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.

The Good, the Bald, and the Ugly

I’ve had a week or so to reflect upon the NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas. And when I say reflect upon, I’m referring to the glare emanating from our newly bald heads. In a week that was full of highlights, a few moments stood out.

IBD Preworkshop
Before it was a blog, a book, or irritable bowel disease, IBD was a concurrent session at the 2003 NAI National Workshop in Reno. We’ve presented at every NAI Workshop since then, this year in the form of an all-day preworkshop with 30 terrific participants.

Meeting IBDers
As a member of the National Association for Interpretation staff, I’ve always loved the annual opportunity to meet and reconnect with the people I truly work for—the NAI members. (The people who I officially report to and who sign my paychecks are out of the country at the moment, and also do not read this blog, so I can get away with temporarily redefining who I work for.)

Since we’ve started writing this blog, Shea and I have particularly enjoyed getting to meet in person the people who contribute regularly through comments. Pictured here are prolific contributors Canadian Joan, Uber Jeff, and Ranger Amy, who just all happened to be in the exhibit hall at the same time.

Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me!
If you’re a nerd—and you are a nerd if you’re reading this blog—then you likely are a fan of NPR’s weekly news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I certainly am. It was an amazing confluence of luck that the show was being taped at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas the week of the Workshop, that the taping took place the one night of the week that I was not obligated to be at a Workshop function (though I was sorry to miss seeing Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell receive her NAI Master Interpretive Manager award that evening), that Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder thought to write to NPR to ask for free tickets, that he got those tickets, and that he offered them to us.

There’s certainly nothing Phil could do to end this new era of good will.

The Comic Sans Bus
This thing tormented me the whole week. Every time I went out on the Strip, there it was, in all its outlined Comic Sans glory. Also, with those American flags, it looks like someone used a heavy dose of the Emotionator that came free with their Make My Logo Bigger cream.

Students Berating Me
As much as I like reconnecting with longtime friends at the Workshop, I try to meet as many new folks as possible. We had the opportunity to sit with a lively and fun group of students from Humboldt State University during the closing banquet. I knew right away that this would be no ordinary conversation when it started with, “Are you the guy who does Legacy? We have some ideas for you….”

Splitting 8s
There’s nothing better than splitting 8s against a dealer’s 7 and winning both hands when the next three cards shown are face cards. Am I right? Well, this did not happen to me.

Phil Broder Sticks it to Shea
When we were asked to participate in the annual scholarship auction as auctioneers, we jumped at the opportunity. We thought, we’ll have a microphone and a captive audience, what could go wrong? Then we thought, we’re going to have to do something really different, and by different we mean stupid.

So then we had the perfect idea: We’ll have a competition to raise money and the loser gets his head shaved. I can’t possibly lose! (Keep in mind, we’re both thinking this.) So we should have known that when the final results of the competition were announced (I forget what the final verdict was, it was so long ago), Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder would come storming to the front of the room with a fistful of cash yelling, “Whatever the difference is, I have enough here to make it a tie!” So much for the era of good will.

And we should have known, too, when we auctioned off the right to actually shave our heads, it would be the fine people at the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, who brought us to Los Angeles this past summer to present a two-day workshop, who would pony up the cash to do so.

Sarena Gill to the Rescue
And finally, in a display of the human kindness that makes interpretation so great, that last day of the Workshop and my first day of baldness, Sarena Gill showed up at the registration desk with argyle beanies for Shea and me to help keep us warm. And, of course, it was Phil Broder, moments later, who said, “I didn’t pay $69 and change to see you two wearing hats!”

Papyrus’ Avatar in Avatar

Since December 18, 2009, I have been checking the IBD website daily, patiently waiting for someone to ask a question or post a comment about the use of Papyrus in the movie Avatar. Until July 19, 2010, at 10:17 AM, I had been following rule number three of many unwritten rules about this blog, which states: 3. Quit writing about Papyrus because people will think you are an obsessive freak and may confuse you with Paul. The number two rule is: 2. Sausage is an acceptable commodity for the exchange of ideas and/or information in relation to IBD the book not the blog. The number one rule is: 1. Show total disregard for the proper use of the serial comma in order to annoy Paul.

Cal Martin (whom I will refer to in this post as Cal, the Chosen One, Chosen, or the One) finally posed the question on our Ask a Nerd! page. The question made me happy on multiple levels. First and obviously he asked about the use of Papyrus in the film, and second, there is someone who actually saw Avatar after me. Due to the age and number of children that I have, along with a wife with no interest in going to the cinema to see a movie that doesn’t involve talking dogs or sparkly vampires, see a movie like Avatar is a practical impossibility. I digress, here’s the Chosen One’s question/comment. Cal Martin says:

Hi nerds!

Okay, this is embarrassing. Or else I’m extremely rebellious and worthy of great praise, depending on your world view. I just saw James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. That’s right – half a year later on DVD on my 27 inch tube television. It felt like I was right inside the picture!

Anyway, please, please tell me that I didn’t just see subtitles in Papyrus throughout the entire movie. I wanted to scream, “Good God, no! Papyrus?!?! Kill me now!” but I was afraid that it might expose me as a geek, and result in my sleeping on the couch.

My question – do you have other examples of huge projects (movies, large scale exhibits, multinational company signage, etc.) that had budgets of millions of dollars, yet made a basic gaffe such as this?

Cal

One, it wasn’t that long ago that I too saw Avatar at home and had that same reaction. I had heard about the unfortunate choice of Papyrus being discussed in certain design circles. (On occasion Paul and I hold hands, a perfectly acceptable custom in India; it forms the design circle of which I am referring to.) For this reason I had purposely avoided the movie. That, along with an unfortunate dream I had involving Smurphs when I was younger, has forever changed my view of blue people.

Chosen, I did make the mistake that you avoided in post-film conversation with my wife by saying it was pretty good despite the Na’vi speaking Papyrus. To which my wife replied that I had successful ruined everything. Which, in my opinion, is a bit presumptuous.

Back to the question at hand, the typeface used in all promotional materials, posters, and even the subtitles in the movies is not exactly Papyrus (seen above in yellow) but some sort of adapted version of Papyrus (seen above in blue). What is surprising to me is that movie with a budget well over $450 million (including promotion) didn’t search from a more original typeface to represent the film. Paul and I would have gladly provided the producer James Cameron this same advice for an amount much less than $10 million.

At the very least someone tried to alter it some in an effort to customize the typeface. Upon closer investigation you will notice that elements of Papyrus have been slightly altered.

The problem isn’t really Papyrus itself. In fact I think it represents the Na’vi and the movie well. As we have stated before in conversations about Comic Sans and Papyrus, it is the overuse that has made it ubiquitous. The real problem is that is also represents Italian restaurants, coffee shops, massage parlors, and churches. As a standard default font found on PCs and Macs worldwide the typeface has found its way into countless designs and lost the intent it was created.

My personal complaint with the use of the version in Avatar is that the subtitles are just too difficult to read. The first goal of subtitles should be legibility. Now if you were watching it at an IMAX theater you could probably read it better than on my or Cal’s home theater screens.

The One, I don’t really have an answer to the second part of your question. I don’t know of any other gaffes that have had an impact in the design community as much as Avatar and Papyrus. It is a really good question and perhaps some other members of the Nerd Herd can provide examples. In the meantime this is a reminder that we should consider every design decision we make important.

If someone had placed more of an effort into researching the use of Papyrus and shown Cameron this connection, I have no doubt that more effort would have been placed in finding an original typeface.

Rule number three has been re-implemented for the future of IBD. Oh yeah, if you haven’t seen it (Avatar not The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course) the movie is really good.