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Typographic Hate Lists
Tirades, Tantrums & Truths

by Allan Haley

Was Arial drawn to compete with Helvetica? Sure. Does it look a lot like Helvetica? Right again. But then, Helvetica itself was an “updating” of New Haas Grotesk and that, in turn, is a pretty close cousin to Berthold’s Akzidenz Grotesk.

Now that the truth is out about Arial (actually, Arial’s backstory has been available for some time), will designers stop maligning the design? Probably not.

Do graphic designers hate Interstate because it is a copy of highway signage? No. How about the many interpretations of Garamond, or Baskerville—or the obvious design send-ups of Century Gothic and Silkstone Sans? Nyet. So, why do designers harbor animosity toward some emulations and not others? Maybe it’s for the same reason that so many Bostonians hate the Yankees: They just do.

The Rotis family is another suite of typefaces that is reviled by designers—but not because it’s popular or a clone. The problem with Rotis is that many think that it is not a very good design and, thus, undeserving of its popularity. Erik Spiekermann even went so far as to claim that Rotis isn’t even a typeface. According to him, “[Rotis] has some great letters, but they never come together in one typeface. Otl Aicher [the designer of Rotis] wrote a great theory about how one would have to make the most legible typeface ever but then proceeded to prove with Rotis that a theory does not make a typeface.” Spiekermann continues, “As many designers seem to lack critical faculties, they judged Rotis by the theory cleverly provided and not by the evidence in front of their eyes.”

Gerard Unger, the designer of typefaces such as Vesta, Swift, ITC Flora and Demos, echoes Spiekermann’s concerns—albeit in gentler words. “The problem with Rotis is that some of the characters, like the ‘e’ for example, don’t belong there. They fall over backwards. And I do not understand why there are so many designers who like it and like to use it.”

The interesting thing is there are thousands of really bad type-faces that designers do not go out of their way to hate. There are also a flock of typefaces that are used, admired and praised by designers—which are also less than perfect. Paul Shaw wrote an article on his blog about a dozen well-liked—if not loved—typefaces that are flawed by the designs of particular characters. Among these are ITC Galliard, Bembo, Centaur, Univers and Gill Sans.

Rationality does not have to be a factor when it comes to despising typefaces. Michael Bierut, in his essay “I Hate ITC Garamond,” admits that he does not hate ITC Garamond for any rational reason. He writes, “I hate it like I hate fingernails on a blackboard. I hate it because I hate it.”

Although some claimed that Goudy’s typefaces were flawed, many of his contemporaries disliked his designs because they disliked him. Goudy was one of the first type designers to promote himself, which was seen as roughly akin to Veg-O-Matic sales tactics by typophiles of the early twentieth century. They thought his populist touch impressed what were deemed to be “under-educated” minds. Daniel Berkeley Updike, the eminent printer and type historian of the early twentieth century, wrote of Goudy, “I have never seen anyone with such an itch for publicity, or who blew his own trumpet so artlessly and constantly.”

In Just My Type, Garfield also takes a stab at sorting out this issue of typeface insufferability. He follows the popular thesis that we dislike certain typefaces because of misuse and overuse—but adds to these offenses “memory.” “Fonts may trigger memory as pungently as perfume,” he writes. “Gill Sans can summon up exam papers. Trajan may remind us of lousy choices at the cinema.”

I may be overly sensitive to this hating typefaces thing. That would be because I've had close relationships with many typefaces that are on the list of reviled designs. I worked at International Typeface Corporation when ITC Souvenir was both loved and hated; I consulted to Agfa’s type group when Rotis was in its prime; and I now work for the people who own Arial—and Papyrus.

Epic Shaded

To top it off, I’ve even had one of my own typeface designs listed among the scorned. Des Edmonds, British type designer, typographer and typographic studio owner of the 1970s, was vociferous in his disdain for my design, Epic Shaded, in Robert Norton’s 1993 book, Types Best Remembered/Types Best Forgotten. The problem wasn’t, however, that Epic Shaded was overused (I wish it were) or that it was a rip-off, or even that it was particularly ugly. It was just damn difficult to set. According to Edmonds, “Setting Epic Shaded requires manual dexterity, a fit and supple body and the reactions of a ferret after a rabbit.”

I’ve also discovered that, after a period of time, typeface animosity turns to benign acceptance—and, in some cases, downright admiration. Take Baskerville, for instance. Even though Benjamin Franklin (yeah, that Benjamin Franklin) openly praised the fonts of John Baskerville, contemporaries complained that the typeface's marked contrast in stroke weight, exacerbated by the intensity of the black ink and shininess of the paper Baskerville used, would (quite literally) make the reader go blind. Today, Baskerville is generally accepted as handsome—and certainly harmless.

When I was a lad, ITC Souvenir was ranked right up there with root canals and paper cuts on the bête noire scale. In fact, I’ve lived through a succession of “I hate this typeface” sagas, and the ill feelings ITC Souvenir inspired back in the ’70s pretty much still eclipse all that have followed—even toward Helvetica and Comic Sans. Today, ITC Souvenir is hardly used—but neither is it reviled. In fact, Joe Clark, in an article titled “Reviled Fonts,” writes, “I found a usage of Souvenir from 1979 that’s winsome, calligraphic, and fully appropriate: The cover of the Simon and Schuster hardback of Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man.” Jacket design by Robert Anthony, Inc.

Perhaps trying to put words to why designers hate certain typefaces is fruitless. Matthew Carter has pointed out that a great typeface is identifiable before we can distinguish the words—and this is also probably true of the hateful ones. Just as we can identify people we know well by their walk or the way they stand, so can we tell typefaces by their color on a page—and by other qualities that we cannot articulate. Sometimes we hate typefaces just because we hate them. CA 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.