I once saw a skit called “Font Gang Wars”. In the production, gang members forwent guns in favor of fonts, yelling wicked barbs of Comic Sans! and Lucida Calligraphy! and wielding sharp serifs to wound and maim their adversaries. I do believe I was the only one laughing my ass off. “Yes!” I cried, “That font has been used to death and now it causes death! Brilliant!”
The democratization of fonts made possible by the PC, it seems, has had an unintended effect—fonts are now so well-known, they can be satirized. I don’t just mean using Comic Sans to typeset everything so it seems “more funny” (an actual justification I once heard), I mean that common fonts are so pervasive that it is no longer the sole right of designers to make fun of them. Designers do cringe when we see a misused font, and take solace in that we are not the only profession to see our sacred tools made profane (doctors, accountants and travel agents to name a few). We just have to remember to laugh at ourselves, since anyone who takes their profession too seriously probably needs to lighten up (except you, doctors).
When the documentary on the renowned Helvetica made its Chicago debut at the Gene Siskel Film Center, who could have predicted it would become their top grossing film of all time? Surely, it was not just design geeks flocking to this tale of the birth of the modern font. Non-designers must have also been interested in learning how fonts shape our daily lives and the messages they projected, or why Helvetica was revered by some and despised by others. What they didn’t expect was a great deal of humor and pathos in a film about a font designed to be more “machine-like.”
Fonts have a power in themselves to communicate a meta-message above and beyond the letters and words they spell out. One popular example would be to take the word STOP on stop signs (set in Helvetica) and replace it with everyone’s favorite invitation text, Vivaldi. At best people would laugh and at worst they would simply ignore it. Who would take such a thing seriously? The letters are the same, but what it communicates is an invitation to not RSVP.
I’m grateful that fonts have now entered our popular lexicon to the point where lampooning them has become commonplace. Satire can make something less threatening so you feel more bold to try something new. Even if that means that we designers have to cringe at a menu with five fonts splattered all over the cover. It’s a small price to pay for a few chuckles and a chance to feel like we’re in on a joke.
With that, I leave you with my favorite font satire to date; the anthropomorphication of the most popular fonts in the world is a priceless reminder of what your font says about you.
For more font related humor, The Onion has had a long love affair with sending up fonts:
The Onion: Area Client Would Like A Different Font
The Onion: Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys
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