Language 12 Origin Stories of Various Fonts  

Mike Rothschild
4.1k views 12 items

Fonts. Everybody uses them, some people have opinions on them and font snobs have very strong opinions on them. (Seriously. Go to one of those stuffy, Ivy League font parties and yell "Comic Sans rules" and see if you don't start a riot.)

It's easy to assume that fonts are just different styles of lettering that come with every computer, but every single one of the most popular fonts was designed with intention by an artist at some point (yes, even Times New Roman).

Below, please enjoy some of the most interesting stories about fonts we've found.

Comic Sans (Vincent Connare)


Vincent Connare is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Origin Stories of Various Fonts
Photo: urlesque/Wikimedia Commons

It's rare for something as common as a font to evoke hatred, but designer Vincent Connare's creation of Comic Sans has inspired an almost universal revulsion. The intentionally casual font was meant to match the lettering used in popular comic books, to serve as fun alternative to the more formal fonts most people were familiar with. 

By now it's a walking (typing?) punchline, the go-to font choice of out-of-touch parents sending an e-card, your least favorite coworkers' emails and amateur graphic designers creating a flier for an event you will NOT be attending. The controversy came when people started using the (again, intentionally casual) font in serious documents including blog posts for a law firm and a Dutch war memorial.  People were so angry when the informal font was used on important documents that they asked for a ban on the font in 1999 (it was a simpler time, when font choice was worthy of protest).

But Connare the designer didn't set out to create an object of derision when he developed the childlike font in 1994 (who would?). He just wanted to make something fun and cute looking, a font that brand new computer users could look at that looked less intimidating than Times New Roman.

He's proud of his creation, even if nobody else likes it, telling the Wall Street Journal, "If you love it, you don't know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby."

Helvetica (Mike Parker)


Helvetica (Mike Parker) is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Origin Stories of Various Fonts
Photo: Tim Boyd/Wikimedia Commons

While a form of Helvetica was first designed in 1957 in Switzerland by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, it was typographic designer Mike Parker who gave us the common version of the font that's the most popular in the world. Miedinger and Hoffman set out to design a very clear, easy-to-read font with no fancy bells or whistles or other design flairs, and Parker continued in their footsteps (which is probably why the font is so common all over the world).

Born in London, Parker was responsible for the influential typesetting firm Mergenthaler Linotype Co., which added Helvetica to the common English lexicon. Helvetica is now found on everything from global subway systems to dozens of corporate logos to the Space Shuttle.

Garamond (Claude Garamond)


Claude Garamond is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Origin Stories of Various Fonts
Photo:  via Cristo Barbara

Born sometime between 1480 and 1510, Frenchman Claude Garamond was one of the first independent engravers, making printed materials for customers on demand, rather than working for a printing company. As such, he was possibly the most important figure in the birth of commercial printing as an industry (except, ya know, bookmaking). The distinctive font that bears his name was born when he was commissioned by the King of France to print a series of books, based on the handwriting of the King's librarian.

The extremely ornate font fell out of favor after his death, but a cleaner version of it was revived in the early 20th century, and is one of the most popular typefaces in the world today.

Stencil (R. Hunter Middleton)


R. Hunter Middleton is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Origin Stories of Various Fonts
Photo: via Tumblr

 

Middleton was born in Scotland, but moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute. He later served as the director of typography at the prestigious Ludlow Typographic Company for almost 40 years. You've likely never heard his name, but everyone knows his iconic Stencil font, the the go-to design for military-themed TV shows and toys, including MASH and The A-Team. He also designed Coronet, which wasn't as influential but was still very popular and can be seen in the signature on the Velvet Underground's first album and the credits for Star Trek.