I pride myself on writing about typography from the macro (teaching philosophies) to the micro (the double-storey “g” of Franklin Gothic) in a positive way, but in this piece I’ve decided to rant.
Also, so as not to alienate anyone, I could just as well have called this the “Jessica Alba Effect.”
The client had been working with these typefaces exclusively for well over a decade and doing a pretty decent job of it; for me however, this was the first time I had been forced to stare into the eyes of these two demons combined. It felt a bit like taking on Medusa, if Medusa took the form of the Olsen Twins.
Let me step back a moment and address the root of my issue—the graphic standard manual. The world of brand development can be very tricky as we all know. Just like looking for a unique URL these days, trying to find a typeface for a large branding project comes with hurdles that are at times insurmountable.
Reverse engineering is a term that is used almost daily in our studio. When we, and you, develop the core structure for a visual identity, we have to consider the sustainability of the brand. We also now have to consider the many end uses of that brand that we may never be privy to.
Such nebulous restrictions may force your decision making into the waters of blandness. I have also seen standards that have wandered into scary territory. Standards that, so as not to cause any future problems, have used an original webface at their core. I feel strongly that it’s our responsibility as strategic business partners to think bigger than that.
In a world of mass saturation, I know for a fact that we can still pick typefaces for logo projects that carry the character of a company while still feel unique in how they are executed. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning anyway.
So back to the issue at hand. Futura and Perpetua. Graphic designers the world over have honoured Paul Renner’s signature since its release. It has a precision to it. It has a geometry that we all love and, at times, in certain characters, it has warmth built in. I can say that the bold lowercase A is lovely. I have been told by friends and teachers that the only person that could use Futura was Renner (this argument is also made about Lubalin and Avant Garde).
My opinion however is that Futura’s look simply gets in the way. It is a typeface that comes with baggage. It is a typeface that screams to be seen, and that’s an issue when you’re trying to put message first. These are the same reasons that I ask students not to use it. I tell them not to rely on the designed quality of the typeface just because they feel that it adds ‘more graphic design authenticity’ to their projects.
All of the arguments above apply to Perpetua as well, but there is a bigger technical issue with Eric Gill’s serif companion to his self-titled sans. Its x-height is just useless. It’s a typeface that fits dainty, short-run, invitation-style projects, and it should not be used for body copy. It can’t handle small sizes. It can’t handle running text of lengths longer than a paragraph or two. As with Futura, it has characteristics that cause the eye to dart around the forms rather than simply allowing you to read the content.
At the end of the day however, it’s my job to play nice with the other kids in the playground. I’ve actually embraced the challenge of getting Futura and Perpetua to work.
I sometimes get way too excited about getting my hands dirty in the justification palette of InDesign, tweaking the word spacing, running specimen sheets and sharing them with everyone in the studio, a point up, two points down. These are the details that matter. At its core, graphic design is about the concept, but this next level is about the craft and the science of what we do.
At this point I should wrap it up with a comparison to Perseus cutting off Medusa’s head, but I fear I may have backed myself into a corner on that one.
Follow my type-focused fun on Instagram @lovexheight.