The story of fonts stretches far beyond your computer’s hard drive and reaches more people than your fancy little mobile device does.
These days Helvetica is a household name, but did you know it’s been around for over 55 years? Times New Roman isn't as new as its name would have you believe. That font increased the legibility of the British newspaper The Times back in 1931. Then there’s the Gutenberg and his epochal Bible. Don't even get me started…the 1400s! Movable type! The first printed book! The dawn of the printing age! It was a swingin’ time. I've seen the Gutenberg Bible up close and personal at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and it is more than a book, my friends. It is a marvelous, mechanical leap forward for humankind, and it's a glorious piece of art packed cover to cover with some of the most splendid typography these baby blues have ever had the pleasure of gazing at. Too much? I disagree. You should really check it out some day.
Typography touches all of us. We encounter it nearly every minute of every day, whether we like it or not, and it's even worming its way into our popular culture. Ever heard of Comic Sans? Of course you have, and I'd be willing to bet you dislike it. But why? What has it ever done to you? I mean, besides being impossibly frustrating to kern. It kind of has a reputation around the Internets for showing up at parties it wasn't invited to. "Don't you belong down the street at the Milton boy’s sixth birthday party?" And then there's Papyrus. "Shouldn't you be steaming some kale at a yoga center in upstate New York?” But what do we really know about these typefaces? Vincent Connare designed Comic Sans back in 1994 to be used within speech bubbles as part of the Microsoft Bob software package, which was geared toward young users and would provide guidance around the computer’s interface. A pretty good use of a childlike script font, but since then it’s, let’s just say, gotten out of hand. Designer Chris Costello took six months to create Papyrus by hand using pencils, calligraphy pens, Wite-Out, French curves (curved plastic templates), and textured paper and released it back in 1983 for Letraset.
When I’m sitting at my desk here at Calypso, scrolling through endless lists of fonts looking for just the right one for a brand's website, I think about these things. I wouldn’t want William Caslon rolling over in his grave because I put his typeface in the same document as Curlz. These days we crank up any number of word processing or design programs, select a font from the extensive library, bang on the keyboard a few dozen times, insert a photo of our cat, and boom! I Can Haz Fanshy Designs goes spewing out into the world, and we don’t really give it that much thought. That typeface exclaiming, “Hey, look at my cat, please!” has a story. And, just like your cat photo, most of your audience will ignore it. I implore you, the next time you type out a sentence in Garamond or Frutiger or Gotham or Bodoni, take a moment to appreciate the history sitting on your screen.
Then go Google “Chuck Norris facts.” Trust me. It’s a good time.
Check out Part Two: The Language of Fonts