Are These the World’s 8 Worst Fonts?

Garfield says this is the worst font in the world.

I’ve just run across a long, funny, and informative blog post called “The 8 worst Fonts in the World.” It was published on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog several months ago by Simon Garfield, author of a book about typefaces called Just My Type.

Garfield’s selection of the worst fonts is not based on scientific study but on how he happens to feel about these fonts. It is subjective, and he makes no claim that it is otherwise. These are simply the fonts he dislikes the most.

But from having written his 2010 book on typefaces, Garfield knows something about fonts, their design, and their histories. He knows what makes one typeface look good on the page or screen and how it achieves the designer’s goal. And he knows why other typefaces fail.

In making his selection, he did put some limitations on the fonts he considered for this ranking. For instance, he did not include Comic Sans because most people who know anything about type (and many who don’t) dismiss this typeface as having no merit at all and because “it’s harmless and even benign,” he says.

Likewise, he has left out “the virtually illegible outer-limits fonts,” such as Grassy (that he calls “a type with hair”) and Scrawlz (that he says looks “like writing by a 3- or 103-year-old.”) Including typefaces such as these, he says, would be “just too easy.”

Below is Garfield’s list of the world’s worst fonts. You can see samples of these fonts on his blog post at http://ow.ly/fahy6.

8. Ecofont

Garfield begins the list with his selection of the eighth worst font in the world, Ecofont, which is filled with holes and looks as if it were hit with buckshot. He calls it “the string vest and Swiss Cheese of fonts.”

7. Souvenir

About Souvenir, Garfield quotes one designer asking what the font is a souvenir of and answering his own question with, “A souvenir of every ghastly mistake ever made in type design gathered together . . . .”

6. Gill Sans Light Shadowed

Garfield says that Gill Sans Light Shadowed was “designed to suggest the effect the sun would cast over thin raised letters,” but this effect wears thin in a hurry.

5. Brush Script

Garfield’s fifth worst font has been around since the 1940s, he says, and has been overused on documents like college magazines and menus printed by restaurants “featuring Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad on a bed of Brush Script.”

4. Papyrus

Designers wanting to give their documents an Egyptian feeling often turn to Papyrus. But most recently, it was called on to help create the other-worldliness of the movie Avatar. Garfield says this highly expensive movie used “the cheapest and least original font it could find.”

3. Neuland Inline

Joining Papyrus as the other “theme park” font on Garfield’s list is Neuland Inline. In the same way Papyrus says “Egypt,” this typeface shouts “Africa.” It can be found, he suggests, on many posters promoting amateur productions of The Lion King.

2. Random Note

This font is supposed to represent letters cut from magazines. But since it doesn’t look very realistic, Random Note is best used for comic effect, Garfield says.

1. The 2012 Olympic Font

The worst font in the world, according to Garfield, is the one designed for the 2012 Olympics in London and known as 2012 Headline. He says that it is “surely the worst new public typeface of the last 100 years.”

I don’t know if these really are the worst fonts in the world, but I can say that I don’t find any of them interesting, and I see no reason to choose them for my projects. Certainly, I don’t use any of them on this blog or in my emails or other documents.

The Wrong Message

The note stuck to the headboard of our bed in the hotel room said, “Duvet covers & sheets are clean for your arrival.”

The grammar-conscious, observant reader would, first, notice the missing period at the end of the sentence in this note. And then wonder why whoever printed it would take the time and care to choose a friendly, handwritten-inspired typeface, print the message on a Post-it note, and put it on our headboard—but not proofread it to catch the errant period.

As important as correct punctuation is, something more significant trumps the missing period in this sentence: the overall message.

Some guests, I’m sure, wonder what inspired the local hotel manager or the executives of the hotel chain to leave such a message. Did they really think that telling guests that the linens were clean when they arrived would make them feel better during their stay?

It doesn’t.

Telling guests that the linens are clean this time only forces them to question whether they were not clean the last time they checked in. It causes them to wonder why there weren’t notes saying that the bath towels and face cloths were clean, too, and other notes pointing out that the carpet had been vacuumed and the counters washed.

We’ve stayed in this hotel perhaps ten times over the past four years and never felt the need to question whether the linens were clean or whether anything else was not up to our expectations. The note, however, landed as an apology, an apology for not having done a good job in the past and for having gotten caught in this failure. It seemed as if management was trying to make up for past mistakes.

Making sure the linens are clean, one would assume, is a given at any hotel in America. It’s a fundamental part of being a hotel, in fact.

One wonders how diners would feel if they sat down in their favorite restaurant and found on the table a note stating, “Tonight we are going to cook your meal,” or how airline passengers would feel hearing the flight attendant say, “Welcome aboard. Today, we are going to miss all the other planes in the sky and land safely at our destination.”

It seems clear that no business needs to point out that its employees have done the fundamental tasks of their jobs. Such declarations undercut the intended message, leaving hotel guests, diners, or airline passengers questioning whether they should look for another hotel, a new restaurant or a different airline. Even for the most ardent customer, it weakens confidence in the company.

Neither a company nor its customers benefit when communicators skip the effort to thoroughly think through what they are trying to say and when they fail to consider how the words they choose will actually be received.

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Update

About nine months after we last stayed at this hotel, we visited it again this past week.IMG_0437

The note about clean duvet covers and sheets is still stuck to the headboard. Perhaps more surprising, though, is that this sign (to the right) is now fastened, like a 1 ½’ x 2’ piece of art inside one of the hotel elevators.

Although trying to look up-to-date and catchy, this sign continues to stress the same wrong message first delivered by the note stuck to the headboard.

Announcing the Higgs Boson in Comic Sans

Scientists at the European research agency CERN announced recently that they had (or may have) discovered the Higgs boson, a new subatomic particle, which they believe gives mass to elementary particles.

This scientific discovery, which scientists have been looking for since around the middle of the last century, ranks among the most important in history, up there with the discoveries of gravity, of the earth’s being round, the theory of relativity, the TV remote control, and bacon & eggs.

The Higgs boson is so significant it’s often referred to as the “God Particle.” According to The New York Times, it’s “a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe,” and without its force field, “There would be neither atoms nor life.”

With the announcement of such an important discovery, one would expect the news coverage and social media posts to be all about it’s meaning to the human race’s past and future. Much of it was.

But a good amount of the discussion was about the typeface used by the scientists in their slide presentation accompanying the announcement: Comic Sans.

This discussion was not positive.

Comic Sans was developed by Microsoft for a children’s comic package. It is hated by many type enthusiasts because, they say, it’s not a well-crafted typeface; it is, indeed, child-like; and, worse, it is a cartoonish font. Holly Combs, who founded the Ban Comic Sans movement, is quoted in the Guardian as saying “that using it in most contexts is a bit like turning up to a black-tie event in a clown costume.”

The announcement of the Higgs boson discovery is, for sure, a black-tie affair, if being “black-tie” means being the most serious of occasions.

That’s why the critics feel the typeface is completely wrong for the announcement. One tweet said, “Seriously, I’m not a fan of bashing Comic Sans…but presenting your god particle research with it is like playing J.S. Bach on a ukulele.” The Smithsonian.com goes so far as to ask how important we would have taken Newton’s announcement of the discovery of gravity if it had been made in Comic Sans. Another website asks, “Doesn’t the most important scientific discovery of this century warrant the use of a classier font?”

Perhaps something clean and clearly legible, like Helvetica, Georgia, Times New Roman. Or any other font whose appearance matches the seriousness and gravity of the message: the goal, one would think, of any typeface.

The Default Typeface or the Right One

I recently read a rather fascinating interview on the “I Love Typography” website, with Fergus Wessel, a letter cutter, who spends his time carving carefully crafted letters on to fine stone memorials.

Wessel, who is passionate about typography, says:

An inscription on paper or stone can be a beautiful thing to look at, a work of art. It is not the content, which interests me most, but the shape and rhythm of the lettering.

You would expect that since he spends his time sculpting letters in limestone and slate, he should feel passionate about typography. But if you also feel that typefaces and their usage have little to do with the rest of us, you’d be wrong.

How many times have you received an email or viewed a website written in a typeface that was hard to read or in a font size that was so small even someone with 20/20 eyesight could not see it clearly without zooming in on the text? If you are like most of us, your answer would be “many times” and you would add that it’s often the case that whoever sent you the email or laid out the website was not thinking much about the reader.

You’d be right.

Whatever the concern of the sender or designer, it was not legibility. One of the goals of any document we write (whether or in print, or in stone, for that matter) should be to communicate a message not only through carefully selected and arranged words but with a design that draws the reader into the message with graphics (appropriate) and certainly with type selection and size.

What about you?

Do you think about your typeface and its size when you send an email, write a blog post, lay out an online publication, or do any of the other tasks that we in corporate communications do almost every day? Like most of us, you probably have no idea what typeface or font size you use—or even think about it. You just use the default settings that someone else chose, even though you have countless typefaces and  dozens of sizes on your computer.

The Macintosh SE I bought in 1985—and which stills sits on a shelf in the basement—has about 50 fonts, most likely chosen personally by Steve Jobs (who was always concerned about details). As a teenager, Jobs had an interest in calligraphy and decided to sit in on calligraphy classes at Reed College after he dropped out and just hung out there awhile. Then, when he and Steve Wozniak built their first computer, Jobs turned this interest into an insistence on having a selection of typefaces built into the machine.

Today, my new Mac has 175 or so different fonts. Your computer, whether it’s a Mac or another brand built by someone who knew a good Jobs idea and decided to use it, too, probably has about the same number. And one website, alone, offers 13,000 fonts available for free downloading.

Which ones do you use?

The goal, of course, is not to use a great number of different typefaces. To be honest, many of the ones on my computer would be of use to very few people. Yet, these same typefaces might be just the right ones for a particular website or newsletter. And that’s the objective: to have a lot of typefaces from which to chose, so we can get the right ones when they’re needed.

But first we have to be more aware of typefaces than we are now—not that we should ever develop the same passion expressed by Wessel, who not only has favorite typefaces for different tasks and different kinds of stone on which he’s carving, but also has a favorite letter: the “S.”

When ask about his favorite letter, he says in the interview, which you can read on the ilovetypography.com/2012/03/09/let… website:

I like the challenge involved in getting the balance between the top and bottom spaces [of the ‘S’] just right. They should look the same to the eye, but if you ever turn an “S” upside-down you’ll see that it looks completely top heavy. The bottom space must always be larger than the top to give the illusion of balance.

Few of us notice that difference. Perhaps if we did, we could communicate even better with our readers than we do now.