Massimo Vignelli and Matej Latin say you only need 5 fonts

Vignelli once said that our growing collection of fonts represented “a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones and trash the rest”. Of those few, he selected 5:

As for Matej Latin, his 5 were:

He then left a template for anyone to pick their 5 using “a geometric sans serif, a high quality serif for long text, a workhorse font, a web safe font, a variable font”:

If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this list of types of fonts aligns perfectly with my own “5 fonts” list. Gilroy is a geometric sans serif font that I really like because it feels modern (unlike Futura which may look dated in some occasions). Meta is my high quality serif font because it’s really well designed, it works really well for paragraphs and has many OpenType features like ligatures, alternative digit styles and much more.

Roboto is a typical workhorse font family. It comes in many different styles and weights and is very well designed. It consists of a sans serif, a slab serif and a mono style and can be used for anything from long paragraphs to UI labels and code snippets.

Work Sans is a variable sans serif font that I really like. It’s highly legible, even at smaller sizes which makes it great for UI design. The fact that it’s variable means that I can match various weights to get a good balance between font sizes which helps my UI designs look slicker.

And the last is Georgia, an underrated web safe font. It looks quite modern which is fascinating, because it was designed a while ago. It comes with old style figures, often called “lowercase digits.” That makes it great for paragraphs, especially when I need to save a few kilobytes. I have been saying this for a while, web safe fonts don’t suck. They’re completely free as we don’t need to pay to use them and they also don’t add any weight to our websites so they load faster. More on web safe fonts another time.

My 5 essential fonts are:

That list isn’t laminated but it covers most of my favourite fonts that I use the most. Gibson is the main heading font for Sampleface (my music blog) and I use it as the main font in one of my favourite games, Championship Manager 01/02. Helvetica is Helvetica and while it’s overused elsewhere, I like to use it in certain situations and as body text when I can. Cooper Black is iconic and great for titles when you need a bit of versatile flair. Georgia is a great web safe font and alternative to using sans-serif fonts. Finally, I picked Univers because I like its print heritage and its form and I’ve used an alternative version called Fluxisch Else for many album covers over the years to emulate that scruffy printed feel.

10 alternatives to Helvetica

Helvetica weights

Helvetica has been everywhere for decades. But it’s not free (or original) so you might want a different take on the classic sans serif. Extensis compiled a list of the 10 best Helvetica alternatives.

Most of these I’ve used or otherwise own but a few I’d not seen before, including:

Theinhardt is my #1 from the list. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments.

The history of Times New Roman

Times New Roman— Graphic Design History 101

How did Times New Roman become the default typeface we all use? Born out of anger, selected for its economics, and adopted because of its accessibility. In this video, we dive into the history of the Times New Roman typeface, how it came to be, and why is it such a staple from congress to college.

See also: an ‘Old Style’ font similar to Cooper Black, favourite typefaces of 2020, and the story of Comic Sans

Fraunces is an 'Old Style' font similar to Cooper Black

fraunces typeface

If you’re thinking Fraunces looks similar to Cooper Black, then that’s because the latter inspired it.

In the summer of 2018, Google Fonts approached us with the challenge of designing a display typeface. We spent some time perusing the catalog, and we were struck by a pretty big gap in certain typographic styles available—there isn’t a specific name for this genre, but typefaces such as Cooper Black, Windsor, and Souvenir personify it. We call them “wonky” fonts in-house, and that seems as good a name as any. We’ve played a lot with this style in our lettering work, and felt this was a great opportunity to create a display typeface family that celebrates an underappreciated genre.

While there are similarities between Fraunces and Cooper Black, the primary difference is that Fraunces is a variable font. You can alter its appearance to suit your tastes, whether you opt for a more Roman style or that “wonky” look that has permeated pop culture for decades.

What’s more, it’s also a Google Font, meaning it’s free to download or embed into your web designs.

Check out the official Fraunces website for more info.

Font related: almost every typeface seen at Disney theme parks, favourite typefaces of 2020, and the typeface that helps readers with low vision

Almost every typeface seen at Disney theme parks

I make movies for a family audience written in the Disney font

Mickeyavenue.com is the home to an “incomplete listing of typefaces seen at Walt Disney World, etc.”

Since listing all of the typefaces used at Walt Disney World would be impossible, and a huge waste of time, here’s a list of just the few that I’ve noticed, and the locations at which I recall seeing them (yes, still a huge waste of time).

Some of the fonts are well-known—Cooper Black, Helvetica, and Broadway—and some more obscure typefaces like World Bold, designed by Deborah Lord for Epcot’s Future World area.

Disney and typography related: the history of Walt Disney home video, Pizza Typefaces, and favourite typefaces of 2020.

Favourite typefaces of 2020

I Love Typography and PRINT listed their favourite typefaces of 2020. I’m subscribed to a few typography newsletters and catch a glimpse of new fonts as they’re released but I wasn’t familiar with most on these lists.

There was a lot of love for serif and display fonts in I Love Typography’s list while PRINT was more varied, featuring Atkinson Hyperlegible amongst other sans serif typefaces (a lot of which I like).

I think my favourites from these lists would be Atkinson Hyperlegible, Pacaembú, and Futura Now. The serif ones are either too similar or verging on illegible.

Related: Burger King’s cool rebrand, a typography cheatsheet, the story of Comic Sans, and the omnipresence of Cooper Black.

(h/t Typewolf)

The controversial story of Comic Sans

Comic Sans in German that says "Tschudin Gartengestaltung"

Jon Robinson wrote an article about the history of Comic Sans for UX Planet, arguably the most derided font of all-time.

The short version is that Vincent Connare created the font in the mid-90s, inspired by the handwritten lettering from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.

Connare recognized that comic books employed lettering that was hand-drawn to fit each individual box or bubble, providing both flexibility and variety. He drew each letter numerous times until satisfied that every glyph had it’s own unique shape and curve, while still functioning as a family.

Due to its form we classify it as both a sans serif and a casual script font, because the letters mimic handwritten characters that do not connect; but it’s not considered a typeface by most due to the lack of an italic or bold variant. Overall, Comic Sans is composed of rounded letters that would appear to have been drawn carefully in thick black marker by a child learning the alphabet. No sharp points are found in its letterforms. It’s the result of someone attempting to make a font out of alphabet soup.

And now it’s everywhere and polarises everyone who sees it. In fact, I wrote a disparaging article about it years ago (no longer online). But there have been suggestions that Comic Sans is good for dyslexic readers (although this has also been refuted).

If you want to use a font made for low vision readers, I suggest Atkinson Hyperlegible.

Why we keep seeing Cooper Black everywhere

The wonderful Estelle Caswell did a video for Vox about the Cooper Black font and its prevalence in pop culture:

There’s a typeface that has made a resurgence in the last couple of years. It’s appeared on hip hop album covers, food packaging, and advertising. Perhaps you know it from the Garfield comics, Tootsie Roll logo, or the Pet Sounds album cover by the Beach Boys. It’s called Cooper Black, and its popularity and ubiquity has never waned in the hundred years since it was first designed.

I know I’ve seen it everywhere but I never realised just how much and I’d never connected the name (which I knew) to the typeface. I was also unaware of how versatile it was. Cooper Black is suddenly my new favourite font.

Stream the video below.

Why this font is everywhere

Atkinson Hyperlegible is a typeface that helps readers with low vision

Atkinson Hyperlegible in print

Over the last few years, I’ve taken more of a keen interest in accessibility.

I forget myself sometimes but when I remember, I add alt text to images on Twitter, reduce my use of emojis, and avoid ASCII memes like that 2020 meme from last week. Another element of improving accessibility is readable typography and Atkinson Hyperlegible is a step in the right direction.

What is Atkinson Hyperlegible?

Atkinson Hyperlegible is a typeface created by Applied Design Works, in partnership with The Braille Institute. Its purpose is to:

  • Increase legibility for readers with low vision
  • Improve comprehension
  • Help develop better character recognition

The name comes from J. Robert Atkinson, a blinded cowboy from Southern California who founded the Universal Braille Press, later known as the Braille Institute of America.

Did you know: J. Robert Atkinson published the first Braille edition of the King James Version of the Bible.

“Hidden in plain sight” is a bad cliché to use but it works

Atkinson Hyperlegible doesn’t seem that different from other geometric typefaces out there. But that comes from my perspective; I don’t have any vision problems. The beauty of Atkinson Hyperlegible is the distinctive characters that make it stand out.

The key elements of this font are:

Recognisable footprints

The letter boundaries are clearly defined so they’re legible when blurry.

Differentiated letterforms

1, I, i, and l could all be mistaken for each other in many typefaces. Same for 0, O, and Q. They’re all lines and circles with little variation. But with Atkinson Hyperlegible, each character has a unique look.

How many letters are there?

With 248 glyphs, this font has everything you’ll need for most Roman-lettered languages. I particularly like the inclusion of mathematical symbols.

Where can I get the font?

Unfortunately, this font isn’t available yet. Applied Design Works is still working on it although they have approached Microsoft and Apple with a request for them to include Atkinson Hyperlegible in their OS’s.

If/when it comes available, I’ll update this post.

Atkinson Hyperlegible on some merch

A common misconception is all people with some form of vision impairment needs Braille. That’s not the case. With Atkinson Hyperlegible, the spectrum is covered with clearer typography and improved legibility. This ingenuity was rewarded last year when Applied Design Works won the 2019 Fast Company Innovation by Design Award in the Graphic Design category.

Grab a slice of typography with Pizza Typefaces

pizza typefaces

I like pizza and I like typefaces. The good news is there are lots of cool fonts on Pizza Typefaces. The bad news is there isn’t any pizza. But you can’t have everything in this world. According to the pair, a friend told them making pizza was the most profitable business and it became an inside joke that they’d swap graphic design for pizza and they put it all together into one foundry.

But while there isn’t a whiff of mozzarella or tomato sauce to speak of, you can have are unique sans-serif fonts from a place of expertise. Adrien Midzic and Luc Borho are the duo in charge of Pizza Typefaces and they established the site in 2018. They’re both art directors and type designers by trade so they know their stuff.

Their current selection is as minimal as their designs but in the words of the great Mies van der Rohe: “less is more”. My personal favourite is Metal.

Head over to the Pizza Typefaces website and see if any of their 11 fonts take your fancy.

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