Review: Papyrus

Today I will focus on a typeface that was once featured in a webcomic by one of my most highly esteemed people, Randall Munroe. This particular installment he portrays a typography geek as being instantly revulsed by a greeting card written in the typeface Papyrus. I’m sorry, Mr. Munroe, but as a professionally diagnosed (^^) typophile, I can say that you are wrong. A shame, since one of the things I usually like about xkcd is how I usually agree.

Papyrus is a widely available typeface designed by Chris Costello in 1982 and released through the foundry Letraset. It is designed to mimick a pen and therefore has strong humanistic undertones. It resembles the types of calligraphy that would have been written on papyrus in the middle ages or The Renaissance.

Really, nobody seems to not like Papyrus in an objective manner. I found some e hate websites like PapyrusWatch, but those all focus on a supposed overuse of the font, which pails in comparison with the way people overuse the sacred cow Helvetica (c.f. my review). I do not find any credence to this claim.

In fact if people want to measure success by number of uses, like they do for Helvetica and Times New Roman, then I should give Papyrus a full score and a gold star sticker that says GREAT! If it’s used a lot, don’t you think that maybe this has to do with (a) sheer aesthetic value, it is a decent font, (b) it has a traditional gothic look, which for some types of business (or greeting card!) conveys the meaning that you want it to, and (c) availability.

This last factor, availability, is important. While there are many other fonts satisfying criterias (a) and (b), how many of those have been included with Microsoft Office for years? Availability can tip otherwise undecidable problems one way or the other, it has decided VHS versus BetaMax and is now deciding HD DVD versus Blu-Ray. There is no shame in having an effective marketing strategy!

To sum it up, Papyrus is a well-designed font that meets all the goals it should. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but not really unique or remarkable. It is used a lot, but that is not something we can reasonably hold against it. 4/5

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Review: Helvetica

Appropriate that my first digital review should be one of the first typefaces of the digital age! How many fonts have spawned a full-length feature film? Just one: HELVETICA!

In brief, Helvetica is a modern sans font with humanistic elements. It was invented at the Haas type foundry and bought shortly thereafter by industry giant Linotype. Its name is Latin for “Swiss”-and, much like the cheese it is looking a little moldy these days and has had some holes from the very start!

Linotype acquired the Helvetica font at a time when Swiss fonts were very popular. The hope was that Linotype (which was American) would be the first to really spread this meme to American culture, and thus the first to reap such profit. And did it ever! To this day it is one of the top selling fonts, and for nearly $100 apiece!

It is such a popular typeface that you see it just about everywhere, and has spawned numerous imitators (such as Arial… but that is a review for another day) and even a Hollywood movie. As such it is somewhat overexposed, and like an overexposed negative, it is a little hard to make out why we took it in the first place. First,it looks a bit awkward by modern standards, all of the letters are rounded. There are no serifs, so it is not very good for writing books. There is also the cost, it is nearly $100 for a license to use it. This when we have droves of free or cheaper font families like Lucinda.

There is so much more I would like to get into about things I don’t like about it (x height, the descenders) but lets focus now on the positive aspects. Helvetica has been popular for about 50 years, for a reason. Even with its faults its pleasing to the eye, it is very symmetrical. When something is written in Helvetica you know someone put some thought into using Helvetica (instead of a free or Microsoft alternative, for example, which a word processor would probably have selected for you). Still, it is a boring choice in this day and age.

Helvetica is iconic and some of the most iconic signs, posters, and labels have been typeset in Helvetica. I guess that makes me an iconoclast: 2/5

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A New Age

Hello, I am starting this Blog to discuss isues relevant to the sibling Typography and Aspie communities. Expect Humour, Irreverence, and more than a few Fonts getting Pown’d along the way!

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