What’s the Importance of Fonts?

When you’re a graphic designer 95/100 times you don’t get to do the most creative thing you can think. Usually, this is because the most creative thing isn’t always the best choice, and on top of that, the client usually has pretty strictly defined what they want. This can lead to some frustration. So, whenever I’m in public I have this habit of looking too closely at the things that have been designed, to note the good and point out the bad. There are a lot of times when my family will catch me giving an intense look at some storefront, sign, or commercial, and instead of asking what’s wrong they glance at the sign to see if they recognize what I’m about to say next. Papyrus, Comic Sans, Bebas, Helvetica, Futura, Georgia, Myriad Pro, Impact. If one of these fonts get spotted in public I almost instinctively have to call it out- some in a more positive light than others. Though I’ve only been in graphic design for 5 years, it’s always been easy to pick on Comic Sans and Papyrus for being so overused and misused, but that doesn’t make them bad fonts. In fact, it more so makes for bad designers.

To elaborate: all fonts have a purpose. There is nothing wrong with a teacher using Comic Sans to give classroom rules for their students. There is nothing wrong with using Papyrus to make an Egyptian style poster. The problem arises when small business owners design their own logo in Microsoft Word. Those fonts then are the only ones that stand out as unique, and when you haven’t spent hours and hours looking at established logos they seem like the best, most creative option. In reality, using one of those fonts is the least creative decisions you can make as well as one of the worst decisions that can be made for your brand.

It’s not a decision that only gets made at ground level small and local businesses, Saturday Night Live made a skit based on the fact that the James Cameron movie Avatar uses Papyrus in their logo. The general manager of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers wrote a statement about LeBron James leaving the team in Comic Sans. Orange County Florida has all of their Sheriff’s vehicles inscribed with “Making a Difference” in Comic Sans. But why do designers hate those two fonts so much?

Almost instinctively when you look at a car you can say whether or not you think it looks good or not, even if you’re don’t care much about them at all. If you start to learn the fundamentals of car design aerodynamics what quickly follows is an ability to spot things in car design that work well together. The vent to the left of the hood is made to help cool the brakes, the rear spoiler helps give better grip when handling curves, etc. The same thing happens when you learn design fundamentals. The same logo would be much more appealing if your logo used a different font than comic sans or papyrus. Period.

some fonts are bad in graphic design

some fonts are bad in graphic design

Comic Sans looks extremely unprofessional. There’s a reason you won’t see Comic Sans in the Times or the Post, it’s childish. The Fonts used in a logo and branding should reflect characteristics of the company. It shows your business doesn’t understand how to brand itself; and if you can’t brand yourself properly, customers can tell. When customers see an unattractive logo with the font they used in second-grade spelling tests, it speaks miles about a company’s competence and self-awareness.

There are only a few types of fonts: Serifs (fonts with calligraphy/pen marks), Sans Serifs (fonts without pen marks”), Script (Handwritten look), and Decorative (extremely stylized). Each style gives a different feel and can be interpreted to mean different things regarding the brand they represent. Not all types work for every business. For instance, here is the retailer Francesca’s logo normally (in Papyrus) and a few alternative versions.

So sure, the second one down, the serif font maybe doesn’t entirely work for them. However, the last two examples already do a greater service to the logo than papyrus. Each of them demonstrates a more polished and better-suited look. A scripted writing of the word/name has a personal feel. (Small side note that some people will credit papyrus and comic sans with either a rustic, artistic, or warm feeling design-wise. So, it’s important to note that you can always achieve the same feeling or better with better-suited fonts.) A thin Sans Serif is found commonly in the clothing industry to represent sleek and trendy products.

This took maybe 20 minutes to make these examples. That is why graphic designers can get so upset over something simple like a font. Any design you see, someone got paid for it. Even bad logos, posters, signs, everything. When we see a poor design, it hurts. Very simple changes can have such positive effects on branding. The most creative design isn’t always the best design.