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Favorite Fonts
by Allan Haley

It seems that just about everyone who works with type comes to have a favorite—or two. Benjamin Franklin was so fond of Baskerville’s fonts that he introduced them to the Colonies. The Irish satirist George Bernard Shaw required that all of his works be set in Caslon Old Face. And, more recently, Massimo Vignelli’s love of Helvetica has been extensively documented. What about other prominent typophiles? Do they have favorites? You betcha.

Sean Adams, partner at AdamsMorioka, has been cited as one of the most influential people shaping design. As for his favorite, he says, “I seem to be addicted to Franklin Gothic. I love that it is simple and clear, but not overly refined. It’s warmer than Univers and Helvetica and I love Franklin Gothic’s lowercase ‘g’ with all my heart.”

Sharon Werner, principal of Werner Design Werks, has received numerous awards and accolades for her typographic prowess. She shares Adams’s love for Franklin Gothic and adds a few designs to her list of favorites. “The text typefaces I turn to are usually classic, tried-and-true designs, such as Clarendon, Garamond, News Gothic and Trade Gothic, in addition to Franklin Gothic,” she says.

Cedars-Sinai magazine Discoveries, by AdamsMorioka, features (from left) Firmin Didon and a redrawing of a Victorian typeface for the numerals 24.

Michael Osborne is president and creative director of Michael Osborne Design. He too tends to favor classic typefaces. “I like Garamond, Times New Roman and Bodoni.” When asked why, he answers, “Because they’re handsome, predictable and guaranteed readable.”

Nancy Harris Rouemy served as an art director at the New York Times Magazine for 22 years, winning over a hundred awards. She recently opened Go For It Design, a studio specializing in custom typeface design in addition to book covers, packaging and branding. She says that choosing typefaces is like learning a new language. “During most of my tenure at the New York Times Magazine, I was limited to one text typeface: Original Garamond BT. At Go For It Design, searching for that ‘just right texture’ to color the page has been a challenging yet exhilarating process. I’m drawn to Sabon Next for its humanistic elegance and work-horse capabilities. As far as sans serif text faces are concerned, I love National for its seamless color and readability.”

Armin Vit is cofounder of UnderConsideration, a design firm and publishing enterprise rolled into one, producing identities, books and Web sites. He likes Mercury Text. “It works great at small sizes, and it feels sharp and strong. It tracks perfectly right out of the box and prints wonderfully in any medium.”

Some designers prefer typefaces that have a voice; design qualities that make the face an active participant in a graphic statement. Others (including Massimo Vignelli) prefer typefaces that are neutral and take a back seat to the layout.

Vit is among those who favor typefaces with a voice, but not ones that shriek. “I gravitate to something with a soft voice,” he says, “like Klint or Gotham. Neo Sans is a little too quirky for me and a bit too loud. On the other side of the coin, I hate bland typefaces like Helvetica. It’s like throwing a chicken breast on the pan with no oil, no salt, no pepper. Chicken breast is fine, but it needs some love, some spices, a little flair.”

A typeface with flair is exactly what Vit was looking for when it came to a recent book design project. “Rizzoli approached us to do a paperback version of Lucha Loco, a coffee-table book with wonderful portraits of Mexican wrestlers by Malcom Venville. We had to keep the same structure of the original: left page with the name of the wrestler and a quote, right page with a full-bleed photo. Not a lot of room for design, so we knew we had to pick the perfect typeface. I had seen Carmen Fiesta by Type Republic a few weeks before getting the job and I knew that was the design. It was still in production when I asked if I could buy it. I waited a couple of weeks, but it was worth it. It had just the right amount of panache for a traditional serif, and the ‘nicks’ in the letters are reminiscent of a traditional Mexican decoration, called papel picado where really thin layers of colored tissue paper are cut with great patterns and images.”

Werner echoes Vit’s concerns about typefaces that are loud. “The problem with fonts that have too distinctive a voice is that they can become so identifiable with a time period or a specific project that they actually become typecast and it’s difficult to use them for something else.”

Osborne, whose clients rely on his studio’s ability to create powerful brand solutions, often gravitates to typefaces that make an authoritative statement. “Because we do a lot of brand packaging, a typographic voice is the heart of communicating a specific message to a specific consumer, for a specific product.” He goes on to say, “It depends, however, on the project. Do I need to shout or be conversational, portray a certain personality or simply inform? The decision for choosing any typeface should be based on the communication task at hand: print ads, Web pages, product packaging.” 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.