All About Fonts

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Simon Garfield talks about the history of fonts, from font "pirating" dating back nearly as far as Gutenberg to the creation of Comic Sans and Ikea’s font-change controversy. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts shows how something as simple as font choice can speak volumes about our cultural climate and personal tastes.


Simon Garfield

Comments [23]

Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@K from NJ

Thank you for responding! My daughter has vision problems too. Primarily muscle relaxation. I became aware awhile ago of her gravitation towards reading comics (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid) without thinking about how the font made reading enjoyable for her! Thanks for the suggestions.

Sep. 14 2011 10:32 PM

On the new parapet with the names of those who died at the World Trade Center Memorial, does one refer to the shapes of the letters chiseled into the bronze as 'fonts'?

If 'font' is the right term, does Mr Garfield know which 'font' is used there?


Sep. 14 2011 09:38 PM
Ron Raphael

I would like to say that I have worked in a rubber stamp manufacturing plant for about 40 years.Samuel H. Moss, inc., if you must know. I saw various changes in type setting, Computers, of course, were the major change. before that,the type that I saw set was done withlarge machines, called linotype machines and by hand on Ludlow machines. The type that was set was transferred to metal that came from "pigs" (a metal compound of iron, lead and antimony) a bakelite plae is then made. A proof for proofreading and then rubber is melted on this form and cut, by hand, and mounted on wood as per the specifications of the customer.

The type that is used is per the sample submitted by the requester. A logo or a signature can be made from the copy sent.

It has been a constant fascination for me and I find myself looking, critically. at all types that I see

samuel H. Moss Inc.

Sep. 14 2011 04:36 PM
K from NJ

@ Sophie

So far, they've also had some success with Bookman Old Style, Batang and of course -- and I know all the font nerds will laugh at us -- Papyrus.

Especially with Papyrus and Comic Sans, I believe it is easier to read because there aren't as many (if any) parallel lines to set up interference patterns for improperly focused eyes. The others are just beautifully open and uncomplicated.

We're still just feeling our way, but I welcome the day that you can order a book from Amazon and specify the font size and style.

Sep. 14 2011 01:26 PM
JFreely from NYC

He knows all about fonts and letters but can't pronounce his "r"s... if he's another Britton (Bwitton?) of this posh no "R" thing, well that's just "weediculous!"

Sep. 14 2011 01:26 PM
Amy from Manhattan

My pet font peeve is sans serif fonts that don't distinguish btwn. I, l, & 1. See what I mean? The 1st of those is a capital letter i, & the 2nd is a small letter L, but they look the same. At least the font for this page makes the number 1 look different! Same goes for O (cap letter 0) & 0 (zero) in some fonts.

Sep. 14 2011 01:05 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Maybe this was asked already; what's Mr.Garfield's favorite type?

Sep. 14 2011 12:59 PM


Sep. 14 2011 12:58 PM
ers from Stamford

I recall a big uproar in 1991 when a NYC zip code was printed with Windows 3.1 in Wing Dings it included a poizon symbol and the Star of David

Microsoft was criticized as being Anti-Semitic

It was later pointed out that the guy who lead the Windows team was named Silverberg

Sep. 14 2011 12:58 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@K from NJ

huh, that's interesting. Do you know of any other fonts that could be used too?

Sep. 14 2011 12:54 PM
Simeon Berman from West Orange, NJ

Here's a nice review and overview / commentary on Mr. Garfield's new book.

Sep. 14 2011 12:54 PM
Julie from NYC

What was the question mark/exclamation point character they were discussing a moment ago? I missed the first part of the conversation...

The Lopate Show responds:
It's an interrobang!

Sep. 14 2011 12:53 PM
Mike from Tribeca

As a kid in the sixties, I always got a kick from Marvel Comic's habitual use of "?!!"

Sep. 14 2011 12:53 PM

Sophie, it's totally awesome that Comic Sans is easier for your kids to read. I think those of us in the design world just like to rant and rave about these kinds of things because we notice certain fonts that start to pop up everywhere and get overused. Like Comic Sans. And Papyrus -

That and Comic Sans is all januty and clowny looking. Like it should always be accompanied by clip art of cartoon balloons and/or hot dogs.

Sep. 14 2011 12:52 PM

LOVE the interrobang carving!

A favorite typographic eyeroller:
In 2003, Philip Morris rebranded into Altria, using the font "Joanna"--designed by Eric Gill. Who died from lung cancer.

Sep. 14 2011 12:51 PM

Using Comic Sans is akin to wearing pajamas to work. We will laugh at you.

Sep. 14 2011 12:49 PM
Tony from Canarsie

I salute good old Courier for being easy to read, eye-catching and nostalgic. A true "comfort font."

Btw, remember when the word font was only used by type-setters and editors?

Sep. 14 2011 12:47 PM

What did he say the first font was?

Sep. 14 2011 12:47 PM
zach from west palm beach

Favorite font: OPUS

Sep. 14 2011 12:44 PM
K from NJ

Comic Sans might be hated, but it is invaluable for us. My kids have vision problems -- it's hard for them to focus their eyes properly -- and Comic Sans is getting them through school. For some reason, it is much easier for children with vision problems to see that font!

Ahhh . . . you guys just said something like that. Are people really making fun of Comic Sans because it's easier to see? Shouldn't that be what we're looking for? Form following function and all that?

Sep. 14 2011 12:44 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

I don't get the anger either towards Comic Sans. It's just a font! It's not the end of the world...or is it?

Sep. 14 2011 12:43 PM

Assuming our friend (read: HATED ENEMY) Comic Sans will come up. Mike Lacher wrote a hilarious monologue on the loathed font for McSweeney's. I can't post the direct link, as it's a tad—ahem—blue, but under the Popular category here -

Sep. 14 2011 12:24 PM
Matt from Madison, WI

Hi Leonard!
Jan (Yawn) Tscichold: I just read The New Typography. For any designer this should be read as a life-sentence to boredom. I can't understand designers who can spend 20, 30, 40 years being "Helvetiticians". Every damn day Helvetica? So much of The New Typography is less ideology than a sales piece Tschichold's work -- he gives many comparisons where his work is labeled "beautiful" next to another artist's version labeled "ugly". In this, he contradicts his own call for the disappearance of the artist in commercial work -- his ego is the biggest player in his text. And did I mention he's boooring? Students, don't listen to Yawn or you'll be working in financial services before you're 30.

Leonard, if you recall I won your t-shirt design contest with Isaac Mizrahi (the Charles Nelson Reilly shirt). This Monday I released five of my own fonts, three of which are already available at (You can see the fonts here: Praha Nouveau is based on the statue of Jan Hus in Prague; Escape from Budapest is based on a relic from the Communist Sculpture graveyard outside of Budapest; and the third The Baron of Arizona is an originalWestern font by me, inspired by legendary swindler James Reavis ( Each font types in all Western alphabets from Iceland to Malta, and contains several thousand kerning pairs. I'd love it if you mentioned my new fonts, or offered any critique by Mr. Garfield!

Sep. 14 2011 11:06 AM

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