The Art Of The Font

National Public Radio did a piece the other day about the new Helvetica. My daughter and I both blurted out, "EW! I hate Helvetica." My husband looked at us like we were from Mars. I said to him, “You have no idea what we are talking about… do you?” He sheepishly admitted that he didn’t. At which point, I said, “That is because you are not font sensitive. My guess is that you aren’t even aware of your default setting. You might be a Times New Roman without any awareness at all."

He was both uncertain and kind of defensive. I explained that fonts have a big impact on your reader and that millennials are particularly “font-sensitive." When you work in a large corporation and read hundreds of emails a day, font can have a lot of subtext. Your font says more about you than you think. 

I explained that Comic Sans was quite popular a few years ago. Difficult bosses used it as a way of seeming more approachable. Kind of like how people start a sentence with: “No offense but...” or “Can I talk to you about something?” The millennials rebelled against Comic Sans. It became an unspoken litmus test for whether or not you were hip or cool. I got scolded by my former assistant about this three years ago. “NEVER use Comic Sans!” she warned me. 

Fonts are a secret language. When I first started blogging, I capitalized a lot. My middle daughter almost popped a gasket. She said, “You must get rid of all those CAPITALIZATIONS! It reminds me of getting texts from my step-mother in high school when I was in trouble for leaving dishes in the sink.” Duly noted. 

But it goes beyond Comic Sans and ALL CAPS. You have to be careful about bolding too much as well. It can make you look overly dramatic. Possibly unstable. 

I am a big fan of the American Typewriter font, but that can easily be misconstrued as mentally imbalanced. Like the way serial killers leave notes in scary movies.

There are a number of tried and true fonts. Unobjectionable like vanilla or white bread. You can’t get in too much trouble for using the classics: Arial, Times New Roman, or Courier. But if you are trying to standout and have a distinctive style, it’s kind of like fashion. It comes with risks. There are haters out there… Beware!

Chalkboard SE is kind of fun if you are doing an invitation to a kid’s party, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a business letter.

Futura stands out, but probably better for advertising a paint ball get-together than a resume.

Marker Felt is delightful if you are an artist and you want to show some flair in your email. 

Copperplate makes for a great business card, but it’s very formal.

Avenir is nice and I prefer it to Cochin, which but can look a little tentative. Like you are hoping your email self-destructs five minutes after someone reads it. 

Noteworthy seems really silly to me. Unless you are inviting someone to high tea with finger sandwiches.

Papyrus looks like you’re trying too hard and you belong to a very exclusive sorority… in the 1950s.

Luminari should probably only be used if you are doing a poster for Shakespeare in the Park. 

Of course, it’s not just the font. It’s also the size and the color you choose. And with standard email, black ink is always the safest. But as my middle daughter is about to help me embark on a website for my new coaching business, I am feeling the pressure of selecting the right font, size, and color. It’s remarkably daunting. One thing for sure, I will not be using Helvetica. Not even the “new” one which they annoyingly named Helvetic Neue. I can barely tell the difference between them, but the pretentious spelling didn’t help their cause. 

I jokingly suggested using Comic Sans to my daughter. She didn’t find anything funny about that. Kids these days… they can’t even take a joke.