Toucan play at this game

It’s been a busy couple weeks for graphic design and typography in the news. The thing is, I often miss the news because I’m busy watching baseball and old episodes of Battlestar Galactica, so I appreciate it when IBD readers send links to interesting stories. Here are a few items that landed in my in-box recently.

Maya Archeology Initiative vs. Toucan Sam
Personally, I am tired of Guatemalan nonprofit organizations using scare tactics and lawyers to bully defenseless multi-national food conglomerates. So I was glad to see Kellogg’s defend its signature Toucan Sam against the Maya Archeology Initiative’s logo’s blatant trademark infringement. (In case you can’t tell them apart because they’re so similar, the one on the left above represents an organization devoted to defending Mayan culture, the one on the right is Kellogg’s Toucan Sam.) According to news articles about the case, Kellogg’s objects not only to MAI’s use of a Toucan, but also its use of Mayan imagery, because, it turns out, Kellogg’s uses Mayan imagery, too.

Fight the good fight, Kellogg’s! Before you know it, MAI (which was *this close* to stealing the acronym of the association I work for) will be spelling fruit with two Os and trying to pass off high-fructose-corn-syrup styrofoam balls as cereal, just like you do.

Thanks to Friend of IBD Kirk Mona who alerted us on Twitter to this story on, and my co-worker Jamie King, who sent a link to this story on TechDirt.

A Book About Type
This story from NPR, sent to us by Friends of IBD Jeff Miller and Brent Erb, uses the words Font and Type in its headline, so it was pretty much guaranteed that I was going to hear about it.

The article is about a new book called Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. (Simon is the really talented part of this author’s name. Garfield is just riding Simon’s coattails.) The book is about the history, trends, and cultural impact of certain fonts, and it is on my Amazon wish list.


Titling Gothic
New York City’s Central Park, a large urban nature area named after a coffee shop in the TV show “Friends,” made the news recently when it debuted its new identity on more than 1,500 signs (seen above in a New York Times photo by David W. Dunlap). And when it did, Friends of IBD Adrianne Johnson and Bob Brzuszek let us know about this article on the New York Times blog.

The new identity features a palette of warm green with red highlights, a heavy dose of pictograms, and a typeface called Titling Gothic. The story quotes the typeface’s designer, David Berlow of the Boston-based Font Bureau as saying, “None of the styles of Titling Gothic exude the kind of authoritarian insistence of Helvetica, which I’m sure was considered in the selection process.”

I love this for all sorts of reasons. I love the discussion of the nuances of type, the carefully considered decision-making process, and that New York City had to go all the way to the home of the hated Red Sox to find a type foundry with just the right typeface for their park.

Thanks to everyone who sends these stories! I’ll make you a deal: If you keep sending current, relevant news items, I will keep you apprised of developments in six-year-old episodes of Battlestar Galactica as I watch them.

Get to Know a Typeface! Connecticut State of Mind

We recently received this question from Friend of IBD Patricia Perry through our Ask a Nerd! link:

I am a font nerd. I collect fonts much the same as other folks collect small china porcupines. I recently discovered “Connecticut.” I am in love with this font. Although it is not appropriate for every venue, I find its form and grace appealing. What are your thoughts on this cute little font?

To my knowledge, Patricia has never been in my house and I’m certain that she does not have a key to the safe in the basement, so I’m a little freaked out that she knows about my china porcupine collection. Nevertheless, Patricia is the one and only person ever to review our book on Amazon and she gave it five stars, so any question Patricia asks, we answer.

I had never heard of Connecticut as a typeface before (though I do know that there’s a suburb of New York City called Connecticut*). There’s not a lot of information about the typeface available online, but my guess is that it was designed by someone with artistic talents, but not much experience in typeface design. The first clue to this effect is that it’s available as a free download from a number of sites, including FontPark and Fonts 101.

I agree with Patricia that Connecticut is graceful. (I can’t believe I wrote “Connecticut” and “graceful” in the same sentence after this month’s college basketball championship.) The individual letterforms are great. They have an elegant, organic form, accentuated by tall ascenders, like those seen in the lower-case h and d in the sample above.

What bothers me is the way the letters interact with one another. You can see what I mean the sample above (which was created by a random text generator). The typeface is meant to emulate script writing, so it bothers me the way the letters don’t connect. This can be seen most clearly in the space between the i and s of is.

Look at the h and e in Shea. Not only does the terminal stroke of the h not connect with the e, but the angle of the stroke where the h would connect to the cross stroke of the e is different, so the illusion that you’re looking at handwriting is broken.

I would take Patricia’s comment that this typeface is not right for every venue one step further. I’d say that with this typeface, you have to not only choose the appropriate venue, but also use it in specific ways. I would definitely not use this typeface for large blocks of text at a small point size. But at a large size, short words, like my favorite Scrabble word Qi, emphasize the elegant, organic form while offering the opportunity to minimize the issues caused by the way the letters interact (if you’re only using this typeface for one or two words at a large size, you can take them into Illustrator and fix those issues).

There’s a lot to like about Connecticut (the typeface, not the cheating basketball team and its corrupt coach). Patricia’s affinity for its grace and elegance is certainly warranted. But as with many free typefaces that do not come from established, well-known typeface designers, it’s important to use it carefully and pay attention to the details.

And whatever you do, avoid the Merritt Parkway at rush hour.

*Note to Shea: This joke is funny because Connecticut is not just a suburb of New York, it’s its own state. I thought I’d explain, given how little time in your life you’ve spent in or near New York.

Comic Sans saves the day

Yes, we’re hard on Comic Sans here at IBD. In fact, a month or two ago, I wrote that using it makes a designer look like a hack. So rather than kick a typeface when it’s down, I thought we’d give it its due. The above video, called “Font Conference,” presents Comic Sans in a new light.

Regarding my own interest in this video, there are two possibilities (perhaps not mutually exclusive):

1. It’s a funny way to anthropomorphize some of the common typefaces we’ve all come to know and recognize.

2. I am a bigger nerd than I thought I was. I am aware as I watch it that I am laughing out loud at jokes about typefaces, but I can’t help myself.

Regardless, there are a number of funny, quotable lines (“Pencil, telephone, hourglass! Diamonds, candle, candle, flag!”), but the top honor, in my opinion, goes to when the font Ransom, holding Courier and Curlz MT hostage, demands placement in a variety of media, including Microsoft Works. Times New Roman responds, “You’re insane. Nobody uses Microsoft Works!”

One community, one typeface



I learned about the Basque people who live in southern France and northern Spain while studying French in college. (I majored in French  to ensure that I would not be burdened by some cumbersome “job” or “career” when my studies were over.) The Basque community exists within the political boundaries of France and Spain, but it is culturally distinct and its members speak a unique language unlike any other European language (much like Yankees fans within the rest of the United States).

When I visited the Basque region in 2007, I was struck that whenever the unique Basque language was represented visually, from the names of restaurants painted on windows to official parking signs, the same typeface was used, even when it was drawn by hand. This is an instance where a specific typeface is used not to evoke a certain emotive effect or even accentuate legibility, but rather as a signal that the text is meant for a certain audience. In an environment where multiple languages are present, readers of the Basque language know immediately when information is directed toward them.

I found this to be an effective way to use a distinctive typeface.

Even if we do not incorporate multiple languages at interpretive sites, we can still draw from this example when choosing typefaces. For instance, type related to wayfinding might be set in a certain color or style while interpretive text on panels or in exhibits might be treated differently. Some sites may choose to treat type related to natural heritage differently than that related to cultural heritage. Or type for sophisticated, educated audiences might be set in a classic serif typeface, while type for Yankees fans might be set in Comic Sans.

Whatever the distinction, detailed guidelines and consistent typographic treatment can serve as visual signals for visitors looking for specific kinds of information.

What’s the difference between a typeface and a font?

This is one of those “Do we dare bring it up?” subjects, not only because the definitions of these terms have been muddied with common usage and changes in technology, but also because nothing makes you look like a bigger nerd than trying to explain the difference between a “font” and a “typeface.”

Changes in technology and the way these terms have been used by computer programs have caused some (mostly people who have social lives and talk about things like movies and current events) to use the terms interchangeably. These people might think they’re happy, but little do they know that there’s a difference between a font and a typeface.

To encapsulate the many arguments out there, “typeface” describes the design of a set of typographic characters. It describes the aesthetic, visual form. (“Helvetica” is a typeface.)

The term “font” is more specific and therefore leads to more impassioned discussion and angry posts on graphic design blogs. Some say that fonts are simply styles within a typeface (Helvetica bold, oblique, roman, etc. are fonts within the Helvetica typeface), while others get more specific, arguing that a font includes not only styles but point sizes (Helvetica oblique at 10 points is one font, Helvetica oblique at 12 points is yet another font).

An important, further distinction is the origin of the term “font.” It describes the technical aspect of how typefaces come to be represented. Before computers, a “font” was the set of metal characters representing a typeface in a certain style at a certain size for use on a printing press (this is why some people define a font as a style and a point size of a typeface). Since the advent of computers, a “font” is the digital file a printer uses to print Helvetica oblique (this is where the people who think of fonts as a style without specifying point size are coming from).

Unfortunately for people who like things clean cut, all of the above people (except those happy know-nothings who don’t even realize that there’s a discussion to be had) are correct. The term “typeface” is pretty easily defined, but because “font” has its origins in technology that has changed drastically over the centuries, it is harder to pin down.

Of course, we’re not the first to bring this subject up. Here is a small sampling of articles out there on the subject:

“They’re not fonts!”

“When is it wrong to call a typeface a font?”

“Font vs. typeface”

“Typeface != Font”–font

“Font or Typeface?”