Fonts are on our screens, on paper, on the products we buy, and on signs everywhere! When used effectively, fonts can significantly improve our communication. Patrick Griffin (“the font guy”) shares his advice about choosing the ideal font, considering the white space, and emojis!
PRINTABLE SHOWNOTES with all the fonts HERE: https://talkabouttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SHOWNOTES-18S2-FONTS-TYPOGRAPHY-EMOJIs-with-the-font-guy-Patrick-Griffin-1.pdf
- 3 Key Learnings
- References & Links
- Andrea’s Commentary
- Interview Transcript
3 Key Learnings
When choosing a font, consider the audience and the context
- Take yourself out of the equation. Be objective. Avoid your favourite font!
- Avoid the generic fonts that ship with your software.
- Think about adjectives to describe the project or the takeaways of the document. Then find a font that embodies those adjectives.
- Consider the age and preferences of your audience.
- Usually, serif fonts are considered more traditional. Sans serif fonts are considered more modern.
White Space Matters
- When choosing a font, don’t just look at the black marks on the page. Consider the white space too.
- If you are seeking to communicate that something is bigger or more “airy,” use a sans-serif font and avoid the serifs. Serifs are ornamental and take up space.
The font should complement the message
- The font should communicate clearly, but ideally it should not be noticed. Your audience should be so immersed in the content that they don’t even notice the font. (Consider the similarly implicit influence of colour.)
- Use two fonts maximum in any document. As Patrick says, “you can’t change horses on people all the time!” If you are using two fonts:
- use one for the headings and one for the body
- use one SERIF font and one SANS SERIF font
References & Links
Fonts Referenced in this Podcast
- The Unicode Consortium – https://unicode.org
- Emoji proposals – http://unicode.org/emoji/proposals.html
- Fonts Researcher Frédéric Gosselin – https://recherche.umontreal.ca/english/our-researchers/professors-directory/researcher/is/in14360/
- History of Helvetica (Wired magazine) – https://www.wired.com/2015/04/legendary-redesign-helvetica-reborn-30-years/
- History of Fonts (FastCompany magazine) –https://www.fastcompany.com/90322896/who-was-garamond-anyway-the-people-behind-typographys-famous-names
- Fonts vs. typefaces FastCompany magazine) – https://www.fastcompany.com/3028971/whats-the-difference-between-a-font-and-a-typeface
Talk About Talk
- Fonts BLOG – https://talkabouttalk.com/talk-about-fonts-and-emojis
- COLOUR Podcast – https://talkabouttalk.com/10-communicating-with-colour-with-daryl-aitken-jenn-purkis-lori-ryerson/
- Weekly Email Blog – https://talkabouttalk.com/blog/#newsletter-signup
- Andrea – Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com
Dr. Andrea’s Commentary
Hey there. I’m Dr. Andrea WOJNICKI. You can call me Andrea. Welcome to Talk About Talk, the communication-focused podcast that provides us with the knowledge, strategies and confidence to enrich our relationships and enhance our career success.
This week, we’re Talking Fonts. SO MUCH of what we communicate these days is through a keyboard, right? So yes, fonts matter!
I was thinking that in a way, fonts are like colours. They are powerful communicators. But usually implicitly. If you want to learn more about communicating with colour, you can check out Talk About Talk episode #10.
Today, First I am going to take you through some background on fonts and definitions. Then I will introduce you to Patrick Griffin, our guest expert. I will then summarize with the key points that Patrick shares, including specific things to think about when you are creating a written document.
Alright. As usual, I have done some research and I want to start with definitions!
Personally, I have been using Helvetica a lot. So let’s start there. Helvetica is a font family. Within the font family, you can vary the size, the weight (like bold or italic), the spacing and the colour. But you can call Helvetica a font. Or you can call Helvetica condensed bold 12pt a font.
I was wondering about the difference between FONTS and TYPEFACES. “A font is what you use, a typeface is what you see.” It is related to back in the day when typing was done with metal imprints. Anyway, based on my research, I concluded two things:
- Technically speaking, the term FONT is more general. Like Helvetica. Or Arial. Or Times New Roman. Typeface is more specific. Like Helvetica bold 32pt (which is what I use for headings in my blog).
- Most people – even font nerds – consider the terms synonymous. You can say fonts or typefaces. More people seem to be using the term fonts.
Next definition. Serifs. Serifs are the tiny feet-like things on fonts. The little tails on the edges of letters. When we learn to print in school, there are definitely no serifs. Serifs are ornamental. They may seem a bit old-fashioned, traditional, or conservative. Times New Roman is probably the most common serif font.
There are 4 kinds or families of serif fonts:
- Old style, Transitional, Modern. And slab-serif.
- The old style looks like it is written with a flat-nibbed or calligraphy pen. The vertical lines are thick, and the horizontal lines are thin.
- As you move through from old style –to transitional –to modern and then to slab serif, the distinction between the width of the horizontal and vertical lines and even the serifs, is less evident.
Then there are non-serif or sans-serif fonts. Sans serif means no feet on the letters. Non-serif fonts include Grotesque, neo-grotesque, humanist, and geometric. You will hear Patrick mention and describe the old-fashioned grotesques. Neo-grotesques are slightly more modern. Think Arial and Helvetica. Humanist fonts look more like human printing. Geometric is based on shapes. Think Futura.
OK – so those categories of fonts are helpful. But my big Q is: Which do you think is more legible? Serif or sans-serif? Which is easier to read?
Well, this might vary by person. What are you used to? Here is what I concluded: The serif fonts are sometimes preferred by older people, simply because they are used to them. But the sans serif are generally more legible. They are cleaner. That’s good to know.
And for creating documents – here is some advice for you. If you are creating a document, you might wonder how many fonts you can use in a document. There are two things to consider:
- Use no more than two fonts; and
- Make one a serif and one a sans serif font. Got it? That is pretty easy. (It also makes me re-think my blog design.)
Let me introduce Patrick Griffin.
Patrick Griffin – is known as … THE FONT GUY. He is obsessed with fonts and he knows so much. When we were chatting, he kept pointing at and commenting about letters, for example on the pad of paper that was on the table. You’ll see in a minute. Patrick told me that he can identify most of the 400,000-ish fonts. And he is so passionate. You just might hear him pounding the table during the interview.
Patrick is a founding partner and type director of Canada Type, a Toronto font development studio He spends his professional time designing type, teaching about type, writing about type, or helping others with type. His leisure time is spent traveling and visiting traditional press shops, wayzgooses (wayzgooses are publishing festivals, and yes, I had to look that up), book stores, music stores and blues shows. He is also a musician. And a very fun to guy to talk to.
When Patrick and I sat down, he gave me a beautiful book with many of the fonts that he has designed – over the years. He also gave me his business card.
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: He has a business card, I’m really curious to see what fonts are on the business card. It’s very clean looking. Thank you so much, Patrick for being here.
Patrick Griffin: Pleasure.
AW: So let’s start if you don’t mind by talking about the font industry
Patrick Griffin: Okay, let’s start with what I do. I make fonts on demand; I made fonts for retail and make fonts. I just make fonts. I’d be considered a font designer. And I’ve been doing this for about 19 years now.
AW: How many fonts do you think you’ve designed or developed?
PG: I stopped counting years ago. It’s quite a few.
AW: So who are you designing or developing these font families for?
PG: I do fonts for banks, I do fonts for publishers, I do fonts for the five major movie studios are like constantly customers of mine.
AW: because I assumed that graphic designers or maybe designers of packaging, for example, for consumer-packaged goods or who are creating labels, or maybe even who are designing brand logos would be coming to you.
PG: those company as well. Yeah.
AW: so you can own a font?
PG: Absolutely. Yeah, they pay good money to own a font for the simple reason is that, that they own it, they can do whatever the hell they want with it. And that’s one good way to stand out.
AW: So if I have a font on my business card
PG: So actually, Okay, I know the guy who designed it. This font was originally published by a company called Font Bureau based in Boston,…
AW: you can tell just by looking at it – instantly.
PG: Yeah, the shapes are very, very distinct, right. I mean, it’s like, there are people who are so into cars that they can tell, you know, tell which car it is, you know, half a mile down the road. Right. Okay, it’s coming towards you. I’m the same with fonts. When I grew up I had two local heroes in Toronto, and they were both type designers.
PG: Yeah. I’m very good friends with them now. I grew up. Basically, I was fascinated by the fact that these guys, they just get to draw letters for a living.
AW: Yeah, this is fascinating. I agree. Do you think of it as art? Do you think of yourself as an artist?
PG: Not reall.? I don’t. I I’m a functionality guy. I make tools for people – I guess to have an easier time with their project to communicate. Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s, that’s what I do I make communications.
AW: That’s also why you’re here.
PG: first and foremost, they are communication tools. Fonts. I mean, there’s a lot of history dates back. The moment we invented the alphabet, and the moment with the to reshape the alphabet, we have in effect decided that we want to change the way we communicate. And they’re everywhere. So they are everywhere. Yeah, they’re everywhere. Magic. Actually, something very interesting. In Sweden seven or eight years ago, one day, Stockholm woke up and their main street, all the signs that not have anything on them, the signs were all blank on one of their main streets. But it turned out to be some sort of stunt, that due to tell people that, okay, we are eliminating communication, try to live with that. Like even the street signs, they didn’t have anything on them to prove a point. Sure enough, everybody who was walking on that street was very, very disoriented. And it’s like, they were not sure if this is the shop that they actually go to every day, when the language on the side disappeared on the fonts on the side disappeared on the words have disappeared. And the sign was like, it was always yellow. But now it’s just the yellow with nothing on it. Right. It kind of kind of threw them off.
AW: I can imagine that sounds like this scene in a movie. Right?
PG: Yeah. It was pretty freaky.
AW: it actually makes me feel anxious to think about that. I imagine walking down a familiar street now. And being completely disoriented. Wow. What are the fonts that work or don’t work?
PG: at the University of Montreal in 2011, this one guy Frédéric Gosselin. He went through 10,000 people trying to figure out what fonts would work better on the side and he came up with the weirdest thing – that slab serif are the most efficient. It has these serifs at the bottom that are really long and thick and they’re actually slabs there. They don’t have any refinement on it. It’s just a slab.
AW: I thought it was smart just knowing what a serif was, but now there’s other different kinds of serifs! So we have the slabs with right angles,
PG: Right. And then if they’re at non right angles like triangles for example, it’s the wedge there..
AW: and then the rounded serif
PG: well the rounded we call that “old style,” so that’s like the old Garamond serif…
AW: Yeah. My learning curve is almost vertical!!!
PG: Yeah, and then you have you have the modern serifs, and you have your the stem of the high which was like the trunk of the tree. And then you have the stems that are very, very thin. And what are those called the modern serif. So, the reason they call them modern is because the higher the contrast, the more modern it is. And from what you just said. I can tell you learned cursive when you were in school.
AW: So talk to me about cursive. Is it just calligraphy? Should we continue teaching kids to write cursive in school?
PG: You know, in Finland they pretty much did away with pens all together. Now kids when they go to school, they just learn keyboards. they worked with the with the trackpad or the mouse with the keyboards and that’s it. Right? This is this is a recent development like three years ago. kids growing up and filling now. and about 10 years, 20 years, you’re gonna you’re going to ask them, you know, you have a pen, like, I’ve never had a pen in my life. Wow. Or I don’t know what a pen is? Or – Oh, you mean the old thing.
AW: As the world is shifting away from handwriting, whatever it may be asking someone for their phone number, writing a grocery list, whatever, and towards doing everything, on their phone, on their laptop, they’re typing more, they’re using fonts, and I guess the curse of fonts are going away, though, are they? Are they becoming less popular?
PG: Not really. We call those scripts. It’s been kind of gaining a bit of a revival, recently, over the past, I don’t know, 10 years or so. With the with the whole rise of the, you know, by local and organic try to step back a bit from everything that has to do with a machine and do human stuff. crafty stuff, right? This is why when you go to Starbucks, you don’t see a machine, you don’t see a screen out there, you see a board with some doodles on it. You see a sign standing outside that some handwriting on it, very carefully done handwriting, some of the stuff was beautiful. Yeah, I stop and take pictures. The problem with scripts is that sometimes you can get carried away. You start using the really high-end script, all the swashes and all the and then suddenly, it’s not personal. just seems like you hire the million-dollar calligrapher to do this.
AW: I just thought of this example, in my wedding invitation. My husband’s name is “Jon.” His Christian name is “Jan.”. So on the wedding invitation, it says “Jan”, and it was in such stylized script that the Jan really read as “Ian,” and we received several checks, as wedding gifts written to “Ian and Andrea.”
PG: Yeah, and the wrong font start hitting you in your pocket! The banker has to tell you, Hey, you know, this is not you. Right? That’s a problem.
AW: Yeah, that was a problem. It hit me right in the pocket. That’s funny. I hadn’t thought of that for years, but it was, it was because we chose a font where the “J” looked like an “I”. Can you imagine that?
PG: Yeah. It’s very common, actually.
AW: So let’s get into some nitty gritty in terms of prescribing or suggesting to people, what fonts may be more or less legible, more or less appropriate. Is there a difference in how various fonts are perceived by readers?
PG: It depends on what we grew up with. It depends on the person, when they grew up. You might thinkTimes New Roman is an old-style font, it’s not. WhenTimes New Roman came out, It was the summit of modernism. We took the old style and made it new style, really, so they call it Times New Roman, dating back to the Roman days, right? So this is the new roman and times was because it was done made for Times newspaper.
AW: I thoughtTimes New Roman as the generic font, I think of it as generic. And that might be my age.
PG: Well, it has become generic because they ship with so much software. Now. I mean, it was the standard font in default font than Windows for the longest time. And this was back in the in the 90s. So it’s times new roman, as in The Times newspaper, and then new as in the modern version of Roman lettering. To this day, if you talk to somebody who’s 70 or 80 years old, and you, you ask them what they think of, you know, revolutionary typefaces they might bring up Times Roman, and say, Oh, this is a very modern type face.
AW: one of the questions I wanted to ask you, though, is also about trends in fonts?
PG: trends in fonts are very, very fickle. Very fleeting. And it also, again, it also depends on who you talk to, and what they grew up with. If you’re talking to a designer who grew up, I don’t know, go into raves. They’re going to be partial to san serif fonts are going to be partial to technical fonts, they’re going to be partial to fonts that are really hard to read, right? Or fonts that are really clean. If you talk to somebody who grew up reading a lot, then they going to like serif fonts. There is a perception of what a font does. But that perception varies from one person to another.
AW: so last night, my son was creating a poster for really important school project. And I suggested to him that the font may matter.
PG: Fonts always matter. I think the fact that fonts are not on people’s radar these days, not as much as they used to really professionals anyway, it has something to do with the glut of fonts that we have out there.
AW: When I click on the fonts, because I am interested in fonts and all that — optimizing my communication effectiveness! I click on the font thing, and
PG: there’s about 700 fonts and that list keeps growing.
AW: It’s actually overwhelming. It’s like decision fatigue.
PG: And I really don’t want to spend 15 minutes on this. So what I’m going to do, is I’m going to pick something from that first scroll on the menu. So between fonts that start from A to maybe C or D right. So you end up using Calibri, you end up using Comic Sans, you end up using Arial. Arial was so common because of that, because it starts with an “A.” So you know, if any font designers or people trying to sell fonts are listening to this. My advice– name your fonts, something with an “A.”
AW: Wow. Shouldn’t they be categorizing them?
PG: It’s becoming a bit of an interface issue, right? It is an interface issue. It used to be about 100 fonts, or 100 families shipped with the operating system. Yeah. And then whatever software you bought, say you bought Photoshop, then you got 150 more families. But this was still limited. If we get about 400, 500 fonts, you can manage that. But then you start talking about 20,000 fonts, 30,000 fonts, that is it’s a mess, right?
AW: Do you need some sort of filter?
PG: The problem with that stuff is whoever’s working on these things, they’re usually not tied to designers. And they’re usually not very well versed with type history. And so these categories you end up with categories like well, ironic. Or cowboy font or something. This comes down to why fonts are in such a sad state of affairs these days.
AW: Do you think it’s a sad state of affairs?
PG: I think so. Yeah, I think there are still many of them. And there’s too many amateurish fonts out there that that people are using for important stuff. Okay. You’re a good designer. But typography could turn your design to turn you into an excellent designer, right, versus a good designer. It’s a really important element of graphic design. Look at the coffee can that you buy. It’s full of typography. Look at the screen on your phone. It’s full of typography, right. You know, if that stuff is not done very well, then it affects sales of that particular product.
AW: Right. So even on the device itself, if you turn your phone
PG: Yeah, absolutely.
AW: Down on the back there are words and font back that are implicitly communicating something about the brand.
AW: So you used the word, amateurish fonts. And I can’t imagine honestly, other than maybe being inconsistent. I can’t imagine what an amateurish font is, but most people that are listening to this podcast, are not designers. But they are professionals who are communicating things with fonts — whether they’re real estate agent who’s got a pad of paper, or a business card or whatever. So do you have any guidelines or advice about how to present yourself in a professional as opposed to an amateur way? Using fonts?
PG: I think there are two most important things about choosing fonts. The first thing is, you have to be very, very familiar, you have to know the project that you’re working with, inside out. And then you have to translate that knowledge into adjectives. Okay.
AW: Right. And then it’s almost like a creative brief?
PG: yeah. And then take those adjectives and find a font that fits them. And just as important, you have to take yourself out of the equation. You have to remain objective; you have to remain clinical. This is about the project. This is not about you. Okay. I don’t care if you like Helvetica. If it doesn’t fit your project, don’t use it. Okay? I don’t care if you love Futura. If it doesn’t fit your project, don’t use it. And stay away from system fonts.
AW: What’s a system font?
PG: A font that ships with the operating system. Like, you know, Arial comes with Windows. That’s how you know, Comic Sans comes with Windows. That’s how you know about Verdanda and Tahoma.
AW: Why should I stay away from those because people are familiar with them?
PG: They’re familiar with them. But I’m gonna give you a funny story here. So my kid was
to like, I think, grade four. And one day, I get a letter from the school about the school bus that went in a ditch. They sent that letter to everybody, all the parents, right? It was a horrible thing. Like, you know, it’s a bus full of kids fell in a ditch, right? And that’s what the letter was saying. And the letter was set in Comic Sans.
AW: Which looks very unprofessional.
PG: What Comic Sans? You know, was made for comic book bubbles.
AW: but it’s a teacher favorite.
PG: It’s a fun font. And it’s a great comic font. But it may be great in the classroom when they’re doing, but don’t use it on people a bit, is, you know, our stuff like this, right? It’s crazy, right? So I actually went to the school and yelled at the teacher. So when the reason I’m saying stay away from system fonts is because they are used too much. And, you know, you say people are familiar with them, you know, what familiarity brings?
PG: Lack of attention. Meaningless, right? They just stopped meaning anything. Those fonts stopped meaning anything.
AW: so let me let me ask you, if you’re taking the time to choose a font, given that the font can help establish whatever your communication objective is, …
PG: this kind of goes back to your question about trends. And, you know, speaking of the adjectives, you know, I, when somebody comes to me, and they say, they want a custom font for this company’s bank, whatever. They come to me and I ask, what do you want that to be? What do you want from the font? You know, what kind of feeling? Do you want this or that?
If they say, “I don’t know,” then I started asking them specific questions. Who is your target audience for this one?
AW: for example, if they’ve created a document that is proposal to win a business, they they’re pitching on something, so I want it to look professional and my target is this 55-year-old vice president who’s got the decision to make of whether or not he hires me, right?
PG: What are you trying to tell this fight 55-year-old vice president? Who are you?
AW: I have experience. I’m dependable.
PG: Experience automatically puts it in a safe category and takes it back. Dependable. You want something that’s done centuries ago?
AW: what if I wanted to say that I’m the innovative? I’m a creative thinker.
PG: then you might you might want to use like a humanist font. That’s the thing. The sans serif now, thanks to, I guess, corporate culture and advertising and branding from the 70s and … now the only thing you see out there is Sans Serif everywhere. You go even on your screen and with the real estate squeeze boom. Serifs are ornamental, so there is no room for that stuff on small screens. And you want people use sans serif now because it’s clean, clean, it’s minimal. And while the other thing is when you look at the letters don’t just look at the letters, look at the space around the letters. When you use a sans serif, everything seems airy. When was the last time you saw a new condo development being are using a serif font or an old-style font to pitch themselves?
PG: even a modern serif. What do real estate people sell these days? They sell really really tiny places by making them look bigger. Right and how do you make something look bigger? You put a lot of space in it. Sans Serif you know there’s a lot of space.
AW: so I love this. If a real estate agent is trying to communicate implicitly that they are going to sell you something that maybe is bigger than it seems they would use an airy font.
PG: So every everything they use, they use white paint in the rooms, right? They use a lot of mirrors, to make things look bigger, right? That’s the same thing with a font, you know, whatever, whatever you’re doing to other design elements. Pick a font that you can do the exact same things with. So same thing.
AW: An adjective that I think a lot of people are trying to ensure is clearly communicated is trustworthiness.
PG: Trustworthiness is a bit of a double-edged sword here because do you trust the machine?
Do you trust the human being? Do you trust the machine more than a human being? Do you trust me being more learn machine and your target audience? What’s their take on this? It’s going to be different right? Now, in a sense of the word you get you have the humanists sans they’re self-shapes. They’re minimalist shapes based on calligraphy. Based on the hand strokes that you do with a hand. And there’s the machine sense of the word, like the Helvetica, we call those the gothics or the grotesques.
AW: the grotesques?
PG: Yeah, it’s a name that dates back from when the when the sans serifs first came out, people looked at and said, this is pretty grotesque. And the name stuck.
AW: Wow. Well, when would that have been?
PG: 1800s. But now, it’s the prize style. Right? Everybody wants to use sans serif. Nobody wants anything else. But things happen with these categories. Right. Black letter used to be the norm in Germany,
AW: what is the Black letter typeface?
PG: you know, the typeface that you see on certificates? The really complicated German old looking?
AW: Yeah, it’s like, it looks like it’s done with a calligraphy pen.
AW: with lots of tails?
PG: Yeah. Or this is actually, you know, like, heavy metal is all usually based on black letters, that’s called Black letter. Black letter used to be the norm. People used to actually read entire books and that stuff, right? Imagine that at 10 point really small. Odds are, if you pick up a mass paperback these days, it’s still uses a serif font, right? That’s what we grew up with. The publishers don’t want to take their chances on changing things. If you pick up an art book or design book, then most likely you’re going to end up with sans serif font use being used for other things. Why? Because you control the last fast, lightweight a big deal, right?
AW: You said it really depends. You really need to know your target. You need to know the demographic that you’re communicating to. Is there a table of if they are age 10 and under this is the type of font if they’re in their 20s?
PG: It depends on the product. okay, I have this light bulb that I want to sell, and I want to package it. But I don’t want to sell a light bulb I want to sell happiness. Happy fonts are bouncing happy fonts are bubbly, happy fonts are soft.
AW: Let me ask you about emojis. Perfect segue to emojis. What do you think about emojis?
PG: Emojis are just an evolution of what we used to call dingbats. Remember dingbats?
AW: Oh, yeah, right? I remember wingdings and zap dingbats.
PG: You know, the there’s actually, there’s actually a technical term called the Unicode. It’s actually a map of Zap dingbats that you can emulate in font editors and by design programs, but that’s what emojis are. They’re basically dingbats that, that we use, much more frequently now and texting.
AW: Well, this is this is something that I’m really, really interested in.
PG: What’s interesting about your question is that it hits the mark, because the body that regulates the character set that people work with all over the world. It’s called the Unicode Consortium. Now they’re assigning entire blocks for nothing but emojis. Like blocks are like cellblocks. The Unicode Consortium, that regulation body, they are treating emojis exactly the same way that they’re creating other languages, or other scripts. for example, you know,
it’s a language in and of itself. Well, that’s what those guys are thinking, I don’t see it.
AW: fascinating. It sounds like they have a lot of power they can basically sensor…
PG: Actually, that they used to have a lot of power back in the 90s. Now, they’re just basically bought and sold by the Googles and the Apples of the world. Really, yeah. I mean, those are the guys who will sign emojis and was that it was a bit of a thing. Look, with fonts, the way we know them, we’re talking about an alphabet. Okay. I mean, it could have different shapes and different scripts, like in Russia, the alphabet is different than Greece. The alphabet is different from ours but still an alphabet. And there’s only so many ways you can draw in a before it turns into a Salvador Dali thing. But with emojis you know, you’re notdealing with alphabets, you’re dealing with images. So putting them in this net of standards. It’s impossible, actually. Yeah.again, yeah, to answer your question: emojis are just dingbats that grew up and became really annoying.
AW: annoying, and they’re also funny. I think they’re funny.
PG: Some are, yeah. About two years ago, were some company had a contest. If you can write an entire letter in emojis, and we can read it entirely, without problems, then we’ll give you some money. Well, nobody won anything. Because it was it was impossible. It’s not an alphabet, right. So…
AW: Going to go back to another question, How many fonts are too many?
PG: If you’re using a document that uses more than two fonts, one for headlines one for tax, then you’re probably doing something wrong. Clear communication. You can’t change horses on people all the time. …
AW: nice metaphor!
PG: what you’re trying to do with most messages of considerable length. You’re trying to get people to the point where they’re actually reading immersively. When you send your resume, you want people to be immersed in it. If you put five or six fonts in there, they’re just jumping from one orient to another. that’s ineffective.
AW: So Wow, that is – I think that’s a really critical point. If I’m consciously and strategically choosing a font, my first objective should be to engage the reader.
PG: Absolutely right.
AW: and then to communicate the right things, but then at the same time not doing it in a way where they’re thinking about the font, it should be, where the font is complimenting their interpretation.
PG: There’s another mistake that people make when they’re choosing fonts. The common wisdom (and this was in the typography field) is that if a font calls attention to itself, it failed this job. fonts are supposed to be transparent fonts are supposed to be the servants of the content. Choosing a font means you are actually in effect, deciding on a form thing. But that form should always serve the content, people get carried away with the font thing. Oh, look, that “A” is so beautiful. I want to choose it. But then they have another thing about choosing fonts. Don’t fall in love with a single letter, you gotta test a font or look at a font and its entirety. The a maybe beautiful, but you put it beside the queue, and it looks like &*$%#!
Never judge a font from ABC, the you know, look at it in the paragraph. If you’re having a problem choosing between three fonts then you have three paragraphs on the screen just set each paragraph in a different font and you see what kind of vibe you’re getting from them. Like every time you go to Dairy Queen or any of those ice cream places. Those huge billboards… Look at the letters there. Look at what they’re trying to do.
AW: They’re trying to actually make the letters look like ice cream!
PG: and it’s always soft. It’s kind of wavy, there’s no hard edges. And that’s just, that’s just one industry and that kind of design is called it’s part of the Art Nouveau aesthetic. Things are soft and no, hardly any corners there. But still, you’re dealing with the alphabet. So letters have to have the same DNA. Now imagine Dairy Queen, selling their products using Helvetica with the Swiss, this would never work. It’s inconsistent and it’s just a waste. Yeah. There is such a thing as packaging your product with a wrong font. And that is actually more common than you think.
AW: What are some other brands that you think do a great job of it?
PG: There are tons of horrible ones. The really good ones are the ones that actually, you know, you look at a brand that last of a long time with the same aesthetic without changing, that means they did a good job.
AW: So I’m thinking of Nike, and Nike has a couple different versions. I can imagine there’s one where it’s all caps, and it’s italicized, and then there’s one where it’s a small I-K-E.
PG: it’s interesting because it’s almost every year they change their typography around that swoosh. It depends on the trends. In the 90s they were into grunge. They were selling the cleanest shoes ever, but they wanted grunge, and started using grunge typography and …
AW: What’s grunge typograph?
PG: it’s exactly what it sounds like it’s really messy stuff. It’s like this distressed typography you know, faded out letters. Letters doubled up on each other. In the 90s there was this grunge thing going on. And, and it was around the time when font editors became affordable to the general public. And so you had all these students taking existing fonts and just destroying the hell out of them with Photoshop filters… And then putting them something for sale somewhere or for download somewhere. And there was this big boom, and it was around the same time that pixel fonts were happening. It was around the same time
AW: I was just thinking back to the Nike brand logo with the word Nike, it’s capitalized, and I italicized I think, but I’m interested in the capitalized. So we’ve all heard that capitals means you’re yelling, and some people will they’ll start typing in caps. They’ll go Oops, sorry for yelling!
PG: It’s just another means of emphasis really. Caps are just the different aesthetic, right?
AW: Why do people consider it yelling?
PG: Well, it’s bigger. Well, if you make the font bolder, are you yelling as well?
AW: I’m curious.
PG: if you’re texting then it’s hard to tell a size or bold. So if you want to emphasize something, I don’t think it’s a big deal to just capitalize one word and you know, or two words. But if you type in entire text and in caps then I guess you’re giving people the cue to ask you is your caps lock on or, are you yelling?
AW: like Trump was asked with that famous tweet that he sent out? Are there any differences in your advice or observations in terms of fonts that are on a printed page versus on a screen?
PG: Yeah, absolutely, certainly the case. To steal from Marshall McLuhan – The medium is not only the message, the medium dictates how the message is wrapped. And that affects the fonts as well. When you turn on your phone, all the fonts that you’re seeing that you see, they’re all Sans Serif fonts. Why is that? It’s because the screen is small, and they cannot any room for ornamentation. When I deliver the message fast and transparently… So it depends. If I’m reading a novel by Stephen King or somebody, and the font is sans serif font that I would have problem.. It seems inconsistent. Right? So it absolutely depends on the media, okay. Things are done on the screen very differently from… and to this day, we’ve had about 500 years to perfect design and layout on paper. The internet’s only about — what is it– 30 years old now? It’s still very inconsistent. And the thing with the internet is that now everybody’s on the internet. So anybody and his grandfather is a designer. They slap a few things together without having any idea what they’re doing and it’s on the web. And you know what, it might become famous. People in the design industry are have a vested interest in telling you that design is important. But they don’t have a vested interest in telling you is that sometimes it’s not.
People can become successful without good design. Right?
AW: Same thing applies to photography, right? Like photographers all sudden everyone’s a photographer.
PG: There’s a lot of font designers out there who honestly believe that they’re artists and they treat themselves like artists, they actually behave like artists – really cranky. I’m not like, I think of myself as the guy who makes it words, you know, making something.
AW: So you’re like manufacturing something as opposed to …
PG: Yeah, because designing its functionality,
AW: I noticed that you called yourself a developer, not a designer and I was expecting, anticipating that you would call yourself a designer
PG: Oh my – you know, my title is type designer, right? But again, Me, I just like to keep my head down and do the work and go hang out with the family or watch a movie or something.
AW: you’re obviously obsessed with fonts and fascinated by fonts.
PG: It’s what I like to do. I notice fonts everywhere. And there’s something in the back of my mind, whenever I’m outside with somebody, I’m always aware of which fonts they’re looking at. And their bodily reactions to what they see. And when, when I’m walking around with my kid walking downtown, or shopping. I look at the things that he’s attracted to, to buy. And I try to process them first and in terms of influences, or why does he like this thing? And then sometimes I find myself thinking, Well, you know what, this font that they’re using on the packaging must have had something to do with this.
AW: That’s why they call you the font guy.
PG: I’m really fortunate that I’m doing something I like to do, which not a lot of people can claim.
AW: And by the way, ladies and gentlemen he’s wearing a black t-shirt that has Helvetica written across his chest in what looks like a Metallica font. It’s awesome. I love it I’m going to take a photo for sure.
PG: You know, I like doing it. I make fonts because I want to see them used. I want people to use them. And I am very proud when I’m driving down the 401 and I see my font on a billboard. I’m like “YAY!”, you know, I’m a happy guy. Right? Imagine when I go to the airport and I see my font use for their signage and all that stuff. I love it.
AW: Okay, I’m gonna ask you to five rapid fire questions now that I asked every guest.
AW: number one What are your pet peeves?
PG: too many to count. I don’t like clutter. I don’t like smartphone zombies. I you know I’ve got way too many to count pet peeves, but I try to be tolerant.
AW: Number two – what type of learner are you?
PG: Probably predominantly auditory.
PG: I’d say 70%. More auditory than visual. Yeah, but I’m also I also play music and, I’ve done that for a long, lot longer than so I’m a bit of both.
AW: Number three, introvert or extrovert?
PG: I’m a thoughtful person. Making fonts is actually a very relaxing, like you get into a zone where it’s very, very quiet. Very
AW: Do you think you get into flow?
PG: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it’s, it’s very flow. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but I like it. Yeah.
I think I’m an introvert if I go to a party within about half an hour, 45 minutes on. I don’t I don’t mind people’s company. I think I think people like being around me.
AW: So that’s what they tell you?
PG: They don’t tell me but I get I get a vibe that they do. And you know,…
AW: that’s funny. Okay. Number four, communication preference for personal conversation.
PG: First thing I do is pick up the phone. I’m old school that way. I like email because you can actually attach stuff and if you want to show somebody something, like a photo or something like that, right? Like, you got to see this. Like, you can’t exactly do that over the phone.
I prefer hanging out in person. And the phone is kind of as close as you can get. I stay away from social media because to me, it’s a time sink. It’s a real rabbit hole. I’ve seen people just lose years of their lives on it.
AW: Okay, last question. Is there a podcast or a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending?
PG: I’m a tech nerd. So I read Slashdot, a lot, Slashdot. And I’ve been reading it since the mid 90s. It’s a tech blog. It’s a tech nerd thing. And there’s something called the type drawers, type drawers.
AW: So is there anything else you want the listeners to know about fonts?
PG: I like type and I think it’s a glorious history. Everything we know about fonts now is actually the evolution of a grand beautiful craft that dates back centuries. And I think it’s, magnificent, you know, magnificent, in a Lord of the Rings kind of way, you know, but that’s just me. If somebody wants a hobby, typography is a good thing to get into.
AW: You know, I thought it was interested in typography before I spoke with you, but now I’m definitely more interested. It’s fascinating stuff.
PG: it is.
AW: Very cool. Thank you so much. I really learned a lot and I had fun. I hope you did too.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but Patrick is fabulous, isn’t he? PLEASE check out his t-shirt and his license plate in the photos on the TalkAboutTalk website. Click on PODCASTS and you will find those images.
To summarize then. I asked Patrick what are the most important considerations regarding fonts. And he answered with two things.
- Think about adjectives to describe the project or the takeaways of the document. Then find a font that embodies those adjectives.
- Take yourself out of the equation. You have to remain objective. Do not use your favourite font.
There are 3 other important learnings from Patrick:
- THINK OF YOUR AUDIENCE – age, preferences
- WHITE SPACE MATTERS – Patrick was talking about how if you want to feel airy and vast, sans serif is better because there is more white space.
- EMOJIS. Another of my favourite Patrick griffin quotes. When I asked him what he thinks about emojis?
“Emojis are just are just dingbats
that that that grew up
and became really annoying.”
Let me leave you with my favourite Patrick Griffin quote from this episode:
“If a font calls attention to itself, it failed this job.
Fonts are supposed to be transparent.
Fonts are supposed to be the servants of the content.”
I love it. OK – that’s it for now. I learned SO MUCH in this episode. I hope you did too!
Here’s my Q for you. What is your FAVOURITE font? And WHY? Personally, I love Helvetica, even though Patrick says we shouldn’t use system fonts. What’s your favourite font. Leave email me to let me know. I’m at andrea A TAT .com. One last thing – If you’re not already signed up for the TAT email blog, you really are missing half the fun! Just go to TalkAboutTalk.com to sign up for the blog and to access all of the past blogs.
I’d love to hear from you.
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