Sign and logo design is a bit like hardcore pornography: With the right tools and talent, any schmuck at home can whip something up and stick it on their Tumblr. And that's why it's so frustrating to see design professionals continually returning to old cliches. If professional graphic design is anything like I imagine it is, these guys are sitting around pure-gold conference tables, designing logos entirely out of different shades of cocaine. And yet they're still coming out with things like ...
In most areas of life, it's frowned on to stereotype ethnicities with a lazy shortcut. But not when you're making signs or logos!
The so-called wonton font is the worst lettering system in the universe, worse than the one made up by the murderer when he killed your family and wrote "YOUR NEXT" on the wall in their blood, worse than their memorial service invitation that the funeral home accidentally printed out in Comic Sans. It is hard to comprehend the brain pattern of the people who choose this font, but it must go something like: "How on earth is my audience meant to know that my sign that reads 'Chinese Restaurant' refers to a Chinese restaurant if I don't write it in wacky calligraphy-y, bamboo-y letters?"
And Asia isn't even the only region whose entire culture can apparently be distilled into a single letter system. Middle Easterners and Russians are also blessed with stereotypical fonts. Other regions still lack them as of now, but maybe it's only a matter of time before someone comes up with an "Australia" font made up entirely of spiders or something. And then there's the famous "Africa" font:
You may recall that this font was also used in the Jurassic Park logo, because Jurassic Park was a science fiction allegory for the horrors of South African apartheid. I'm thinking of the right movie, aren't I?
Apartheid: It will sneak up behind you and eat your fucking face.
Why It Needs to Stop
It's one thing when a font is used to advertise a restaurant or cultural festival in the laziest way possible. At least the thing being advertised is legitimately connected to the targeted region. But then there are the times when it's used solely to deliver an ethnic punchline:
"A little tasteless, don't you think?" -Mickey Rooney
Because here your font can make people think "Asian" without actually having to spell out "Hehehe. Asians." It's like winking and gesticulating wildly toward your crotch and then expecting to be considered classy because you didn't actually use the word "dong" as a verb.
"Old English"-style lettering, also known as Gothic or Blackletter, first originated in medieval manuscripts and today lives on as a way to mangle the history of the English language by describing things as "Ye Olde":
Every good pizza place is built on a solid foundation of old English traditions.
Why It Needs to Stop
As we all know by now, this "ye" is a mistake, called into being by the misreading of a single letter (much like the demon Smephisto, who when summoned will offer to buy your soul in exchange for a really good cable package). But the real problem here is not the misuse of the letter thorn. It's that Old English writing has become the default choice for white trash emotional expression.
"It's a deeply personal representation of my poor decision making."
I don't know why this happened. Maybe it was all the metal bands that used it in their logos. Or maybe old-fashioned gothic lettering is one of those things that people use because it seems aspirational and middle class, but instead it just ends up really sad, like naming your daughter Versace. Whatever the reason, today the average person's association with the font is less "delightful medieval milieu" and more "an abstract concept peeping out from the top of a TapouT T-shirt":
Seize the cliche.
Helvetica, also known as the hipster font, isn't going to stop being trendy anytime soon, and that's cool. It's not like it's hard to read or it causes seizures or anything like that. But apparently somewhere along the way Helvetica picked up a curse that means that it's only allowed to float, alone, in a white void of eternal nothingness:
Because at some point America's companies decided that when we think of their products, we want to think of the absence of all color and texture and meaning and love:
Crate & Barrel
Four designers received separate paychecks for these.
Remember, mall shoppers, there is nothing after your death except the everlasting pale emptiness in which the old gods never sleep, so you may as well buy some new sweaters or whatever.
Why It Needs to Stop
If you think this is something that just became popular in the last few decades alongside the rise of ironic sleeve tattoos, you're wrong: Soulless Helvetica oblivion has been around since the very beginning. Check out this advertisement for the font, from 1966:
Print Design and Production
Presenting the setup for the most boring Mad Men ever.
In other words, the empty spaces around the Helvetica are deliberate. They are meant to look cool and sleek and modern, like an open-plan house, or the cold, dead snowfields of a nuclear winter. But if something was being praised for looking modern over 50 years ago, it's probably time to move on, or soon you're going to start looking like those computer-repair-store signs that still use that weird blobby cyborg writing.