A font of historical context for 7 popular typefaces

You might know that Comic Sans should never be used for your webpage—but do you know why? Learn how some lettering was invented to be professional, and others not so much.

We take typefaces for granted, rarely changing the default fonts that come with our software, web browsers or devices.

If we decide to change a font, we mindlessly scroll through the list of typefaces, oblivious to the stories of their creation, the people who designed them, and the controversies surrounding their use.

Well, every typeface has a story—and here are seven of them.

1. Calibri— A modern sans-serif typeface, Calibri was designed by Dutch type designer Luc(as) de Groot. Calibri has been the default typeface for Microsoft office products since 2007, replacing Times New Roman as the default typeface in Microsoft Word and Arial as the default typeface in PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel.

Calibri was been implicated in a political scandal in Pakistan.

2. Comic Sans— This is the typeface everyone loves to hate. Comic Sans is a casual typeface designed by former Microsoft designer Vincent Connare, who based it on the comic books from his office. He said it “isn’t complicated, it isn’t sophisticated, it isn’t the same old text typeface like in a newspaper. It’s just fun.” Others think it’s amateurish and has no place in business or professional use.

An outrage sparked in 2011 when the CERN scientists who discovered the Higgs Boson particle announced their findings in Comic Sans.

Raise your hand if someone in your company uses purple comic sans as their default email font.

3. Myriad— A humanist sans-serif typeface, Myriad (now Myriad Pro) was designed by Carol Twombly and Robert Slimbach for Adobe Systems in 1991. The goal was to create an easy-to-read, generic typeface with little personality. Myriad was jokingly called “Generica” during its creation.

Myriad was Apple’s corporate typeface from 2002 to 2017. It replaced Apple Garamond, which had been used by Apple since 1984.

In 2010, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter criticizing Adobe and declaring war on Adobe Flash. The title of the letter was written in Myriad—Adobe’s own typeface.

4. Palatino and 5. Aldus— These Renaissance revival typefaces were designed by Hermann Zaph in 1949 and 1954. Palatino was named after 16th-century Italian master calligrapher Giambattista Palatino. Aldus was named for Venetian printer Aldus Manutius.

Palatino (Palatine Hill) is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was on that spot, according to Roman mythology, that Romulus killed his brother, Remus, and founded the city in 753 BC.

Does anyone remember using Aldus Pagemaker for desktop publishing in the early 1990s? Aldus, a Seattle software company founded in 1985, was named after Aldus Manutius. The company was purchased by Adobe Systems in 1994.

6. Times New Roman— The workhorse of newspaper and book publishing, Times New Roman was commissioned by the British newspaper The Times in 1931. It was designed for legibility in body text. “Even though nobody ever got fired for using Times, it is one of those typefaces that have been used so much that it annoys some people,” says graphic designer Lauren Leurs.

A study from 2008 found that satirical content published in Times New Roman was

perceived as funnier and angrier than the same content published in Arial.

7. Verdana— No stranger to controversy is Verdana. The typeface was created for Microsoft by Matthew Carter and Tom Rickner, primarily to be viewed at small sizes on low-resolution monitors.

Verdana’s perceived designation as a screen font led to mayhem in 2009 when IKEA changed the typeface used in its catalog from Futura to Verdana. IKEA was seeking to unify its branding between print and digital media, but typographers and designers were infuriated. The New York Times said the change “is so offensive to many because it seems like a slap at the principles of design by a company that has been hailed for its adherence to them.”

Have any font stories to share? Please post them below.

Laura Hale Brockway is a writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life on PR Daily and at impertinentremarks.com.

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