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« How to Tell If a Font Sucks

Are you a user of fonts who needs to tell if a font is well made, or an aspiring novice type designer? The March–April 2014 issue of Communication Arts features my article on evaluating font quality, “How to Tell If a Font Sucks,” on p. 24—now online as well!

It looks like it is hard to see the subtleties in some of the graphics in the down-​res web-​ified version of the article, though the print mag looks great. I will see about posting a version with high-​res images in PDF.

I’m really pleased with this article. My new editor Robin Doyle at CA did a great job helping me clarify some points and figure out where more graphics were needed.

That said, there are some corner cases and subtleties around this discussion that I didn’t have time or space to get into in the article, which was already long and involved. But that is what blogs are for. 🙂

Although I stand by everything in that article, typefaces that are deliberately naïve/​unsophisticated are one place for legitimate exceptions to some of the guidance I give in the article. For example, I had a lovely discussion with some folks who made a typeface based on some classic road signs. The original signs did not use optical compensation at stroke joins (point 5 in the article), so they didn’t do it in the typeface either. Although I might rarely be interested in going that way myself, I have to agree that it was a perfectly legitimate design choice, given the origins of the typeface as a signage revival—even though in many another context I would be calling it crap!

Optical compensation at stroke joins is also specific to certain typographic traditions. Certainly for Latin-​based fonts (English, French, German, Hungarian, etc.) it is nearly universal, as it is for Cyrillic (Russian, etc.) and Greek. But some writing systems do things differently, such as Devanagari (used for Hindi, Marathi, Sanskit).

Non-​western writing systems can also change other assumptions. For example, the idea that straight-​to-​round transitions  (point 6 in my article) should be very smooth is very much not the case for Thai.

Anyhow, check it out and let me know if I can clarify anything else!

3 commentsto “How to Tell If a Font Sucks”

  • April 10, 2014
    Dr Anirban Mitra wrote

    Around 12 years ago, i took up typography as a hobby. It was early days in indic open type fonts, and I worked with other volunteers of Free Bangla Font Project to create open source bengali open type font using freely available tools. Interestingly some of those fonts are still distributed by leading linux distributions. I wish i had come across such an article at that time, i could have made fonts i would be proud of now.

  • April 10, 2014
    Thomas Phinney wrote

    Thank you for the kind words, Dr Mitra. That is good to hear, as I was hoping this article would be helpful to new type designers (not only for designers trying to evaluate font quality).

  • September 22, 2014
    Russ Kendal wrote

    Roboto font sucks for usage in Word on a PC.

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