If you only had ONE FONT... which one would it be and why

by Fred Showker

20th Annual Fall Fonts Festival Well, we asked this question in a LinkedIn forum three years ago, so we decided to ask it again! DTG went into the very same LinkedIn group and asked this question:
"If you could have only one font, which would it be and why?"
Following are just some of the responses, which are very different from those we received the last time. We hope you enjoy these thoughtful comments as much as we did. BRAVO! We invite you to share your experiences too!

  1. Sandro says
    It's like asking a painter to use only one color. In any case, I will keep Avenir. It satisfies many needs.
          Avenir is similar to Venus, Folio or Futura -- a geometric sans serif designed by Adrian Frutiger *
  2. Claude says
    That's a good question! I'd go for Garamond... Or Gill (sans serifs).*
  3. Tim says Frutiger*
  4. Taijarne says
    hmm probably Orator std, it's perfect for my style of design. [Ed note: this is most unusual since Orator has no lower case. Everything Mr. Chandler sets would be in all caps!]*
  5. Tim says
    Wow! Taijarne, that's a brave suggestion. Orator Std is essentially a monospace font with notoriously poor readability as a consequence of this.
          I know this thread is hypothetical, however your statement about design style leads on to another interesting area of discussion. Should designers have a single style that they are recognised for or is there more value in a designer that is versatile in their approach?*
  6. Taijarne says
    surely you can have a signature style and still have versatility? I think it's great to have both. It's a tricky one though because clients are different, and when looking through your portfolio some may like work that you've done following a brief from a client and others may be drawn to your own personal style, where a client has given you creative freedom.*
  7. Doug says
    Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk. I like Tim's Frutiger suggestion too.
          he Akzidenz-Grotesk family is actually a collection of numerous grotesque typefaces from different designers, unified to create a complete family.*
  8. Helen says
    Avant Garde I reckon. How funny that it's easier to pick one as opposed to three which we briefly discussed in another thread. (See further thoughts on Avant Garde)*
  9. Larry says
    Bookman. It has what I call "dirt under its fingernails." Bookman was designed by Edward Benguiat, ITC *
  10. Paul says
    Helvetica Neue without a doubt.
          Helvetica design is a classic that has stood the test of time -- and changed with technological advances in the process. First announced in 1957, Helvetica was re-released in 1983 as the Neue Helvetica family, with a suite of subtle differences that made a positive impact on the design.*
  11. Alberto says
    Just one typographic muscle to flex? Hmmm, I'd opt for a workhorse like Univers in an instance like this! [Three others voted for Univers]
          The Univers typeface family is one of the most prolific grotesque sans-serif typefaces of the century. Like Helvetica┬«, Univers is based on 1898's Akzidenz-Grotesk.Gill Sans :-)*
  12. Larry says
    I'm wondering if the underlying assumption in many replies is only in terms of headlines or display type. What about text, subheads, captions? For me a heavy use of Univers, Arial, any Helvetica, Akzidenz, Frutiger (all good in some way) is like, sort of like, wrapping a message in plastic, as in "Do not touch!" As in, to misquote comic Chevy Chase,"We're elegant. And you're not!" Why, I wonder, this focus on coolth, austerity, and emotional distance? Or am I just in a curmudgeonly mood from working on a pro bono job ($0 per hour) on which they are driving me nuts!*
  13. Tim says
    Larry, interesting thought. If I could only use one typeface then it would have to serve as a headline, body and any level in between. So my choice of Frutiger came about with that in mind... it was a design decision and there had to be a compromise.
          In my mind, Frutiger ticks a lot of boxes, and as sans serifs go, it's great for body copy and also works well as a headline (as long as you keep an eye on the kerning). Despite being associated with other Swiss typestyles (Univers and Helv) it feels more human.
          ... and let's face it, the greatest typographer of the 20th Century put his name to it. ;-)*
  14. Larry says
    Tim, "greatest typographer of the 20th century..." If you mean designer OF type, perhaps Adrian Frutiger gets the nod. I think that might make an interesting sub-thread, naming type designers, type families, and so on.
          If you mean designer WITH type, I stand firmly, Herb Lubalin gets the nod. I'll let that sit so I can go Saturday shopping (is multigrain pasta really healthy? I eat a lot, am 79, exercise quite enough, and my health is perfect, near as I can tell. But now a book called Grain Brain says otherwise).
          I suppose we could talk about the typography on packages of pasta but there is none! Or about tiny "directions" on boxes of meds, that are way too small for seniors to read.
          "Thought experiment" you called this thread. I agree. Kinda fun. An international response. Civilized. In a week where that is rare enough.*
  15. Paul says
    Hi Larry. I understand what you're saying. I chose Helvetica Neue because it has a regular, extended and condensed versions of the typeface. The condensed version works very well with body copy.*
  16. Cameron says Minion. *
  17. Tim says
    I would go for Futura. Of course sticking to one font won't work in the real world. My second would be Helvetica Neue. *
  18. Bart says
    Arno Pro. Yep. Arno is a humanistic serif typeface based on 15th and 16th century typeface styles. The Arno font family was designed by Robert Slimbach of Adobe Systems and released in 2007*
  19. Sandro says
    my thought is: if we have something like 200,000 fonts why should we use only one?!*
  20. Tim says
    Sandro, because it's a thought experiment. [Unable to find "Sandro" other than this free "crap" font Sandro.font] *
  21. Joel says
    I'd want a serif family with old style figures.*
  22. Elizabeth says
    I agree with those that voted for Frutiger or Helvetica Neue for the main reason it would function for both print and web applications and its clean and readable and very 21st Century.*
  23. Petrik says
    Interesting. The question was font, yet everyone is talking typeface.*
  24. Elizabeth says
    Good point Petrik, or should I say pixel?
          Here is a fun article on the terms as they evolve and stay the same.*
    Quoting  begins Even type experts agree: Typeface and font can be used interchangeably at this point. But if you come across an annoying pedant who cares deeply about maintaining the distinction for the masses, just remember this: The difference between a font and a typeface is the same as that between songs and an album. The former makes up the latter. Remember that and you're good to go. Quoting  ends
  25. Larry says
    Now I am really confused. Never mind whether it's typeface or font (meaning weight and size I suppose). What about the ubiquitous corporate desire for branding? Branding, however accomplished, is a search for and attempt to create a unique identity. For individuality. How does one accomplish that with the ubiquitous and so cool Frutiger or so stainless Helv Neue? VW did it, in the 60s with metal type and it still holds today with the digital cut of Futura.
          I am blanking on thinking of some well-branded business entity, or publication, that manages to brand itself cleanly with primarily one of those pure sans typefaces.*
  26. Larry says
    Not double checking. But it seems everyone (with one notable exception) has selected a sans serif typeface/family and only one (notably) has selected a serif face/family. Does this signify anything worth noting? Is one of us out of the loop. Or the only one in the loop?
          Elizabeth Berger uses "criteria" meaning several possibilities. Uhhhh. . . Communication. Corporate identity/visual branding. Selling. Informing (as in news publications, textbooks, Army manuals, writer/director credits). Entertaining (comics pages). Now that I done bit, let's see whence cometh blood. I have a new box of Band Aids at hand. Then there is scalability--*
  27. Elizabeth says
    Exactly! Pick one, --- remember the context -- Type Nazis rule the world.*
  28. Larry says
    Communication. (I am not, being Jewish, too comfortable with Nazi-anything, but I understand your desire to be clear.)*
  29. Elizabeth says
    Me either, but that drives home the point that "One" that it is hard to choose, if we had to, it seems to me the only sensible thing is to narrow down what exactly is the prime function behind type, the written word etc. ... That is what I was trying to hone down for why some of the selections were made by others.
          Do we all see type as primarily and information and content delivery system? Is it primarily a visual system that conveys a brand, emotion or identity? What trumps what in this limited choice we are asked to make? There are many aspects to typography legibility, readability, style, emotion, history and technical applications.
          But I contend the prime directive of typography is content delivery, that said what font would do that best today with no other choices available to solve issues of style, readability, legibility, or media?*
  30. Tim says
    Elizabeth, whilst I agree with you on all the points you raised here, I would also say that type choice, in this context, is also an expression of ourselves and what appeals to each of us as designers.
          It's why there was a certain amount of derision by a contributor in the forum over someone's choice of Ariel ("Ariel!!! Are you kidding me?!?"). Now, whilst I agree that it would not be my first choice -- of course that would be Comic Sans! -- Serge had a supporting argument which was its proliferation, which I think is a perfectly valid argument. It may not have the largest number of glyphs or have fancy Open Type features but it is used by millions of people to express themselves; in a vanilla kind of way.*
  31. Larry says
    If ubiquity is the guiding criterion, then two things strike me:
    a) Courier New or some variant of Courier is on every computer so why not that instead of Arial? Perhaps taste intrudes and leads one toward Arial or Courier.
    b) Why work with designers if the face is already a given? There are templates... *
  32. Tim says
    1. Probably because Courier is monospaced where Arial isn't.
    2. Just because you own a brush doesn't make you Monet. The art of the typographer is to make the most out of the type and most people don't have that skill. I didn't develop my typographic skills until after I left university, in fact I wasn't in love with it until after. I'd say that you have to really love it to do it well. It's quite a challenge to design something with just a single font. *
  33. Erica says
    What an unnatural decision to make! If push comes to shove, I think I would choose Gill Sans -- but with reservations... It's got character! -- a beautiful lower case alphabet which is more readable as a text font than a geometric sans like Futura, or even Helvetica, and it works well as a display face in all capitals as well as in upper and lower case.
          BUT all the versions of Gill that I own still have irritating problems with the default kerning. Also, I hate the question mark -- in fact, I hate the question mark in Futura and Century Gothic Roman, too (CG Bold is more 'normal').
          I think I might be talking myself into choosing Helvetica. Helvetica Neue is a good corporate typeface (with lots of weights) and I think it can work well used as a logotype, too. It's just it would be a bland world if that was all we looked at. It might even drive people to like fonts like Hobo!*
  34. Tim says
    Erica, it's interesting that you like Gill Sans so much. You might like to read this brilliant article by Ben Archer pairing Johnston and Gill Sans in a head-to-head.
    Eric Gill got it wrong; a re-evaluation of Gill Sans*
  35. Justin says
    Hmm... many good suggestions... I may have to go with Trade Gothic*
  36. Mirko says
    Swiss people are required by law to always choose Helvetica in their designs. Helvetica Neue is also accepted sometimes. Otherwise I think I'd go with an open-source font like Roboto, I like their new approach of font design.*
  37. Lauren saysFutura. End of story. *
  38. Maurizio says
    I'm passionate about typography, letterpress, paper and pencil. I love Bodoni, but I say Neon.*
  39. Larry says
    Neon? Without looking it up I have an image of a multiline novelty or decorative typeface or what Suitcase Fusion calls Ornamental, caps only. What is your Neon? I must admit to being quite shocked that almost all choices in this thread are what might be (ungenerously?) called neutral typefaces, faces in which the concept of personality is denied as much as possible without being denied entirely. These are typefaces that do not sweat.*
  40. Maurizio says
    Neon by Nebiolo. Metal type :) I don't like the digital version because it has lost a very important feature of the metal version: Neon changes its width/height ratio at different heights/points. Plus, Neon is unicase and I love this.
          Just to. Here you can look at an example of Neon (metal) on Flickr! Different body sizes used, and even if there's not so much difference in points you can see how the proportions change.*
  41. Terry says
    Hopefully being practical, I choose a face that would set well in a body but had enough weights and styles for headings and subheadings. Of course there are far more attractive faces, but not quite so universally (forgive the unintentional pun) useable.
          That, without a doubt is far nicer Maurizio. A few years back I discovered a chap who had a metal setting facility in his dining room. He used to set and pull proofs for me in the the traditional way and I would scan them for use.*
  42. Maurizio says
    Times ago I found this list of : typefoundries still working. There's the one I visited in Darmstadt, another one in Dresden (Sandro wrote me about this too) and there is Offizin Parnassia in CH. Probably there are more, who knows (list originally created in 2011). *
  43. Alexis says
    I really love using DIN, it provides a very modern feel. *
  44. Kah Wai says
    I only have Georgia on my mind... A serif font that is legible at tiny sizes on screen and yet look elegant as a headline on print. Never thought I'd say this but Microsoft got it right on the money.*
  45. Steve says
    If I could only use one font, then that would be the equivalent of Type Hell. So in Type Hell I could only use Comic Sans. *

Like Larry, I've been rather surprised that the overwhelming majority are citing SANS SERIF. Hmmmmm. It also seems the response sample is much younger than I remember.

But the exercise was more for a barometer of where designers are today in regards to typography . . . the question also included "WHY" ... for which I was somewhat disappointed. The question "If you only have one food to eat" draws some thought processes as to health and variety concerns. In typography, faces and fonts, one has to look at the functionality and flexibility of a font. (Or typeface, family)

One designer above noted "Designing with a single family is very difficult..." of course! I've been challenged by clients with corporate style guidelines that specify a single font. One was Universe and the other Garamond. Either would be a family you could use effectively if it were the only one. Thank you all for your comments . . . if any of you specifically do NOT want to be quoted in an upcoming article in the Design & Publishing Center or DT&G Magazine, please let me know via private message or email to showker at spamcop.net . . . Thanks!

Which font?

When you figure that out, let me know. We'll continue this, there are many, many more

GO NEXT: The Festival Continues . . .

And, thanks for reading -- keep on fonting

Fred Showker

      Editor/Publisher : DTG Magazine
      +FredShowker on Google+ or most social medias @Showker
      Published online since 1988


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