and Meta are the only others with small caps I can think of off the top of my head.

2) Too many sans serif typefaces don't have true italics. The sloped roman is simply not enough when setting a large amount of body copy.

3) The number 7 in Meno, too weird, almost a deal breaker.

4) I'd like to see more experimentation in the design of serif typefaces. While there are always exceptions, there doesn't seem to be enough experimentation in the design of these faces. Classics are beautiful, don't get me wrong...but I'd like to see some more modern approaches to serifs. Stormtype, Emigre and Font Font seem to be pushing the envelope to me along with a handful of smaller foundries.

Dan Weaver's picture

I have one comment how many times do you use certain charaters like a cap Q. Give me a break, just look at the most used characters and make decisions based on what you really see not imagined. I bet if you took all the characters on this thread you would have about a 1% cap Q's and thats because it was mentioned. That character might be used less than one tenth of one percent of the time in a document.

ben_archer's picture

I think Dan's right about this (and it crossed my mind to mention this at the initial rag on the Thesis Q). If it was such a problem one might have come up with a custom Q (either drawn or set as a compound character) and done a search and replace within the text to get rid of the (one or two?) dodgy Thesis Qs actually in the text.

The only time an idiosyncratic Q caused me a problem was at the beginning of my career. The job was done in Queensland, Australia so I should have thought about the incidences of Qs in the text beforehand, but in my naïvety I went ahead and set the whole thing in Bookman. Now there's an ugly Q...

But it turns out I was the only person who had a problem with it at the time. It still makes me shudder to see it.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The lowercase "g" in both Meta and Meta Serif always bothered me. I'm not a big fan of it in Scala neither.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

And I'd love to see a slimmed down bold weight of Dolly!
Proxima Nova's "a" makes me think twice.

poms's picture

@frode frank
The is an alternate a available for Proxima Nova … "futura-a style".

Frode Bo Helland's picture


The way it slims down towards the stem and how the top of the bowl curves down just bugs me. It doesn't look right. Having an alternate doesn't really fix my issue, cause I'd wanna use a two story "a" in such a beautiful face.

poms's picture

Ok Frode, then Marc Simmonson will loose a potential client. I don't like the two storey a either. The a is such an dominant letter that makes it sometimes nearly impossible to go with a typeface. I like the a in vista sans, or malaga – others don't.

bmcfann's picture

I like a capital "R" that sticks its leg out and tries to trip the next letter, like this (Albertina) one:

This (Utopia) one is too polite:

It seems to be saying "Oh, do you have enough room? How about if I cross my legs? Is that better?"


Christopher Adams's picture

For those still keeping score, the Q's of Luc(as) de Groot's TheSans:

neverblink's picture

a pet peeve of mine: The almost perfectly geometrically round oldstyle zero in Sabon, with no hint of weight distribution.

_Palatine_'s picture

Designers sometimes (alright, all to often!) try to make them different and quirky for the sake of doing so. It's better to make something good than to make something original. Just browse around Dutch Type Library's and Enschedé's offerings. It's occurred to me more than once that DTL Documenta and Documenta Sans is the only font family I'll ever need. A bit daft, I know, but no one ever got fired for using Documenta.

Take Dederon Serif. It's *actually* advertised as a Book font. Are they serious?

Ludwig Übele's Mokka is another example. Lately it's become fashionable for some reason to shape the top-most serif of the letter "a" into a sharp, downward-pointing beak. The reasons for this escape me, although it seems like an artful attempt at style. It doesn't aid reading, nor does it make text look good. Skolar seems to suffer from the same non-psittacine beak disease. Another example of what appears to be artfulness for its own sake is the bowl of the letter "a" in Mokka.

Renaissance Man's picture

I agree with pattyfab 6.Sep.2006 8.30pm

Often Emigre doesn't style link:

We don't do style link by default because many users prefer to select it themselves or the fonts don't fall into a traditional style. We can do that as a *custom job* if you like. —Tim Starback, January 26, 2010

I think that's crap, especially for mere mortals who use word processing programs.

hrant's picture

Cool thread.

Patricia mentioned ampersands - let me elaborate on my pet peeve
about them: the "E"+"t" style often renders an otherwise great font
unusable. Why do some designers insist on being anally historical?


Sindre's picture

"Å"s with the ring glued to the apex. Like this (Nobel):

Or this (Benton Sans):

... and before someone finds out that I just designed such an "Å" myself: I've changed it.

hrant's picture

But Sindre, quite often the saving of
vertical space there becomes critical.


Sindre's picture

Oh yes, I know. And while this is almost acceptable for a display face, it looks very clumsy in text settings. I'd say that Benton sans doesn't need this. Many Scandinavian newspapers use altered "Å"s for their headlines, with a half circle cut into the top of the "A" and the ring then lowered, without touching. Like this Swedish crap tabloid:

(Yes, this is awful, but that's the first example I found.)

_Palatine_'s picture


About the Q in TheSans.

Style for the sake of style. In most cases it just doesn't work because what often ends up happening is that the offending letter has nothing to do with any of the others.

hrant's picture

But you can't ignore style. And the "Q" is a great
place to express it because it can't harm much.


dezcom's picture

"...Like this Swedish crap tabloid"

I think you have defined the problem with your description. All tabloids which do the celebrity gottcha thing are universally crap. It is just there nature. If their content is from the toilet, so is there typography.

xo's picture


Looking at that tabloid makes my eyes hurt very much.

Sindre's picture

Er ... of course. My point was this and only this: An "Å" with the ring stuck to the body is so alien looking for us who actually use that letter (remember, this is not an "A" with a diacritic, but a letter in its own right) that we rather cut a half-moon out of the "A" part to make room for the ring. And yes, quality newspapers too use this solution.

Nick Shinn's picture

Those ultra bold headline faces, set with negative leading, could have their cap accents knocked out of the letters.
Are there any typefaces that have that feature?

In Polish, the cap acute accent is sometimes run across the letter.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Nick, there are a few of those in the Fancy Diacritics Flickr Pool, e.g. this Charlie Brown Umlaut (name credit: Stephen).

URW did this in their ‘Poster’ versions of heavy display typefaces, like City, Gill Sans Kayo, Antique Olive Nord or Odin:

It’s always the same principle. Effective and, in the majority of cases, quite ugly. I think that in Gill Sans, it doesn’t look all that bad.

Stephen Coles's picture

"Often Emigre doesn't style link … I think that's crap, especially for mere mortals who use word processing programs."

But they do have a point. What’s good for some is not good for all. Style-linking isn't great for Adobe CS users, or those who use a Regular, a Medium, and a Bold for instance. The solution — inelegant as it may be — is to offer separate versions to please both camps. This is FSI’s goal with Office FontFonts.

kentlew's picture

Sindre (satyagraha) -- Question: Is that opinion about the Å being separated widespread among readers in the various languages that use this character?

For instance, I had heard once from a Dane that the preferred form of Å is merged.

When designing Whitman Display, I was directed by FB to have the ring merge with the A. (Whitman text, on the other hand, has the two separated.) I didn't argue because I could find no definitive answer.

Jongseong's picture

I'm most familiar with Swedish, and I've only heard that Å should be separated. But I suspect most people don't really care either way.

Stephen Coles's picture

One of my favorite logos is a Swedish company with a combined Å.

Jongseong's picture

With a combined É as well, apparently. ;-)

My suspicion is that Swedes and others have become so used to seeing such stylized combined Å in logos and imported typefaces that it wouldn't bother them that much, even in text faces.

Sindre's picture

That kind of "Å" is perfectly all right for logos and stuff. (I too like the Åhléns logo). But for text use, I'd say it's no good. I asked several people at work today (two journalists, three editors and one typographer). Five of them thought the merged versions looked odd or ugly (I showed them Benton Sans and Nobel), while one of the editors thought the Nobel "Å" looked cool, but the Benton one looked weird. Neither of them had thought about this before.

Perhaps the Danes are more open to weird "Å"s because they started using it much later than we did (1948 vs. 1917, but some Norwegian writers, among them Henrik Ibsen, used it from the 1890s on).

eliason's picture

That scarlet A looks like it's ready to hang around Hester Prynne's neck!

mili's picture

I definately prefer Å unmerged, but would accept embedded one in poster/headline use or merged in logos.

This is a sample I found some years ago, it's a font (I tried to get it ID'd here with no luck). I'd prefer embedding to this treatment.

dezcom's picture

Mili, that looks like small caps. Is that what they did to all the cap diacritic glyphs?

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