Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confessions of a font junkie: an interview with Randy Stuart

When Jill left a comment on my earlier typography post about how her husband, Randy is a font junkie, I knew I'd have to interview him. Since this month's theme is all about text + photo, it might pay to get some input from a font pro. Randy Stuart has a background in illustration and has worked as an in-house designer for more than fourteen years and is currently a senior designer at Further Creative. I'm happy to say that he designed the logo for my photography business (it makes an appearance on the take-out box in my banner).

I spoke with Randy last night about some of his favorite—and least favorite—fonts.

What are some of your favorite fonts?

Myriad, of course. It's Apple's proprietary font that Steve Jobs had commissioned. It has a good variety of weights and styles. It is almost impossible to make look bad.
(above) A sample of Myriad from Veer.com. If you're lucky, you may already have it.

A good workhorse font is Futura.
Futura comes in a lot of different weights and styles. I like it because it has a more round shape to the lower case open forms (the a, o, d, b).
(above) One of many styles of Futura, from Veer.com.

Trade Gothic is another font that's hard to make look bad, no matter what you do to it. In fact, Trade Gothic Extended is used extensively on the Food Network.
(above) Trade Gothic Extended at Veer.

Avenir: It's nice, light, open, friendly, and feminine without being girly. It's the font that was used in Cingular wireless advertising.
(above) Avenir std 2 from Veer. Note from Marc: This is the font I used in my Paris ABC project.

Frutiger is good because it's really well weighted, which means it's easy on the eyes. For example, if you look closely at, say, Times, it's kind of an ugly font because it has super thin serifs, but it's designed that way because on a newspaper there is dot bleed, so the thinness is made to compensate for the spreading of the ink on newsprint. But it looks too pointy on good quality printing. Frutiger was designed for all the signage at Charles de Gaulle airport. They wanted a font that would be world-wide friendly.
(above) A sample of Frutiger on Wikipedia.

Gotham is great. It's a square font, meaning most of the letterforms are as wide (or close to as wide) as they are high. It's a really good font to use if you want to customize text. I'm kind of opposed, as a rule to stretching fonts. You're better off finding a font at the beginning that looks stretched. However, if you want to start monkeying with the points, the vectors, etc., it works well because a lot of the strokes have a uniform thickness. Gotham can lend weight and beefiness, without being clunky. Gotham is Obama's font, but also Coke in all sans serif applications, and Saturday Night Live in the opening credits.
(above) Gotham font example from the always-superb Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

I notice you didn't mention any script font. Is there a script font you would recommend that doesn't look tacky?

Bickham I'm not really a script font guy, but it's OK. There are a couple of Shelley fonts that are OK. Those would be my recommendations.
(above) Bickham via Veer.
(above) Shelley standard via Veer.

But you can also use other fonts instead of script, such as Bodoni (because it has nice thin flat serifs) or Didot. Those can be light and airy and sophisticated. People seem to equate script with "fancy" and that's not necessarily the case.

(above) A sample of Didot from the drool-worthy collection at Hoefler Frere-Jones.

(above) A sample of Bodoni. An elegant alternative to script.

Are there any fonts that make you cringe?

Lots of them.

For example?

Well, the King Daddy of them all is Comic Sans. People overuse it, or use it inappropriately because they think it's cute and fun.
(above) Screen capture of Comic Sans from "Comic Sans Sucks" post on Exhibit 5A.

Brush Script. There's a standard one that you see on every bad "On Sale Now!" sign on State Street. Going out of business! Everything must go!
(above) Brush Script.

Papyrus. It is like the go-to font that everyone uses who wants to do something antique-y or for people who say "I want it to feel like a Day spa!"

Eccentric. It kind of seems like it's trying to be a Frank Lloyd Wright-looking font, but it's just done poorly. The open areas (say on a capital R) are super squished and yet it has very long legs.
(above) A sample of eccentric from (sorry) the excellent font source Lynotype.

Zapf Chancery. It's the script used on every crappy low-budget wedding invitation.
(above) A classy with a capital "K" example of Zapf Chancery from Lynotype.

You know, another category that we haven't talked about is fonts that I generally don't like, but that can look good when used in the right ways.

Such as?

Copperplate. It's used way too much in many inappropriate ways, but when used correctly—such as in signage for, say, a really old building that's been updated for loft space—it's really quite good. It's a display font, not a text font.

(above) A screen capture from a blogger who is sick of seeing Copperplate. Maybe he has just seen it misused too often.

Thanks for your time, Randy.