Guest blogger Emma Stewart: Poor Font Choice Syndrome

Emma is a business owner and branding expert with over 25 years’ experience in the art of graphic design. If you want to know anything about good design, art, fonts or typography, go check out Geronimo Creative Services.

 Here, Emma talks about how words are great – but what happens if you use a fugly font?

Bad fonts

Bad movie or bad font? It is unclear.

Ever wondered why your immediate, visceral aversion to something you see, read, or drive past seems to extend well beyond logic? Was it something outside the front of the $2 shop, or when somebody handed you their business card?

You have been affected by Poor Font Choice Syndrome. And it’s not as silly as it sounds.

From the hapless shop owner to the menu designer at your local, to self-styled ‘webmasters’ all over the world, anyone can inflict PFCS upon an unsuspecting public without realising the damage they can do.

Even you may have inadvertently caused somebody grief with a horrible looking document! Sure, the words were great, but the typeface you used caused your boss’s brain to go into instant meltdown.

Let’s say you need to craft a company mission statement.
You’ve enlisted the help of a brilliant, incisive copywriter (See The Galloping Skirt: Ed) who massaged your random thoughts into something targeted and precise. You approve! “Yes,” you say, “this really sums up what I want to say in a nutshell – in fact, it’s so good it’ll go on record as a direct quote”.

Then you read your mission statement again. You start to get cold feet. “Hmmm…maybe it’s too direct. Too hard-hitting. I do want people to think <insert your intention here>… but I don’t want people to think I’m Donald Trump. Perhaps a little friendliness will soften my message. I know what to do! I’ll set the type in….”Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 4.57.26 pmStop. Don’t do it. For the love of god, just dump these ‘handwriting’ fonts in the trash NOW and take a deep breath. Whatever platform you are using (an argument for another day), these insidious viruses masquerading as friendly fonts pop up everywhere and make all our lives a living hell. Sometimes you’ll see them on a movie poster, but don’t let that sway you – they are bad.

And when designing for a special occasion, please, just back away from anything that might be described as ‘cool’, ‘quirky’ or worst of all, ‘funky’. These display fonts are the worst offenders and are found where you most expect them: hen’s night nametags; Nonna’s 90th birthday invite; supermarket noticeboards.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 4.58.51 pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 5.00.10 pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 4.59.14 pm


Just get rid of them all and then shut the door behind you.

The typeface, or font, you use to convey your message, is one of the most important choices you’ll make when trying to communicate to your audience.

When looking for a font to give more meaning to your inspirational quote on Pinterest, please just choose something clean, well balanced, NOT CURLY.

Helvetica Thin? It says simple, homely, classic. Helvetica was developed as a sans-serif font with maximum legibility. Gotham Black? A headline that demands attention (see: Obama’s iconic Hope campaign posters by Shepard Fairey).

Every day we are all affected in some way by what comes into view.

When you decide to put yourself out there, you want your message to come across as intended, not screamed while beating you over the head with a phone book* in Impact or whispered from a Native American teepee in Papyrus.

A short history of the 2 shittest fonts
Brush Script is a dog that’s definitely had its day. Using it does not instantly brand you a ‘creative type’. Bursting onto the scene in 1942 (yes, it’s been around that long), Brush Script is probably best known here in Oz for the Neighbours logo circa 1985. In 2010 it was rated #5 in the 8 Worst Fonts in the World by British journalist and type expert Simon Garfield. Unless irony is your thing, stay the fuck away.

Comic Sans. Well, what’s to be said? Released by Microsoft Corporation in 1994, Comic Sans’ overly familiar comic book style was intended only for informal and educational documents. It’s been supplied with Windows since the introduction of Windows 95, and has quickly become the scourge of anybody with a smidge of good taste forevermore.

In fact, most typefaces developed for Microsoft Office applications demonstrate PFCS.

I can't put my finger on it, but apart from the bad font I suspect there may be a kerning issue.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I suspect there may be a kerning issue.

Microsoft has developed a lot of yukky, abbreviated versions of proper print fonts, which are modified to enhance readability onscreen for the digital environment. If Microsoft is the only tool at your disposal, why not have a look at Trebuchet, or for serif fonts try Palatino Linotype or Georgia (two nicer alternatives to Times New Roman).

But if you are using office fonts for anything apart from in-house use (eg the contents of a business letter), you are telling the reader that you can’t be bothered searching for the right style…or that you just don’t care about your message, your business, or even about life!

But this is not a historical piece about the origins of fonts. It’s to make you think about how you have the power to persuade the reader with more than just your wonderful words.

So why not harness the power of fonts for good, not evil?

Peruse the bookshop for beautifully typeset books, and see how some faces are easier on the eye when you have to read lots of copy.

Cookbooks are a great case in point – look at A Moveable Feast by Katy Holder for a well-laid out example of how type can be clear and informative, or My Italian Kitchen by Laura Cassai where the clever use of bolds for the ingredients makes it such an easy book to follow. Not a cookbook, but see Florence Broadhurst by Helen O’Neill. Its crisp, clean text and beautiful fabric cover made the potentially dry history of an Australian wallpaper designer into a multi award-winning coffee-table book. It sparked such a resurgence of interest in Broadhurst that she is now considered one of the most significant designers worldwide. The power of careful font selection? Absolutely!

Look at how the type speaks to you. The use of the right or wrong font elicits an emotional response (usually subconscious) from the reader about the piece they are viewing. It can speak volumes about what’s being said, and shapes the tone of your message.

So please – on behalf of everybody who might stumble across something you’ve published – take care with the typeface you choose to use. Better still, get somebody well-versed in the visual arts to mitigate any imminent Poor Font Choice Syndrome (hint).

Choose wisely, a knight once said. And remember: a free font is not necessarily a good font.

*Millennials: once upon a time, these heavy tomes were used to list landline numbers.


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