Archive through June 12, 2003

cph's picture

Even my design-saavy friends fail to sympathize when I groan at otherwise-decent designs that are unoriginal in their type selection. They say,

jfp's picture


jfp's picture

nothing against the designers of Din, nothing the first designers who start to use it, more against all others who follow without thinking 2 minutes.

cph's picture

Yeah. I should

matthew_dob's picture

din is still a lovely typface, IMO. I loved the opening credits of "One Hour Photo". It mad me think... oooh.
Now I have din (a client used it in their logo so I had to buy it). It has its uses, but it is not a font for all purposes. In moderation and big, din still has an effect on me. But I would never use it as a body font. Only for special circumstances.

nike's picture

eurostile extended

I like that typeface very much, but everytime when it should look a bit futuristic and designish I

John Hudson's picture


I used to quite like Minion, although as time goes by it seems less and less good regardless of its overuse. But it is overused, whatever one thinks of it. It has gotten to the point where I dread opening new books in shops, knowing how high is the probability of their being set in Minion. This is particularly true of North American editions.

danger's picture

Regarding Helvetica:

It has one use for which it is not stale: Nutrition information.
It looks really good there. Everywhere else, it just looks
as if it's the default

I'd vote for anything that comes installed on your (Mac) machine:
Times, Techno, Sand, Geneva, Chicago, etc. and Arial, Times New
Roman for the PC.


fuentes bo's picture

Why people use Arial? I don

Fabio Augusto's picture

A few days ago I counted five (5!)
magazines using Formata in the
frontcover and the body

A good case of OVERUSED TYPES!

Fabio Augusto's picture

Why people use Arial?

Perhaps... Because Arial is one of
the first options in fontmenu... ;D

(The same happens with Avant Gard...)

cph's picture

Impact, Compacta (movie titles)
Base 9/12

karen's picture

Helvetica Neue Ultra Thin used for fashion-related work
Gill Sans
Mini 7, which I love despite it's being overused

John, what's the quickest way to spot Minion?

> Why people use Arial?
Because it is free and if you want to send a word doc, setting it in Arial ensures that what you see is what they see.

animalism's picture

Peoples uses ARIAL because them haven't the helvetica typeface =)

hdschellnack's picture

Oh man, FF DIN is our house-font. It makes sense though, for a company named nodesign, bland as it is. I like the idea of using an almost faceless typeface for a company with that kinda name and attitude. Also, it works really nice with the very old-fashioned steel-engraving printing technique, which we used on letters and cards.

John Hudson's picture

John, what's the quickest way to spot Minion?

Probably the lowercase e:
Minion lowercase e

hrant's picture

That's pretty nasty.


porky's picture

hold on - it is possible to overuse Gill Sans now? ;)

Meta. (though I secretly like it)

fuentes bo's picture

"Peoples uses ARIAL because them haven't the helvetica typeface =)"
OK, just buy a Mac! ;)

eolson's picture

Yes! David secretly likes Meta.
Add me to that list.

I'll add Mrs. Eaves and Conduit to the oversused list. Without fail you can find both on the new release/new fiction tables at most book stores.

johnbutler's picture

I can always tell Minion by the y.

My biggest pet peeve right now is seeing Mrs. Eaves used on the dust jacket and then opening up the book to see body copy set in Times. The few books I've seen with Mrs. Eaves as body copy actually look quite nice.

keith_tam's picture

I'd say the most overused font is probably Helvetica/Arial/Swiss. I had a meeting with a potential client yesterday, and kind of hinted at my dislike of Helvetica. He immedialy said he never uses Helvetica, but he likes Arial and Swiss! OMG! His current business card is clearly set in Helvetica... Not sure whether I should work with him.

Meta is still used a lot. Helvetica of the 90s [chuckle].

Mrs. Eaves and Minion are probably the most overused serifed types in North America.

Not to mention Interstate. It's everywhere here.

And 90% of film titles use Trajan (actually works quite well on the movie screen).

How about typefaces that are underused?

ITC Charter is very underused. An extremely elegant workhorse type by Matthew Carter. I use it on my business card and all my general office things.

keith_tam's picture

Just thought I didn't have to restate the obvious ;-) You're right, Stephen. Times (New Roman) is still the most overused typeface, simply because it's on every single computer.

William Berkson's picture

OK, here's an amateur disagreeing.

Times New Roman is a great text face. Like Caslon, Baskerville or Garamond it will not wear out its welcome. It is just often wrongly used. For example on American letter size paper it, as a very condensed face, produces lines that are way longer than ideal. According to Bringhurst, the ideal is around 66 characters per line, and Times at 12 pt on letter paper with one inch margins is way longer than this. Courier is actually better on such a long line.

Minion is a Garamond with large x-height and also quite condensed, which is perhaps why it is so useful and used. Is it too condensed? Does it pull this off less well than Times?

I guess time will tell.

I think the issue of freshness applies much more to display type and overall design than to text types.

hrant's picture

A font wide enough to fill a letter-size page with one column of ~66 chars would be totally unreadable.

It's really a display face. It's too light, too contrasty and too "architectural" for optimal reading. Its vertical proportions are good, as is its condensation, but that's not enough to put it up there with the really good stuff. It used to be a text face when it was introduced as a metal (composition) face, "thanks" to ink gain (which increases weight and reduces contrast).


matteson's picture

>Minion is a Garamond with large x-height and also quite condensed

I've been under the impression for some time - perhaps due to fallacious reading (or worse: fallacious thinking) that Minion was more of a Venetian/Bembo sort of thing. Am I totally wrong? If so, could someone let me know so I don't make a total wank out of myself anymore. Thanks.


ps: not that it makes Minion any less "overused" in either case...

William Berkson's picture

>A font wide enough to fill a letter-size page with one column of ~66 chars would be totally unreadable.

Ok Hrant. The Courier l.c. alphabet at 12 pt. is 186 points wide. According to Bringhurst's table an alphabet of this width set 36 picas (6 inches) takes up 68 characters. So Courier will set a letter sized paper with 1 1/4 inch margins to almost the ideal.

Currently, movie scripts still have to be done in Courier, and many law firms still use it on all their stuff.

Not to mention that for forty years a huge amount of correspondence and manuscripts were done in Courier.

Were all these and are they still all unreadable?

jfp's picture

>Minion is a Garamond with large x-height and also quite condensed, which is perhaps why it is so useful and used. Is it too condensed? Does it pull this off less well than Times?

I can't agree with that!
Minion is too calligraphic to be a Garamond looklike, sorry. Too much contrast too. There too much presence of the action of the hand to be a true "typographical" typeface as Garamond or Time is.

Minion seems built on the idea of a new typeface with same economical quality as Times: similar xheight and similar proportions of the lc. A flavored Times in some way. Minion have some qualities.

hrant's picture

Well, "unreadable" is too harsh, I admit.
And you can always set long lines with extra leading, although that's not functional typography.

But Courier is no text face in my book (so to speak). Its wideness comes mostly through dysfunctionally loose spacing.


hrant's picture

> too much presence of the action of the hand to be a true "typographical" typeface as Garamond

Which Garamond?


William Berkson's picture

JFP, you beautifully describe Minion. Thanks! Your observation that Slimbach's ambition was to be usable where Times is usable is insightful.

I didn't mean to say that Minion was a copy of Garamond, only that Garamond seems to be its point of departure; it has calligraphic touches and opens up the a and e, etc. But there is still a noticable resemblence to Slimbach's Adobe Garamond - a more beautiful face, but not as adaptable. 'Myfonts' classifies Minion as 'Garald', which I guess is the term I should have used.

As you are the designer of very impressive Sabon Next, I would love to hear what you think are the strengths and weaknesses of Minion!

Hrant, of course Courier is not a text face. It is a typewriter face, but I find it telling that it is still widely used on letter sized paper. I much prefer the European A4 paper, which is narrower; but even it is wide. I would be interested whether Courier is still used in Europe for legal work, etc.

I think there is a gap for some enterprising designer to do a better very wide face for correspondence on letter or A4 paper.

freehand_guru's picture



how about everytime a new wild font comes out and then every designer from sheboygan to key largo use it until it is,, any font from House Industries

plubird's picture

Rotis, Rotis, Rotis
Gill, Arial, Times, Verdana (for Print, uhhh..)
most of the types the most other guys allready said

Helvetica? mmhh.. think it is more the Arial wich is overused :-)

I guess there a some designer who can use this overused stuff in an area where the overuse come to a special use (for the german user: look at brand eins and McK)

greets jens

PYMadlon's picture

I teach at a design school in Japan. For some reason, they always want to set their work in Sand, Comic Sans, Chicago, Courier and Charcoal.

Just today I had to have a desk crit with someone who used Gadget for her headlines.

Imagine. Just imagine.

But those in the know over here overuse Futura.

PYMadlon's picture

I used to work at a place where the Art Director had to have everything set in Bodoni and Gill Sans (or "Jill Sans," as she said). You would be working late into the night setting your work in any of the wide spectrum of typefaces available, and return in the morning to find that she had changed it all to Bodoni and Gill, like some evil little type gremlin.

To this day I can't stand Gill (that wacky little "e!") and I detest looking at Bodoni on a screen (the way the serifs and thin strokes blur on the scanlines... aaaargh!).

cheshiredave's picture

I thought the rule about 66 characters per line (I'd heard 65 -- 2.5 alphabets) had to do with setting a line in a book, not an 8.5" x 11" page. As I understand it, Courier is encouraged for manuscript pages (which, on the other hand, are letter-sized) because a page so set most closely predicts what a book-page setting (and subsequent page count, assuming roughly 250 words per page with double-spaced lines) will look like. Have I been mistaken all these years?

hdschellnack's picture

55 to 65 characters per line is the result of readability studies from the 60s and 70s, but also of the work from Jan Tschichold before that and even before the old Italian typesetters did it right intuitively. It has been proven that, because we read not single letters but by jumping in saccades over the printed page, that too short lines and too long lines are obstacles for the reader. Although this depends strongly on the content (a lexicon could have shorter lines as you're not reading a longer line but scan for information, a letter could have longer lines because it is shorter than a book text and -- sometimes -- more personally involving) and proportion of the medium itself, the basic rule applies to letter-sized and A4-publications as well, which is why on a standard letter page I almost never use the full width but try to proportionally find a good place for 55 to 75 cpl :-).

And yes, Courier is, if the margins are chosen correctly, pretty much exactly 55 to 65 characters per line on A4 in 12 pt. It's not a highly accurate prophecy of the printed page, though, as Courier and such are monospaced and a proportional typeface will behave a bit differently -- but I think all in all it's a solid enough guess to work practically. But of course you can achieve the very same effect these days with any other proportional font by just modifying the size margins accordingly -- it's nicer to read and you can actually use a proportional font (the text will, of course STILL flow differntly in Quark and InDesign, but at a Word-Document using the same typeface and the same characters per line should be just as accurate, if not even moreso than the Courirer-technique.

Courier, these days, is best use ironically and, of course, it's perfect if you want to make a letter look as if written by some kind of bureaucracy -- people actually read a letter printed in such a shabby Courier-Font more intensely asthey suspect/expect that it's official :-).

jay_wilkinson's picture

helvetica is god... these kinds of topics are ridiculous. if a typeface is good then it's good. it's bad designers that can't see the value in a classic typeface and in their need to think they are ahead of the pack jump from typeface to typeface. this is nothing more then a meager attempt to be sexy and fresh. at some point these designers grow up and learn to value great design not for it's style or trend but for it's inherent beauty and form, or they find a new line of work.

hrant's picture

> if a typeface is good then it's good.

When it comes to text faces, that's very true.
Unfortunately, Helvomita is neither.


hrant's picture


jay_wilkinson's picture


what is helvomita? is this a joke or something that i'm not getting.

jay_wilkinson's picture

joseph, i agree overall. helvetica is not really meant to perform as a text face though i've seen it done well in lighter book weights. over all it's a great workhorse though because it walks the line between text face and display face. this makes it great for setting headers as well as moderate amounts of copy.

my point here though is that there is a classicism in the realm of design that is so often over looked or missed. this happens when people so easily drop something because it's not cool anymore. the beauty of helvetica is that it's already been not cool for such a long time. so much so that it's become an ambiguous part of the world and it's communication. there's a lot to be said for a typeface that has worked itself so deep into the fabric of communication that it goes unnoticed. saying helvetica is overrated is like saying bread is overrated.

keith_tam's picture

I don't think I agree with you there, Jay. To the best of my knowledge, Helvetica has never really been so uncool. Yes, people stopped using it for a bit in the 90s, but now it is as cool as ever! It is back as the most trendy typeface. IMO, Helvetica is loaded with meaning, as the de facto Swiss modernist typeface. If you need something classic and somewhat invisible and neutral, Univers is a better choice, I think, not Helvetica. Semantically, I think, Helvetica conveys a yuppie lifestyle. We see it a lot in Vancouver, because it's a yuppie city! It's trendy!

Helvetica is not really suitable for setting continuous text at all. The letters were designed so that they wouldn't cohere well together - they are so individual and self-contained. The forms are terribly homogenous, making word recognition rather tough. Helvetica is simply not a good everyday workhorse. There are too many jobs that it won't do well in.

I think serif types are more invisible to the average reader. They don't notice it as much. If you use a sans, then they immediate associate it with 'modern'.

jay_wilkinson's picture

keith, helvetica was designed in the mid 1950's it is the predecessor to typefaces like adrian frutiger's univers. it was an attempt to create something to compete in europe with akzidenz grotesk. it was the typeface to end all typefaces in the 1960's and 70's then it fell out of use in the 80's because it was so popular. only to come back into use in the late 1990's because of the post modern aesthetic. now with the revival of modernism it has maintained a foothold with young designers because it is such a call back to institutional design of the past.

as far as it's robust use there are many older and wiser typographers then you or i that would disagree with you. the fact is that it has been used to set copy countless times. i agree with you that it's not the best text face out there but it's got a pretty damn good track record for a san serif. and that's not really open for debate.

hrant's picture

Helvetica is to Kievit what fruitcake is to bread.

> it's got a pretty damn good track record for a san serif.

So does the National Enquirer for a print medium.


jay_wilkinson's picture

bingo. that was my point from before. it has become so much a part of our fabric of communication that it goes unnoticed. just like the pulp tabloids at the check out have become. they become just a part of the texture around us.

to compare kievit to helvetica is a bad comparison it's like comparing optima to futura. one is ultra humanist while the other is ultra geometric. it's like apples and oranges. you may like oranges better but they don't compare well out side of your bias.

keith_tam's picture

I think the very reason why Helvetica was so popular was because it had a hell lot more attitude than the humble Univers, which was a contemporary essentially (they're just a few years off). It wasn't something to compete with Akzidens Grotesk as such, but a 'new and improved' version of it (with all the nice bits stripped out). In a way, Univers could have been as popular as Helvetica if it was only a functional universal typeface that designers were after. But IMO, it wasn't like that.

Is Helvetica robust? Of course not. There are a lot more robust typefaces than it. The counters are not very open, therefore it's prone to confusion. Sadly, they are used a lot for directional signage (e.g. Vancouver street signs) and it's not the best choice, functionally speaking.

A typeface with a good track record doesn't mean that it's necessarily an inherently good typeface. It just sold well and it was just one of the few that was available on most typesetting machines. Letraset also made a lot of Helveticas (I have a whole drawerful under my desk right now). It was a default font on the Mac. So it's never the sheer goodness of a typeface that makes it popular.

> to compare kievit to helvetica is a bad comparison it's like comparing > optima to futura. one is ultra humanist while the other is ultra > geometric. it's like apples and oranges. you may like oranges better > but they don't compare well out side of your bias.

Really? I don't think so somehow. Kievit is a much 'better' typeface for reading of any long continuous text than Helvetica, because of its humanist forms - the letters flow into each other effortlessly. So, when you have a criteria established (say, compare Kievit and Helvetica for the setting of the contiouous text for an entire book) then of course the result is obvious.

jay_wilkinson's picture

helvetica is much more popular then universe because it is a better typeface. i love adrian frutiger and he's a great type designer but univers falls short. it just looks awkward. it ,as well as helvetica, were reaching for the same thing and helvetica just did a better job of achieving it. like i said before i think this is apparent in it's track record and wide usage. granted i can jive with the whole "80% of the world likes brittney spears but that doesn't mean she's good, thing" but i just don't think that pertains here and i'm amazed that anyone would even go there. i mean for god sakes we are talking about helvetica here aren't we. it's kind of like saying the beatles suck because the never played heavy metal. but yet heavy metal owes everything to the beatles.

is helvetica robust? yes. the counters are as open as i've seen in a long time. i'm not sure what cut or weight you're looking at, but damn it's pretty open in there.

like i said before comparing a lineal humanist to a lineal geometric is drastic and you'd have to be stupid in the head to think that a geometric face sets better for running copy then a humanist face but that's not my point. my point is and has been that helvetica is a great all around face it sets better then any other face we've talked about for display and does a pretty bang up job at setting moderate amounts of text in book weight.

keith_tam's picture

May be this illustration would help?


Miss Tiffany's picture

If Helvetica is popular, then it hasn't disappeared into the subconscious of the populous. --- Helvetica is decent enough for annual reports and brochures, but not for books. --- Let us all dust off our copies of Stanley Morison's "First Principles of Typography" (I know you have a copy, admit it!) --- People were (are) often confused about what Mr. Morison was talking about. He himself had to clarify, years later, that he was indeed talking about typography for books. --- I think that it is important to qualify and clarify "what kinds of typography". --- I have to agree with Keith (and Hrant). Helvetica isn't good for long setting of type. Now. I also think that Jay would agree with that. I'm trying to read between the lines here. Helvetica is not a good read. I'd go bonkers. Doing research on the use of space in typography yielded some very painful reads when I started to cover the swiss time period. M

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