Battle of the fonts: to use or not to use

Last Updated on August 9th, 2021

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Who amongst us hasn’t heard this? I’m sure no hands were raised. This short and sweet lecture has often been given to us either by our teachers, parents or even the trainers at our corporate grooming sessions.

Well, it’s not just what you write, it’s also how you write it!

You may not think much of the font when you’re getting a logo designed or even when you’re drafting your brand strategy, but you need to abandon that thought as soon as possible if you want your brand to convey the right message to the right audience.

In a world of good and bad people there also exist, good fonts and bad fonts, thus you need to know exactly which fonts to stay away from and which fonts to befriend.

Let’s start with the “don’t use” or bad fonts before we move over to the good stuff:

Why are “bad” fonts so bad?

You can’t just say “this is a bad font” without a valid reason of course – that would be so unfair. There are multiple reasons though that certain fonts may enter the “bad typeface” segment.

There are some that are dumped after being used too much, others that are just a lot to take in while some are actually so dull, they can really pull your brand down. So here’s a list of reasons why fonts can be trashed into the B-list.

Done and dusted

Unless you want to go “Retro” with a 70’s theme, there are fonts such as Brush Script that are so outdated, they’ll give your contemporary restaurant an antique look. If you’re going for nostalgia, fonts such as souvenir and the one I’ve just mentioned above might still be acceptable since they belong to the 1940’s and 70’s respectively. However, generally these fonts should be avoided as we’ve seen too much of them already!

Good Font

A boring font is a bad font

These fonts aren’t overcrowded or eye-poking, they are just plain dull to look at. There’s nothing special about them and that’s how they’ll get your customers to perceive your brand as well; not special.

Fonts such as Arial and Calibri, might go unnoticed and it could seem as if you didn’t care to invest a lot of thought into your brand guidelines. Allow me to contradict myself a little though. As I said “it all depends”. If your purpose is to actually showcase simplicity as the trait that makes your brand special, by all means you could use a font like Times new roman or Calibri. If your brand persona says “ordinary” by all means, go for it!

Bad Font

Off-balance

Well, this doesn’t really mean that these fonts fall off or something. It’s just their thick and thin aren’t picture perfect – their composition isn’t balanced or harmonious. One look at these logos and you’ll just want to kind of take your eyes off them.

Negative distractions

I do feel sorry for these fonts but they can’t escape reality. Some fonts are just born as “bad fonts”. They aren’t over-used nor is there something too wrong with their balance. However, they’re still disliked by the general public and designers of course.

Why? Because they are so distracting that one might not even read what’s written and concentrate on the font itself – and not in a good way I must say.

The B-list – bad fonts spotted

Papyrus

Remember how I spoke about the fonts that we’ve just seen too much of? Papyrus is one font that no one likes to look at anymore. It did crawl into the 2000’s from the 1980’s but that’s it, we’re not taking any more of it in 2021.

Well, it is claimed that the award winning Avatar logo is actually just a Papyrus font, so if your brand has a personality that’s a little out of this world this might not be such a bad typeface for you.

Bad Font

Curlz MT

And then comes this cringe font that some brands and designers might think will make their band and design look “feminine” or “stylish” respectively. Here’s a reality check, your customers will NOT like it. You might think they will, but that’s a negative my friends.

Okay fine, you might argue that this font gives a “party” or even “bakery” feel but what’s the use of a hoarding that people find difficult to read or a logo that looks so crowded because of a bad typeface?

Readability isn’t the only problem here though. Can you imagine writing an official letter using these “trying to be cute” swirls? It misses a formal tone big time! And then of course you can’t use it for a signage or serious public services message because come on would you take it seriously?

Courier New

Uhh okay! Here goes. Basically there’s nothing wrong with this font but there isn’t much right about it either. What does the font remind you of? A typewriter if I’m not wrong. That’s precisely what it intended to depict.

It was sold to IBM, a company that made typewriters! Such a made for each other couple.

Trvia time: the original designer of the font, Howard Kettler said that the idea behind calling this font “courier” was that “a letter could be a courier instead of being a messenger, radiating dignity, honor and prestige”.

Well, that’s quite a debatable statement but if you’re looking at the font from a design perspective for your prestigious brand, this definitely isn’t the one you should opt for, unless readability and classy are two traits your brand guidelines do not need.

Bradely Hand ITC

Do you mind reading that?

It says “Bradley Hand ITC” – that’s the name of the bad typeface you just witnessed.

I’ve already made one point clear about it I guess – on a scale of 1 – 10 in unreadability (10 being the highest), this font is a clear 9 especially as it gets smaller in size.

Does it look like a lay person’s handwriting to you? If it does, the font has achieved its purpose. What this font was created to do was add a personalized touch to any branding message or advertisement since it gives the impression that someone actually made an effort to write down the message or phrase.

I’m not going to lie, it did achieve its purpose – partially. This “bad” font as once a good typeface for school posters, billboards, invitations etc.

Nevertheless, it became overused and turned into a downright cliché font. Additionally, the font needs to put on some weight (joke). It’s so slim that when used on hoardings or posters, they can’t be seen from afar so the font may look as personal as it wants to but there’s really no use unless you can actually see the font.   

Viner hand

Another cliché which has been used so many times by all those gothic teenagers and anyone who enjoys a slightly scary-looking, “cool” font that it just looks outdated now. Thank God I’m actually seeing less of this font everyday now, in advertisements and logos.

Looks like people are finally learning.

Arial

But what’s wrong with Arial? Nothing at all. It’s just too eh.

Remember how I told you about some fonts that make it to the B-list because they are just plain boring? Yup, here’s one that qualifies as a bit dull.

If you really want to keep your brand a bit “simple” there’s no better font than Helvetica, but I’ll come to that later.

Trivia time: the Arial font was designed by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders in 1982.  It was used as the standard typeface for everyday computer usage – in corporate offices mostly.

However, Arial isn’t just dull, it also makes it to the “dull and dust-able” category. We can owe its over usage to the fact that we all like free things – but everything comes at a price here and the price was paid (not literally) by the font itself. The entire world was flooded by Arial fonts everywhere.

Now it’s time for the goody goody fonts!

The G-list – Good typefaces

If I just sunk your hopes for a bit, I apologize but it was only so that you can like the good stuff even more!

Good fonts might not come for free (always) but they are worth every bit of effort that you can put in. After all your brand deserves nothing but the best.

So what is it that really makes a font qualify for the G-list?

Consistency is key

Sorry for using that cliché phrase but it never gets old. What does this mean?

It means that every letter typed in that particular typeface has the same look. Confused? It basically means that any font where “A to Z” have decorative feet at the end or “serifs” are considered to have a high level of consistency.

Similarly if a font’s numerical don’t match its alphabet then the font doesn’t usually fit the good font category.

A bit of balance

What? Did you think only you needed a balanced diet? Fonts need to take care of their thick and thins as well!

Contradicting the reason why some fonts are considered bad typefaces, of course it takes some balance to become a good font. Know what I mean?

Didot for instance is a font where the thick and thins strike a balance. There aren’t any irregular strokes or unnecessary swirls because “it looks cute”. See for yourself and tell me if I’m wrong about this one.

Good Typefaces

Of course it’s not just balanced but even classy. Those are some of the core reasons why top brands use the Didot font. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

Good Font

Easy on the eyes

Similar to logos where every designer or brand expert will ask you to “keep it simple”, fonts too need to be less crowded and above everything else it should be readable! What’s the point of an ostentatious font if it can’t fulfill its purpose?

 A font’s ability to be crystal clear when a customer or client reads your message or even logo is what makes it GOOD enough to be used. How can you be sure whether a font is easy on the eyes or legible or not? I’m answering that too.

Try writing a whole paragraph with multiple words. If there’s the slightest possibility that some letters are dancing too much or are too “fancy” to be readable, it’s time to switch to another option.

Kerning – the space effect

Fonts can have space issues to you know. If the letters are too closely knit with one another, everyone will have a hard time reading what exactly you are trying to say?

On the other if letters choose to stay too apart from one another, the potential reader will be perplexed as to where one word/phrase ends and another begins. Similarly, there are also fonts where some letters will give you spacing issues while others may not. Well, one bad fish spoils the pond. Any such font exits the Good Typeface list.

The G-list – Good fonts in the spotlight

Helvetica

Topping the good typeface list here is the most used (but still not overused) font, Helvetica. You can even call it a designer-favorite especially when it comes to signage advertisements. It ticks all the boxes. Readability, balance, kerning and consistency.

It has but one flaw though, according to some critics. If you want a good font that stands out Helvetica might seem too mundane, though it never fails to convey a classy appeal. Hence the primary reason why brands like BMW and Panasonic picked out Helvetica as their logo font.

Good Typefaces

Futura

One of the most balanced yet modern-looking good fonts is the futura family. All the letters here are drawn from a circle, square or triangle, hence it is the most popular geometric font in use today. If you’re looking for a modern touch to your brand, Futura is definitely one font you’d want in your brand basket.

Good Font

Recognize these brands? Breaking news! All of them use Futura as their core typeface.

Verdana

Here we’ve got legibility at its peak! When it comes to being easy on the eyes, this goody good typeface beats even Helvetica. That was also the reason though why Verdana was invented in the first place – no not to beat Helvetica exactly – but because Microsoft wanted a finer, more legible font for print and other purposes.

Good Typefaces

Didn’t see that one coming, eh? The globally trusted PayPal uses Veranda as its logo font to communicate sophistication and modernity.

You should also check:

Garamond

The masterpiece of Claude Garamond and Jean Jannon surely deserves a position in my Good typeface list. You may find it hard to believe but the Garamond font was actually designed in the 16th Century! I for one can’t get over how timeless the font turned out to be.

Look at it. Do you see anything retro about it? None, right? Unlike the other Sans Serif fonts above, Garamond is a serif font. It has character and expression, hence it was also one of the fonts used by Apple Inc. for its branding and is still used by American Eagle Outfitters.

Good Font

Want to figure out which font should be your brand identity? Get a custom logo design by me and I’ll make sure your logo has the best font, suitable for your brand.

  • A Picture of Waqas D.

    Waqas D.

Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.

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