They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some fonts that have built up a negative reputation among graphic designers, sometimes for aesthetic reasons, but often for reasons of misuse or the history of the font's development. Surprisingly, many fonts deemed to be iconic still manage to provoke a frown. A list like this is always subjective, but here are some examples of fonts that are widely hated and avoided by the discerning designer.
Impact As subtle as a sledgehammer, Impact is a realist sans-serif typeface originally designed in 1965 by Geoffrey Lee and released by the Stephenson Blake foundry*. Designed specifically as a hard hitting header font, Impact certainly gained wide popularity, living up to its name and seizing the attention of everyone with even the slightest interest in fonts and typefaces. Therein lay the problem. The sheer ubiquity of the font inevitably lessened its impact. It became commonplace and, well, boring. Although still widely used for amateur advertising mail outs and student newspaper headers, good graphic designers have consigned it to history. ( font | more)
Arial This will come as a surprise to those oblivious to the history of fonts and typefaces, but no self respecting graphic designer would consider using the Arial font. Why? Well, it's a long story and concerns the less than respectable origins of Arial. Developed by a ten person team led by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders* in 1982, Arial was seen by many to be an incredibly similar stand in for the popular and established Helvetica typeface, which was eventually adopted by Microsoft as its core font. By choosing Arial, Microsoft avoided paying licensing fees for the Helvetica typeface, but received a font almost indistinguishable from the original. Needless to say, many cried foul play and most graphic designers will not use it as a matter of principle. (font)
Comic Sans Where to start with this one! Designed by Vincent Connare and released by Microsoft in 1994, this fun non connecting script modelled on classic American comic book fonts has been much maligned and is a contender for the least popular font out there. Certainly, when used correctly in a comic context, its whimsical charm can work, just use it for children's birthday party invitations and you'll see. However, such was the extent of its widespread misuse for serious subjects that a grand scale revolt against the font spread globally, with a 'Ban Comic Sans' website set up by graphic designers Dave and Holly Combs in 1999. See their video (font)
Papyrus Sharing a history of misuse equal to Comic Sans, Papyrus was incredibly popular when first designed by Chris Costello in 1982 and released by the Letraset foundry in 1983. Interestingly, the font was designed as a portal to the past, representing what the English text of today would have looked like written on ancient papyrus scrolls, creating a curious blend of roman lettering and calligraphy that is actually quite effective. However, a combination of overuse and misuse has shattered its reputation, although James Cameron still elected to use it for the Avatar logo and subtitles. (font)
Wingdings Perhaps the most curious case of font hate arose from the Wingdings controversy. Originally developed by Microsoft in 1990, this seemingly playful font renders letters as diverse symbols. Not particularly useful, but just a bit of fun right? Well, yes, until 1992, when people reported that typing 'NYC' resulted in the symbols of a skull and crossbones, Star of David and a thumbs up gesture. Microsoft quickly denied any intentional anti-Semitic message, quickly altering the 'NYC' sequence in the later version of Wingdings to create the sequence of an eye, a heart and the city skyline, effectively symbolising “I Love New York.” (font | samp)
Of course, as I said in the beginning, beauty is in the eye of the beholder ... so use these with caution, but if there's a perfect use -- and the font fulfills all the requirements for the project; sends the right visual message, then maybe consider using it. Maybe.
Thanks to Neeru Bhangu for contributing this article. Neeru works as the Digital Marketing Executive for PrinterInks – suppliers of printing appliances across the UK and Europe from many top brands including Epson, Dell, Canon and HP ink cartridges.