Paul Shaw: Fonts that could have been great

eliason's picture

My favorite line: "Weiss Antiqua has an exclamation point that is so short that it looks to be in danger of vanishing entirely. It is not a bang but a whimper."

Nick Shinn's picture

One man's bugs are another's features.


Many of the typefaces mentioned ARE great, despite the flaws that Mr Shaw identifies, so the premise of the title doesn't make sense.
He's not going to discuss types that no-one has heard of, that might become great if the odd mistake were fixed up.

It seems that a typeface can become great despite fonts with the occasional contentious glyph.

hrant's picture

Sometimes. And sometimes a typeface becomes great because of a flaw! But there's also room to discuss fonts that suffer from hamartia: they're virtuous and capable, but have a fatal flaw that ends up killing them (at least for 95% of users). Like what's that font with the way too peculiar question mark?


hrant's picture

Oh, it's in the article! :-) Schneidler Medieval.


dezcom's picture

A typeface may be deemed great when some skilled user has found the perfect use for it and has done a very good job of using it. This may come soon after release of the face or years later. A particular quirk in a glyph that does not seem to sit well with some percentage of users only helps to bring that font to be discussed and therefore more well known. There have been times when a thing is looked upon as an odd quirk and times when that same thing has seemed quite normal to most viewers. The Gill Sans binocular g was seen as quite odd during the 60s-70s when AG, Helvetica, and Univers were the accredited fonts in use. During the earlier days, of Gill Sans, there was not so much a problem as it was an expected form in the tradition of the English. It also came back in the late 80s-90s as a proper g, fit for the face. There was a big surge in use of the sans binocular g in what we call humanist sans in the past half dozen years--most notably by talented Dutch type designers of our time. Even though this form of g can be quite problematic at bolder weights and smaller sizes because it can look too dark when small yet too light when big. That is not to say type designers were trying to be quirky. We can only speculate on what enticed them to choose a certain form. Some may love the challenge, some wanted a more pronounced distinction from other sans or even other glyphs, some just may have wanted to better match a serif face or a historic reference. Would not a quirk by some other name be cloaked as normal?
Basically, it is my belief that a typeface is tapped for knighthood as "Great" by users much more than by type designers. Users have fickle ways of turning on an accepted face with disgust or "rediscovering" a disgraced face face some years later when it is not only "good again" but chic. In many cases, it is just popularity that breeds contempt and they go the way of Helvetica and Disco. Don't be surprised when your grandchildren reintroduce Disco Dancing and revert to that very hip and sweet face known as Helvetica ;-)

Nick Shinn's picture

…what's that font with the way too peculiar question mark?

Futura. Which also has a funny "j" and "t". But Renner's really weird "g" and "a", and his stick-and-ball "r", never made the final cut.

These days, it's possible to cover one's bets, with Stylistic Alternates in the OpenType format. For instance, Adobe Jenson relegates the authentic "M", with its top inside serifs, to alternate status, the default being conventional.

dberlow's picture

NS> One man's bugs are another's features.

You mean like having perfectly nice fonts except that the i and j dots are shaped like commas?

Synthview's picture

Interesting article and of course leaving wide room for subjective evaluations.
I'm surprised the awful FUTURA BOLD "S" is not considered a flaw. I must have missed something…

rtaylor's picture

When the article originally appeared on Imprint, it was called "Flawed Typefaces"

The title "Fonts that could have been great" was presumably conceived by someone at to give the piece broader appeal, and doesn't fairly reflect the content.

quadibloc's picture

The E in Collector Comic from Canada Type is an example of a contentious glyph...

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