A type 101 banned fonts list

blank's picture

This semester I decided to add a banned fonts list to the syllabus for my typography class. I did this not because I don’t want to see certain fonts, but because I feel that some students get hung up on simple office and academic document styles because it’s all they know, and I hope that taking away the fonts they associate with such work will push them creatively without discouraging critiques. I’ve tried to just ban a few common fonts without going after (relatively) less commonly used system fonts like Futura, Palatino, and Hoefler Text. And my students all have access to lab computers with excellent font collections. Am I missing anything in this list?

Arial
Century Gothic
Georgia
Helvetica
Impact
Papyrus
Times New Roman
Trebuchet
Verdana

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I remember reading about design students overusing Futura (at Design Observer, I think). Perhaps it should go. At least Futura Bold for blockbuster movies. And while I’m at it: Trajan.

Other:
Haettenschweiler and Tw Cen MT

blank's picture

I remember reading about design students overusing Futura…

They do, but not because they’re used to using it in generic contexts. And comparing text set in Futura with a text face is always a good lesson. And as for Trajan, I doubt most of my students will even know what it is.

Si_Daniels's picture

Ban nothing and let your prejudices come out during the crits. Public humiliation is the best way to enforce your views on your students.

riccard0's picture

I suppose Comic Sans is OK, then? ;-)

Aure's picture

I'm curious to know what will be coming out of this font restriction...
I think it could be a "tough" but positive way to boost your students creativity.

blank's picture

Ban nothing and let your prejudices come out during the crits. Public humiliation is the best way to enforce your views on your students.

You’re misinterpreting this. My goal is to teach students to work with type in ways that they don’t already. I don’t teach at an art school, so many of my students will have little experience with type aside from stuff like school papers, resumes, and basic office work. They only get one semester of typography in this program—which is also their core design class–so it’s important that I get them to think beyond the basics ASAP.

aluminum's picture

I sort of agree with sii...though maybe toning down the humiliation part. ;)

Critique, IMHO, is a huge part of design school...both giving and taking. If a student used Georgia, AND they can justify the use of it in the piece, more power to them. If they can't, then that comes out in the critique with the class.

EDIT...ack...just read your comment that it's not an art/design school. So scratch the above. What kind of degrees are these students pursuing?

JamesM's picture

To students in a beginner-level class, I wonder if the word "banned" might imply that these are bad fonts, when in fact fonts like Helvetica and Times are good fonts that have just been overused. I'm not sure what other word to suggest, though.

blank's picture

What kind of degrees are these students pursuing?

Some are art students concentrating on design, but I can also get anything from history to English to business. So while it would be nice to work everything out in three years of critiques, time is not a luxury I have.

…I wonder if the word "banned" might imply that these are bad fonts…

I use the word “forbidden” in my syllabus and it will be made clear that these are only forbidden in the context of this class.

oldnick's picture

my students all have access to lab computers with excellent font collections

Actually, all of your forbidden fonts are excellent, in their own ways and for specific purposes. Instead of forbidding their use, perhaps you might suggest that they not be used except for "good cause," which the student would be allowed to offer and defend. One man's fish is another man's poisson...

blank's picture

Nick, the point of this is not to keep the students from using fonts that I don’t like. It’s to take away some of their most common tools and force them to find new ones.

William Berkson's picture

James, it's likely to go down better with students if you put it positively: "To get your creative juices flowing, we're going to do an activity where you use new fonts, not one of the standard ones available that you're familiar with..."

oldnick's picture

the point of this is not to keep the students from using fonts that I don’t like.

I didn't think it was, and I apologize if that's the impressions I conveyed in my post. What I DID say is that font choices should be thoughtful; I am reasonably confident that we could agree that, if the subject were—say—"mindless conformity," that Arial or Times New Roman would, in fact, be excellent choices.

quadibloc's picture

Since the lab computers have excellent collections of fonts, I suppose that the students will not have much of a problem substituting Baskerville, or Century Expanded, or Caledonia, say, for Times New Roman for... prosaic... purposes.

I see you did ban Papyrus; in that case, I'd almost say "why bother", but perhaps there will be an assignment that will now challenge them to find another face that says something similar.

Randy's picture

The goal here is to get students to think critically about the type they chose? I wonder if it would be more instructive work it in reverse and charge a $100 material fee for purchase of no more than 2 fonts. They would need to use those fonts, and only those fonts for the semester (or quarter). Would be eye-opening and probably painful for some! (you might have a vetted list). What does it mean to own a font? What is good value? How to wring the most from your type? Alternatively, you could have them select one text face and one display face from the library to use for the semester.

Perhaps a semester is a bit long :-/

twiggy's picture

Limiting fonts used isn't a bad idea, we once did a project during my degree where the class was provided with only the option of 3 fonts and it was surprisingly enjoyable and impressive to see different takes on them used in a simple invitation design.

javierga's picture

Calibri?

I imagine they'll end up using office 2007 at some point...

visualspark's picture

Yeah Calibri.. Dont forget the Apple default for the hip new iKids, Myriad or Lucida.

dberlow's picture

If, when one takes away "students" most common types (default fonts), which have been bundled for their flexibility and produced for high quality results, and thus are quite often used correctly by students for non-design things they do everyday, one should also be asking them to do things with fonts quite different from what they do everyday, it seems to me.

So, ban shman, if you "don’t want to see certain fonts" you just have to give them design problems that would be demonstrably better with something else.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Dear James,

I am of the belief that typography professional should be able, or at least try, to make the best use of any typeface, overused or underused. Even if I don’t like it. This is what I teach… I see no point in blacklisting typefaces, Arial, or Papyrus, or Comic Sans, or Souvenir, or whatever. This restriction may send the students a wrong message: that typography is about using pretty fonts. Which it isn’t. It’s like Vignelli said, ‘In other words, it’s not the type but what you do with it that counts’.

dezcom's picture

Banned in Boston was a sure way to get a movie to be a blockbuster hit.
Truthfully, there is no font that should be banned. Teach them how to use fonts, not how to create prejudices about them.
When your students look back at your class in 20 years, this is not what you want them to remember from you.

Nick Shinn's picture

I'm with Twiggy and Maxim.
Give them all the same project and the same typeface to work with.
Making the typeface part of the brief is consistent with working in-house for a corporate brand or a publication, where there is no choice in the matter.

dezcom's picture

For one of my earliest typography assignments from Ken Hiebert, we were all given the same galley proof with all the text for a mail-order book store. The text was all set in one font in one size and strung together in a continuous stream. The assignment was to design a sensible and easy to use order form, using only space and positioning as a means. We had 3 hours to design and paste it up.
I learned more in that three hours about using type than at any other time in my life.

Nick Shinn's picture

I bet you hated it at the time, though.

microspective's picture

Dez, I enjoyed your last entry so much I felt the need to click the "Like" button, but alas, it wasn't there...

dezcom's picture

Nick, Actually, only the first 10 minutes were glum-faced. We soon got past the WTF part and were entranced in the world of "movable" type .

dezcom's picture

The point of the assignment was that all typography problems come with constraints--they often seem unreasonable to a design student. After they graduate and work a few years, they find that real-world client constraints can be even more stifling. What you learn is that constraints open up a micro world which you never would have noticed if you had all avenues open to you. I learned to LOVE constraints. It was much easier if space, time, and architecture were limited--even if it WAS more challenging.

JamesM's picture

> I learned to LOVE constraints.

Absolutely. Although constraints can be frustrating, they force you to think.

blank's picture

Making the typeface part of the brief is consistent with working in-house for a corporate brand or a publication, where there is no choice in the matter.

Wonderful idea, Nick. I’ll definitely start approaching some project briefs this way.

russellm's picture

Speaking as an in-house designer who has spent years working with Helvetica, and for whom it was a big day when my employer switched to a different typeface for signage, I second Nick's advice :o)

Nick Shinn's picture

Nonetheless, I also think that being able to choose an appropriate, non-standard typeface, and set it well, is an important thing to learn. So I do like your idea, James.

But if you specify a less familiar face (or combination thereof) to work with, then they will have to address working with it from scratch, and that face will act as a benchmark for the class as a whole, so that comparing their work amongst themselves will be a useful educational process.

quadibloc's picture

It certainly is true that an assignment where the typeface is chosen is a useful exercise. But I don't think that has relevance to whether or not a banned font list is a good idea.

Presumably, many different types of exercise belong in a typography course. Some that address working with elements other than choice of typeface. Some that address working with a very limited choice of typeface - in which case, in real-world situations, it might well be that the only fonts available would form a list very similar to the banned font list here.

But some exercises might well involve an open-ended choice of typeface. In that case, banning the most well-known typefaces to encourage the students to more fully explore the alternatives available seems an entirely reasonable thing to do.

Since this is an introductory course, though, some of the students may not be familiar with too many different typefaces; operating systems don't come with a simple command that says "create a specimen sheet of all the fonts installed on the system". (One older word processor puts the entry in the drop-down menu for each face in that face, but that can clearly cause problems with symbol fonts.) So I could imagine some students simply experiencing difficulty in finding a suitable face for an assignment because they don't know where to look.

So I hope their textbooks or other course materials give them an idea of what a number of different faces look like, so they have a reference point to start from.

Maxim Zhukov's picture
  • operating systems don't come with a simple command that says "create a specimen sheet of all the fonts installed on the system".

No, they don’t. That happens to be one of the first assignments I give to my students: ‘Make an inventory of the fonts you have on your computer, and try to break them into groups with shared characteristics’ (at that point we discuss the existing classification systems and, what’s very important, the classifiable features of the typefaces).

dezcom's picture

Maxim.
I once had a designer working for me who categorized her fonts with very intriguing categories:

Curly things
Old looking stuff
Swissy
Ladies Home Journal
Boy Toys

She had good reasons for such names and it worked better for her than Oldstyle, Transitional, and Modern :-)

robb's picture

maybe force them to use a selection of curated free fonts for an assignment, then make them manually kern them compared to the originals undoubtedly knocked off? Teaches "you get what you pay for," spacing, and the ability to hunt for variety that you want to encourage.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Dez, I had the same impulse as Raymond. Your comment is a keeper.

James, I did things two different ways. There were assignments where I assigned the typeface because the practice of setting type was more important than picking the typeface. And there were assignments where I'd leave it open to them. But I did have a conversation with the students that always discussed what the system fonts are there for and when and why they might be used. I am sure I had some snarky things to say as to why we'd never use them in print, but at the end of the day I was trying to show the students that the system fonts, while not strictly verboten, were not appropriate in their work.

Maxim Zhukov's picture
  • at the end of the day I was trying to show the students that the system fonts, while not strictly verboten, were not appropriate in their work.

  • What exactly do you mean by ‘system fonts’? Fonts used by, or shipping with, operating systems, Windows or Mac OS? Like Tahoma, Lucida Grande, etc.? Or installed with a browser? Or all fonts that come with applications, like Adobe CS5, or MS Office?

microspective's picture

@Tiffany
Your link currently points to a different post than I was referring to. I was actually talking about this one. ; )

Si_Daniels's picture

>Curly things
>Old looking stuff
>Swissy
>Ladies Home Journal
>Boy Toys

These categories work equally well for every object currently in my office.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Maxim, I meant fonts that ship with the OS (mac or windows). I never told the students not to use the fonts which shipped with Adobe's software. But, and again, I did ALWAYS emphasize that because so many people had access to the Adobe fonts that they would be able to impart more own-ability for their clients by use fonts that weren't used as much.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Raymond: Oh. That one is great as well.

Maxim Zhukov's picture
  • I meant fonts that ship with the OS (mac or windows).

Do you really consider all those system fonts, both Mac and Windows, unusable? Why? Some of them are excellent, and some very good.

Charles_borges_de_oliveira's picture

Any font can look good when used properly and smartly. Heck a turd could look good if the positive and negative space are harmonious. :-O

dave nalle's picture

I've actually written several articles exactly on this topic, ironically targeting some of my own designs which I feel have been extremely overused. In particular I take exception to the excessive use of my Abaddon font, which seems to appear on every bad metal band logo or album cover ever since it was used for their logo by Godsmack.

I think the original article on the topic is on my old blog which isn't accessible anymore, unfortunately, but you can see the font by searching at http://www.fontcraft.com

Dave

blank's picture

In particular I take exception to the excessive use of my Abaddon font, which seems to appear on every bad metal band logo or album cover ever since it was used for their logo by Godsmack.

I’ve noticed that as well, but Abaddon is much better than back when everything metal/goth/industrial was set in Morpheus. And really, that’s what you get for naming a font after a wargaming fiction character who’s quite popular with metalheads ;)

Nick Shinn's picture

... I take exception to the excessive use of my Abaddon font ...

The gentleman doth protest too much.

A Pen Name and That A's picture

Yeah, Dave, let me help you:

ATTENTION: DAVE NALLE'S FONTS ARE VERY POPULAR!

geoh777's picture

Banning, restricting, removing choices is such a good idea in the context of artistic and/or other expression.

Theunis de Jong's picture

Geoh77, thanks for reviving this thread (for whatever reason).

But I agree with Nick and Dez: the term banning suggests the listed ones are "bad fonts". The proposal, giving students a brief to use a particular font, gives them incentive to peruse other means of design instead of just selecting the boldest font they can find.

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