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Typographic Hate Lists
Tirades, Tantrums & Truths

by Allan Haley

“I hate Papyrus!”

You can replace “Papyrus” with any number of other typefaces—from Arial to Zapfino—and find a bevy of graphic and type designers who embrace the animosity.

In fact, typophiles have a long and well-documented history of hating various typefaces. Fred Goudy’s designs were maligned by the typographic cognoscenti of his time. Baskerville’s peers and printers of his day reviled his designs—and fifteenth-century scribes probably despised Gutenberg’s 42-line type.

Today, type hate has taken on pandemic proportions. Myriad blog posts and YouTube videos by the score condemn hapless designs. Whole websites have been created to revile specific fonts. There's an “I Hate Rotis” site, a “Ban Comic Sans” site, a Facebook page dedicated to haters of Papyrus and a Flickr group looking to wipe Arial from our hard drives. The list continues to grow—an anti-Arial app is probably already in development!

It’s easy to find font haters, but a bit harder to figure out what inspires their animosity. I’ve done a little research into this condition, and have come up with some conclusions. There are nuances to each but, basically, there are four reasons why typophiles hate various typefaces: 1. The design is overused. 2. It’s a copy of another typeface. 3. It’s considered poor quality. 4. It’s just hateable.

Comic Sans has probably been at the brunt of designers’ scorn for as long as any typeface in history. Interestingly, it wasn’t hated when it first appeared in the pop-up balloon help guides of Microsoft 3D Movie Maker, or even when it became part of Microsoft's Windows 95 Plus! Pack of fonts. But when Comic Sans dared to show up in Microsoft Publisher and Internet Explorer, it attracted the ire of graphic designers. A dozen years later, Comic Sans is still at the center of an odium-filled maelstrom. Although designers cite a litany of reasons supporting their distaste, the overwhelming opinion is that it is overused. Answers to a recent web poll that queried designers about their dislike for Comic Sans typically pointed to the typeface’s virtual ubiquity.

“It’s because anyone can use it, so it looks unprofessional. It’s a web font now for goodness sake!”

“Comic Sans: too available, overused; most often used by individuals with no design skills.”

“It’s because it’s so ubiquitous and a font that untrained people used incorrectly.”

If Comic Sans is disdained because of its popularity, what about typefaces like Frutiger, or Franklin Gothic or Trade Gothic? These designs have consistently been at the top of the “best seller” list of fonts for decades. Newer arrivals—such as Interstate and the recent revival of din—also seem to show up everywhere. If typeface popularity is a sin, surely these designs should also be listed among the transgressors, but they are not. Graphic designers love Trade Gothic and certainly consider din more than a passing typographic fling.

So, why do designers hate Comic Sans and adore Franklin Gothic? Maybe the former is just, well, hateable.

The lion’s share of hate mail directed at Arial admonishes it for being a copy of Helvetica. According to a posting by Mark Simonson on his blog, “Most people who hate Arial do so because it is a complete and total rip-off of Helvetica. The changes that were made so that it would pass on copyright issues just stand to make it uglier.” His analysis continues, “Monotype was a respected type foundry with a glorious past and perhaps the idea of being associated with these ‘pirates’ was unacceptable. So, instead, they found a loophole and devised an ‘original’ design that just happens to share exactly the same proportions and weight as another typeface. This, to my mind, is almost worse than an outright copy.”

ITC Souvenir used on a 1979 book cover, designed by Robert Anthony, Inc.

Simon Garfield, in his book Just Your Type, also zeros in on the much-maligned Arial, and makes the point that it has proved difficult to protect fonts in court, since an alphabet can be regarded as being in the public domain. He adds that, for anyone with the patience and wherewithal to do so, each letter, number and glyph can be individually copyrighted. And Arial, in Mr. Garfield’s opinion, turns out to have enough tiny deliberate changes from Helvetica to make the two as different “as pineapple is from mango.” Although he maintains that Arial is rightly regarded as a “cheat.”

And yet Mr. Simonson and Mr. Garfield are both oh, so wrong. Arial wasn’t developed for Microsoft; it didn’t originally share common character widths with Helvetica. And it wasn’t drawn as a clone of Helvetica.

Arial was originally drawn for another computer giant. In the early 1980s Xerox and IBM introduced the first big laser-xerographic printers. These were huge machines, closer in size to a Mack truck than to their diminutive offspring that we use today. In addition to typefaces that emulated customary mono-spaced all-cap strike-on data-processing fonts, Xerox and IBM also wanted “typographic” fonts for their new machines.

The two type companies that bid on the contracts to provide fonts to Xerox and IBM were Linotype and Monotype. At the time, the most popular typefaces in North America were Times New Roman and Helvetica. Linotype and Monotype shared rights to Times New Roman from its introduction 50 years earlier, but Monotype did not have rights to Helvetica. Linotype won the contract with Xerox. Monotype pursued IBM. To be successful, however, Monotype would need a viable competitor to Helvetica.

Monotype’s solution was based on Monotype Grotesque, a type design first drawn at the turn of the last century. The goal was to create a competitor to Helvetica, not to copy the design. Arial was drawn more rounded than its rival. Its curves are softer and fuller and its counters more open. The ends of the strokes on letters such as “c,” “e,” “g” and “s,” rather than being cut off on the horizontal, are terminated at the more natural angle in relation to the stroke direction. Haley
Allan Haley ( is a storyteller and a consultant with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He held the position of director of words and letters at Monotype for fifteen years and has six books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He is a past president of the Type Directors Club and was executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.