questionmarkWhenever “you people” go off about fonts, I feel like someone’s AM-radio-loving grandpa trying to read SPIN magazine.

Can you tell me why some fonts are considered beautiful, others ugly? By what standards are they typically judged? Why do people hate Comic Sans and Arial?

— Mike
Toronto, Canada?

random adviceEasy answers first. Arial is widely condemned as a bastardization of Helvetica, a typeface so beloved you can watch a whole movie about it.

Comic Sans, like Zapf Chancery before it, enabled ordinary people to make extraordinarily ugly signs and newsletters by using it inappropriately. That’s why designers hate it. 1

Typefaces are a lot like clothing.

You need clothes to protect you from the sun and cold, and to keep people from staring at genitalia all day long. You need typefaces so people can read written works and signage.

There are important functional aspects to designing and choosing type, and good arguments to be made for why certain faces are appropriate in certain circumstances. You wouldn’t want to read a novel in Highway Gothic. You wouldn’t want street signs painted in New Century Schoolbook.

But beyond the extreme cases, typography is largely fashion. And you’re always welcome to not care about fashion.

  1. To be fair, if you read the backstory of Comic Sans, you’ll see it was created for a specific purpose, then went viral.