Font Foolishness

by Rob Horning

16 November 2009

 

This NYT article about font nerds by Alice Rawsthorn seems to have attracted a fair share of attention.

It’s always a pleasure to discover a formally gorgeous, subtly expressive typeface while walking along a street or leafing through a magazine. (Among my current favorites are the very elegant letters in the new identity of the Paris fashion house, Céline, and the jolly jumble of multi-colored fonts on the back of the Rossi Ice Cream vans purring around London.) But that joy is swiftly obliterated by the sight of a typographic howler. It’s like having a heightened sense of smell. You spend much more of your time wincing at noxious stinks, than reveling in delightful aromas.


  
I am somewhat aware of fonts and will often offer spurious critiques in the spirit of wanting form and function to complement each other. But I have a nostalgia for not knowing, for not having choices in the matter, for there being fewer fonts in circulation. I feel it especially when I see that particular font Chinese companies often use for English—the one that looks like a poorly kerned cousin of Century. (I think it’s Mingliu). It’s an expression of my futile wish that words were more transparently understood.

The building fascination with font recognition seems to exemplify that what is said is becoming less important than how it’s said. We’d rather think more about how the words look than what they mean. Fonts (and font consciousness) turn words into brands.

Perhaps It’s an intermediate step toward abolishing alphabets and replacing them with pictographs to accommodate our graphically minded posterity.

 

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