The Story Behind 5 (Un)famous Fonts

Every time you open a newspaper, a book or any web page you are interacting with a font. It could be famous Times New Roman, Ariel, Helvetica or some less liked fonts such as Papyrus or Comic Sans. And although you probably don’t think much about them, each font has a story to tell, a story about its maker and circumstances that led to its creation. So join us as we share with you stories behind several most loved and hated fonts.

Times New Roman
This font, most frequently used in books and seen on screens, came to life thanks to British newspapers The Times. Back in the early 1900s Stanley Morison, a typography expert, complained how existing Victorian font that The Times was using (called Times Old Roman) was aesthetically unpleasing and difficult to read. He believed that The Times needed a font with different point sizes, so that different sections in the paper could be easily separated. Newspaper publishers responded to criticism and invited Morrison to work with their in-house draftsman Victor Lardent and create a new font. Times New Roman, as it was named, debuted on October 3, 1932 in The Times. Praised for its readability this font was exclusively used by The Times for a period of one year, after which it became available to everyone (and loved among book publishers).

Sometimes during mid-1950s, the Haas typefoundry in Switzerland noticed a decrease in sales of their sans serif (or as they would call them “grotesk”) fonts so the President of the company Eduard Hoffmann decided to commission former Haas designer, Max Miedinger, to design a new font. Balanced, tidy and practical this new font was built to work pretty much anywhere without ever seeming inappropriate. Actually, the only problem with this font was its name: Neue Haas Grotesk. So, when German company D.Stempel AG started marketing this typeface during 60s it looked for a fresh name that would suit its future international career. Finally, the inspiration was found in Swiss roots – Confoederatio Helvetica is a Latin name for Switzerland.

Commissioned by the IBM in 1995 this typewriter-kind-of-typeface was nearly released under the name “Messenger”. But, after giving it some thought Kettler, the author, decided to changed the name to Courier because “a letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier which radiates dignity, prestige and stability”. However, once Courier debuted the IBM failed to secure exclusive rights to its usage, which made this font available for free to the entire typewriter industry. In time it became an industry standard for all screenplays to be written in 12 point Courier or a close variant, and even the U.S. State Department used it as a default font for treaties and other diplomatic documents until 2004. Today, it has found renewed use in electronic world in cases where consistent alignment of characters is necessary.

Comic Sans
According to former Microsoft employee and creator of Comic Sans, Vincent Connare, this font was supposed to be used only for Microsoft’s software interface called Microsoft Bob. Apparently Connare, who was testing a children’s software edition that included a talking cartoon dog, didn’t like that the words in the dog’s speech bubbles were written in Times New Roman. He thought that font should be more playful and friendlier so he consulted two comic books, The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen, and spent a week working on a new, relaxed font that mimics lettering in comic books. Hence, the name became homage to comic-book inspiration and the lack of serifs on most letters. From that day on the design community constantly mocked and ridiculed this font but Connare doesn’t seem to mind: “If you love it, you don't know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”

Brush Script
Robert E. Smith designed this lively calligraphy typeface with brush characters in 1942 for the American Type Founders. As soon as it debuted it became extremely popular among advertisers and retailers who started using it frequently to promote luxury and consumer goods. Although its popularity continued through 50s and 60s the fact that all amateur designers overused it by applying it to their invitations, business cards and menus made Brush Script yet another font that graphic designers hate to use. Today it may occasionally bring back nostalgic associations to the post WW2 era but it had definitely lost the luster it had before.

Today, many fonts that are judged and mocked were actually very successful at the goal they were created to fulfill. Maybe their bad reputation isn't 100 percent deserved after all? What are your thoughts? Do you love Helvetica or hate Comic Sans? Let us know, we would like to hear from you!