Vincent Connare was trying to fix a communication problem: He was working on a computer program called Microsoft Bob that was intended to appeal to children—but the Times New Roman typeface being used in the word balloons felt too serious for the unsophisticated, cartoony artwork. He needed something more whimsical and silly to make the design feel coherent.
Connare created a brand new typeface (based on the lettering style of his favorite comic books) that he felt would be more appropriate for the target demographic.
And that’s how Comic Sans was born! To achieve visual unity, to properly convey the right feeling to the right audience. (Oh, the irony…)
Comic Sans quickly became popular with educators and parents as the go-to typeface for everything kid-friendly.
That was 1994. Fast-forward to 2016 and no typeface has been used more frequently to convey the wrong message to the wrong audience than Comic Sans.
You’re probably heard of the EPIC DESIGN FAILS. Comic Sans at the Dutch war memorial. Comic Sans on printed materials giving advice to rape victims. The salty Comic Sans letter that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote when LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland in 2010.
TragiComic Sans, indeed.
The internet went meme crazy with snarky delight. Artists everywhere created intentionally crappy designs with Comic Sans as the centerpiece. The much-maligned typeface (“most hated” by countless surveys) became such a punchline that eventually designers banded together to speak out against it, some even (semi-seriously) calling for its demise.
Here’s a witty excerpt from the BanComicSans Manifesto:
“Like the tone of a spoken voice, the characteristics of a typeface convey meaning. The design of the typeface is, in itself, its voice. Often this voice speaks louder than the text itself. Thus when designing a “Do Not Enter” sign the use of a heavy-stroked, attention-commanding font such as Impact or Arial Black is appropriate. Typesetting such a message in Comic Sans would be ludicrous. Though this is sort of misuse is frequent, it is unjustified. Clearly, Comic Sans as a voice conveys silliness, childish naivete, irreverence, and is far too casual for such a purpose. It is analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.”
So naturally there was a rebuttal from “defenders of Comic Sans” who imagined an entire Comic Sans world because “Helvetica is so 2011.”
It’s really fun to ridicule Comic Sans. We’ve all done it. But if you’re designing some artwork for a very casual event—a kid’s birthday party, school function, or lemonade stand—you might be considering Comic Sans. Or wondering where to find alternatives to Comic Sans that won’t incur the wrath of your judgmental designer buddies. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Our friends at Identifont, Fontspring, Typewolf, and MyFonts recommended several similar typefaces to help you broaden your design palette:
Lexia (or Lexie) Readable
Lexia was designed by Ron Carpenter in 2007 as an alternative to Comic Sans that had maximum legibility and clarity but without the comic book associations. The non-symmetrical letter forms are widely believed to assist dyslexic readers, though no official proof of this exists.
Designed by James Greishaber in 2011, this “low contrast, semi-geometric typeface” is a suitable Comic Sans replacement that works well for medium-large text sizes.
Craig Rozynski designed Comic Neue in 2014 specifically to be a modern, more refined version of Comic Sans.
“Comic Neue aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone, including the typographically savvy. The squashed, wonky, and weird glyphs of CS have been beaten into shape while mantaining the honesty that made CS so popular.” -from ComicNeue.com
I hope these suggestions are useful in making your design elements feel more connected and complete. There’s a time and a place to be silly…and you need to be armed with the right typefaces to make sure that nobody takes those moments too seriously.
Vincent Connare didn’t create Comic Sans to be the laughingstock of the industry. He was simply ensuring that the message of his work wasn’t being lost because of a disconnect between visual and text. FWIW he also designed Trebuchet and Magpie and has a reputation as an excellent graphic communicator.
Looking for alternatives to Helvetica next? Check out my previous post here.
Helvetica is one of the world’s most recognizable typefaces. Originally named Neue Haas Grotesk, Helvetica was created in 1957 by designer Max Miedinger with input from Eduard Hoffman (its name was changed 4 years later when it was licensed by Linotype). Helvetica quickly rose to prominence because of its legibility and versatility. 50 years later, it’s still going strong. In 2007, Gary Hustwit released a critically-acclaimed feature-length documentary (called “Helvetica”) about its impact and influence on the world of design.
But familiarity often breeds contempt.
Erik Spiekermann said “People use Helvetica because it’s ubiquitous. It’s like going to McDonalds instead of thinking about food.”
Wolfgang Weingart went a step further: “Anyone who uses Helvetica knows nothing about typefaces.”
Other well-known designers were not quite as harsh.
Steff Geissbuhler called Helvetica “still the most versatile, classic, and readable of all typefaces.”
And Hamish Muir joked that “We hate to like Helvetica.”
So…if you’re a designer, you might be looking for fonts like Helvetica that aren’t so overused. Good news! Our friends at Identifont, Fontspring, Typewolf, and MyFonts recommended several similar grotesk sans-serif typefaces that we’ve assembled here to help you broaden your design pallette:
Created by the URW++ foundry in 1995 as an alternative to Helvetica, Nimbus Sans serves as an effective Helvetica doppelgänger.
Identifont did a side-by-side comparison of the two. Have a look for yourself!
Inspired by Helvetica, Pragmatica was designed at ParaType (ParaGraph) in 1989 by Vladimir Yefimov (later styles were developed by Olga Chaeva, Alexander Tarbeev, and Manvel Shmavonyan with participation from Dmitry Kirsanov).
Again, practically identical to Helvetica and Nimbus Sans.
Designed by Jeremie Hornus, Volkart is a Latin-script typeface that was published by Indian Type Foundry in 2015.
Looking for some options that aren’t so close to the vest? Richard Turgeon wrote this great piece about Helvetica alternatives that feel “modern, classic, and universal” without being quite so similar.
Stag Sans (Commercial Type)
Open Sans (Google Fonts)
Proxima Nova (Mark Simonson)
Effra (Jonas Schudel)
Aktiv Grotesk (Bruno Maag)
LFT Etica (TypeTogether)
Franklin Gothic URW T (URW++)
News Gothic (Bitstream)
So there you have it—several typefaces that are remarkably similar to Helvetica and a few that deviate a bit but still serve the same purpose.
Want to know more about which typefaces are currently the “most loved” or “most hated” by experts in the design industry? Check out James Kidwell’s informative and entertaining Trends In Typography Survey.
What do Jennifer Aniston, Thomas Edison, Cher, Andy Warhol, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, Pablo Picasso, and Ozzy Osbourne have in common?
They were all diagnosed with dyslexia.
(Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Galileo Galilei, and Leonardo da Vinci were also believed to be dyslexic but were never officially diagnosed.)
Dyslexia is a disorder that affects the ability to read, write, and interpret letters and symbols despite normal (or often above normal) intelligence. Researchers estimate that 3-10% of the population is dyslexic while up to 20% may suffer from some degree of symptoms.
The National Institute of Health identified many neurological and cognitive differences that contribute to dyslexia and the vast majority appear to be caused by genetics rather than environmental trauma. Dyslexia was first identified in 1881 but didn’t become widely known until 1980. For years, dyslexics have been dismissed as “stupid” or “lazy.”
A dyslexic’s brain is perfectly healthy but the frustration associated with dyslexia can cause emotional and psychological problems that last a lifetime. A dyslexic preschooler is typically unaffected but then pressure begins to mount in subsequent years as the student fails to meet reading standards and teacher/parent expectations. Dyslexic children frequently have problems with social situations, leading to poor self-image and less peer acceptance. Dyslexia can hinder oral language development, too: Affected kids might stammer, stutter, or have trouble finding the right words.
Dutch designer Christian Boer suffered from dyslexia as a young man and decided to invent a typeface to help others like him. His Dyslexie fonts emphasize key differences in characters so that few of them are similar and/or easily confused with each other.
Here’s some of the design features that make Dyslexie easier for dyslexics to read:
Boer isn’t the only designer who believed that the presentation of text has a significant impact on its accessibility to dyslexics. In the past thirty years, many studies have been done about which fonts/typefaces increased/decreased readability.
A study by Luz Rello and Ricardo Baeza-Yates suggests that Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana test high for reading performance. Sans Serif, monospaced, and Roman fonts were also favorable. Italic fonts were most difficult for dyslexics.
Other fonts believed to have “strong legibility” include Garamond, Myriad, and Computer Modern Unicode.
Herman Bouma and C.P. Legein did a study in 1977 that suggested crowding between characters limits recognition in dyslexic readers. “Difficulty recognizing letters occurs in the parafovea of the retina of the eye when visual objects are too close together in relation to their distance from the center of vision.” Based on Bouma and Legien’s findings, many type designers have tried greater spacing between letters as a way to reduce crowding and make it more readable to dyslexics.
In addition to Dyslexie, there are currently several other options available that were created specifically to aid dyslexics.
Read Regular is “designed with an individual approach for each of the individual characters.” For example, the ‘b’ character doesn’t simply mirror the ‘d’ character—each character is unique. Unnecessary details (like serifs) have been removed to create striking outlines. Ascending and descending lines are long and clean. Space inside of letters like ‘o’ or ‘g’ is open and free of clutter.
Most typefaces are tested for legibility after they’re designed. Rob Hillier refined and modified his Sylexiad (get it?) typeface based on feedback from dyslexic readers during a series of tests. He compared early versions of his font to Arial and Times New Roman. This manner of progressive testing raised questions over whether or not dyslexics read words as shapes, a core principle of type design.
OpenDyslexic is an open source typeface that includes regular, bold, italic and bold-italic styles. It’s updated constantly based on feedback from the dyslexic community and is free for commercial and personal usage. According to their site, OpenDyslexic is “inspired by Andika, Apple Casual, Lexia Readable, Sassoon, and Comic Sans.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s no “cure” for dyslexia—it’s a condition that’s hard-wired into the brain caused by inherited traits—but most children with dyslexia are capable of succeeding in school with tutoring or focused educational assistance. Thanks to awareness, research, and technological advances, plenty of options are now available to help kids previously referred to as “stupid” or “lazy” achieve great things and be the next Albert Einstein. Or Steven Spielberg. Or Ozzy Osbourne.
What does font weight mean, exactly?
The weight of a particular typeface is the thickness of the character outlines relative to its height. A typeface typically comes in a variety of weights from ultra-light to extra-bold, with as many as a dozen options.
Here’s an example of the Helvetica Neue typeface with numbers that indicate weight:
You might ask yourself, “How did those numbers become the standard measurement of font weight?”
In 1954, Adrian Frutiger was the first to introduce a range of weights using numerical classification. His groundbreaking Univers typeface featured a “two-digit numeration system where the first digit (3-8) indicated weight and the second indicated face-width and either roman or oblique.” Univers was the first “font family” designed as a complete collection of coordinated weights and widths, with the normal weight of 55 being the starting point.
Pictured: a “periodic table” he created for the Univers family
In Frutiger’s system, 35 was Extra Light, 45 was Light, 55 Medium or Regular, 65 Bold, 75 Extra Bold, 85 Extra Bold, and 95 was Ultra Bold or Black. He also included alternate numbers for Italics (“6 series”) and Condensed (“7 series”).
The popularity of Univers led to Frutiger being commissioned by Monotype to create Apollo, their first typeface designed specifically for phototypesetting. He was also hired to design the Roissy typeface for signage at Charles De Gaulle Airport (below).
He became immensely popular and his work quickly spread around the globe—his typefaces appeared on London’s iconic street signs…
…San Francisco’s BART trains, and even early Apple keyboards.
In 1997, Frutiger revised the Univers typeface and created Linotype Univers, a family that consisted of 63 fonts, including weight options like Ultra Light or Extended Heavy. The new numbering system was extended to three digits to reflect the expanded number of variations.
*When Web Fonts were introduced, the numbering system was borrowed from this Linotype model.*
For 60 years, Frutiger’s “clean” and “legible” designs were the toast of the typography industry. But perhaps his biggest contribution to design was the introduction of the weight system.
Award-winning typeface designer Erik Spiekermann called Frutiger “the best type designer of the 20th century.” He also paid him a huge compliment when he said “I know of no other typeface designer who can put so much feeling into a systematic approach. Frutiger’s typefaces are always carefully planned, but they never look like it.”
Say you’ve got a project that calls for a font that’s elegant and fancy (wedding invitation, perhaps) but you can’t find any exciting, new options in your Microsoft Word library (apologies to overused workhorses like Brush Script and Monotype Corsiva).
No need to panic—as Agent Mulder might say, “The truth is out there.”
Pictured: Helvetica Neue Condensed Light, definitely NOT a cursive typeface. But I digress…
Cursive fonts (also known as script, calligraphy, or handwritten fonts) are readily available online for download. Here are some useful resources to help you find the right font for your design (and bolster your tired collection of Word options):
Kerry Hughes at Creative Bloq lists the 20 Best Free Cursive Fonts that are “free to use commercially, not just on personal projects.”
Pictured: Debby typeface, “works well for greeting cards” according to Hughes
Font Squirrel provides some Help Installing Fonts for Windows and Mac with instructions and video tutorials for desktop and web fonts.
Microsoft has some tips on how to Troubleshoot Font Problems in Microsoft Word and also created a quick and easy way to find out which fonts come installed with various Windows products that lets you sort by product or font name.
Nicole Martinez of eHow presents Common Cursive Fonts for Mac and PC.
Pictured: Edwardian Script, available on every version of Word
You might be interested in a previous blog post we did about how to choose the right cursive font that discusses the history of cursive fonts and why they’re so effective as a storytelling device.
Creative Bloq also did a comprehensive list of best places to find open source fonts that’s pretty useful but not specifically for Word so you might need to do some parsing.
Hopefully this helps you discover some exciting new typeface options for your special event. Or at the very least, gives you some alternatives to the ubiquitous options you see every day.
Happy hunting, type nerds! Enjoy your tour of the world’s finest pangrams, including my personal favorite, “Turgid saxophones blew over Mick’s jazzy quaff.”
May 9th, 2016 by Joe Spencer
Ever see a font you like and wonder what it is? Or need to find a font that’s similar to one you have already? Great news! Font identification apps, software, games, and videos are available to relieve your fontstipation (yeah, I said it).
Got a picture or image you want to match?
Here are a few easy-to-use online resources if you already have a scanned image or a photo of the font you’d like to identify:
Simply upload your image and the Matcherator will tell you what font it is and find others that match. It even allows you to match Open Type features.
This search tool by MyFont also finds and identifies fonts based on an uploaded image. WhatTheFont offers helpful advice, like “use characters that have a distinct shape” and “make sure letters aren’t touching.” If WhatTheFont’s tool can’t identify it, you can post your font to the forum and interact with other humans.
This desktop app features a handy tool for capturing images from sites and documents. Unlike free online services that only identify fonts sold on THEIR sites, FontGenius is a universal source that directs you to any site where the font you seek is available.
No picture/image? No problem.
IdentifontIdentifont helps you identify a typeface by answering questions about key appearance features. For instance, “Do the characters have serifs?” You can also search by font name, similarity, picture/symbol, and designer. Identifont claims to be the “largest independent directory of digital fonts on the internet.”
Rather watch a video than read more articles?
Some dude named Typography Guru made a video tutorial called 5 Best Tricks to Find a Font that’s clear, concise, and easy-to-follow.
Streamline your workflow
Font Sense™ is an innovative font identification technology that ensures a smooth workflow by identifying, locating, and activating the exact fonts used in documents.
Font Sense works by building a complete font specification that contains information such as the name, type, foundry, and version number.
Fun and (font) games!
Happy hunting, type nerds!
Choosing the right font style can be a time-consuming and difficult challenge. Typography experts estimate that there are over 30,000 font families to choose from. Yikes!
So…how do you find the RIGHT font/typeface in an endless sea of options? Some basic guidelines might help.
April 29th, 2016 by Joe Spencer
Handwriting fonts are everywhere these days. Designers love the organic aesthetic they convey and consumers respond to them on a personal level because of their handmade, human quality.
Examples of handwriting (also known as handwritten, cursive, or script) fonts
But did you know that modern handwriting evolved because of the Fall of the Roman Empire? When the Romans succumbed to invading barbarian hordes, widespread plague, and political corruption, the educated world experienced a major lull in literary and cultural works.
An Italian poet and writer named Petrarch labeled this period “The Dark Ages” and began to campaign for a form of writing that was infinitely more “simple” and “clear” than the ornate Gothic lettering which was popular with the ruling class at the time.
April 26th, 2016 by Joe Spencer
Calligraphy fonts are a trendy way to let friends and family know that your upcoming wedding will be not only tasteful but perhaps even elegant. Calligraphy on your wedding invitation says “Please don’t wear shorts, Uncle Richard!” (and we all have an “Uncle Richard” in our family).
(FYI If you found this site because you’re exploring calligraphy options for your wedding, The Knot wrote a about where to find local calligraphers or even learn to do it yourself!)
But it might surprise you to know that calligraphy originated in China thousands of years ago as a means to unify the many languages spoken at the time. In fact, calligraphy began as simple pictorial images that represented forms of nature—the earliest known examples of calligraphy were engraved into the shoulder bones of wild animals!
THE EVOLUTION OF CALLIGRAPHY
Cangjie, widely credited as the inventor of Chinese writing, drew inspiration from observing animal footprints in the sand. He then created simple images that represented natural phenomena like sun, moon, rain, or dog.
From Encyclopedia Britannica’s page on Chinese calligraphy:
‘Each stroke, even each dot, suggests the form of a natural object. As every twig of a living tree is alive, so every tiny stroke of a piece of fine calligraphy has the energy of a living thing.’
Western calligraphy first gained popularity during the Roman Empire and helped form the Latin alphabet. At the height of Roman rule, calligraphy spread as far as Great Britain. When the Romans fell, their literary influence remained, often in monasteries as religious texts.
CALLIGRAPHY AND HAND LETTERING
As mentioned previously, calligraphy is very popular for wedding invitations. But hand-lettering is experiencing a major renaissance everywhere you look. In the digital age, consumers respond to art that feels like it’s made by an actual person (even if it’s not).
The Oxford Dictionary defines calligraphy as “decorative handwriting or handwritten lettering”—which is an overly simplistic description and completely ignores the historical and artistic implications mentioned above. It’s accurate that all contemporary hand-lettering styles evolved from calligraphy, however.
Design expert Gerrit Noordzij referred to calligraphy as “a single pass of the pen/tool to write as a form of art” whereas hand-lettering “consists of built-up letters—drawing with multiple strokes.” His seminal book The Stroke: Theory of Writing is an interesting analysis of letterforms and the process of creating them.
New York designer Chavelli Tsui outlines some key differences between calligraphy, lettering, type.
The Greek word kalligraphos literally translates to ‘person who writes beautifully’ but increasingly, calligraphy and hand-lettering are being designed on computers. Purists might reject the notion that calligraphy can be created by something other than a pen or brush but rules are made to be broken, right? As Noordzij once said “Unassailability turns science into superstition.” The digital age has enabled young artists and designers to put a modern spin on an ancient art form. Technically, there’s no such thing as “computer calligraphy” but there are still many artists that do custom hand-lettering.
In a recent interview we did with calligrapher Laura Worthington, she noted that the current calligraphy renaissance is due to “an increased demand for custom, one-of-a-kind items” and “a desire for more individuality and personal expression.”
Gregory McNaughton of Reed College was asked whether calligraphy was obsolete in the digital age. He likened it to walking in the automotive age. “Sometimes walking, like handwriting, is more efficient and practical. When we take a walk beside a dear friend, or down a trail into the wilderness, it transcends transportation and takes us places we can’t go in a car. The same is true of beautiful writing.”
So….long story short, hire an artist (like Stephen Pies or James Lewis) if you want your calligraphy to be truly unique. If you’re looking for calligraphy fonts online, here are some great places to check out:
COLLECTIONS OF CALLIGRAPHIC FONTS
Of course, FontSpring offers a number of modern calligraphy fonts, such as:
Mila Script Pro
Salt Spice Pro
Adorn Pomander Script
If you need further inspiration check out Vandelay Designs 40 most beautiful calligraphy fonts.
Purchasing a font online is a great way to do your wedding invitations on a tight budget. It’s also the safest way to prevent your canine calligrapher from ruining your house.
On April 21st, the world mourned the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson, one of the most prolific and successful musicians in history. Prince sold over 100 million albums during his remarkable career that spanned four decades. Though he was clearly influenced by legends like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown, Prince was always completely unique and creative in his artistic expression as well as the way he chose to live his life. There will never be another Prince.
You might be familiar with Prince because of his long list of hit songs like When Doves Cry, Kiss, or Let’s Go Crazy. Or maybe you first became aware of his genius during his breathtaking performance at the Super Bowl. Though he achieved mainstream success, he never conformed to trends or pandered to his fans. His music was complex, moody, and singular—much like the man himself.
I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something that you’ll never understand.
In 1993, Prince legally changed his name to this symbol to protest what he believed was a Draconian clause in his contract with Warner Brothers. The Love Symbol, as he called it, was a combination of the male and female symbols and represented liberation from corporate control as well as societal norms regarding sexuality and gender.
“The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.” -Prince,1993