5 Genuinely Offensive Font Choices That Must Be Stopped
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 Lettering
"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.
Stark White and Helvetica
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:
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:
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.
Advice Written in a Variety of Different Sizes
This style is also known as "every image currently on Pinterest that is not of a baby dressed up like a hot dog":
Using this design, you can cram all the fake Marilyn Monroe quotes, out-of-context religious verses, and uplifting life insurance slogans into one rectangle, just in case people might step into your living room or glance at your computer screen without you telling them what to do.
And poor font choice in the last one leads to some poor bastard getting arrested for offering their "scat" and parking space.
Why It Needs to Stop
Look, I get it. It's a good way to fit a lot of different pieces of text on a page and still keep everything legible. By using different sizes and font styles, the designer can make the shorter bits of advice ("Smile at a swarthy malnourished child!") pop out from the longer bits in smaller text ("You know that irregular mole on your leg? No, the darker one that's larger than a pencil eraser. Yeah, you should get that checked out next time you're at the doctor. Look, don't get too upset about it. You've had a good run.") And it was clever the first twelve hundred times, it really was. But there must be other ways to arrange a bunch of different, unrelated sentences on one page. Like, why not make the words form pictures of monkeys or something? Everyone likes monkeys. Hell, people have been making animals out of phrases for centuries and it still looks classy:
The horse's head is telling you to enjoy another cupcake because YOLO.
Failing that, maybe we could just stop shotgunning random rounds of advice at each other for a while. Because it comes off like the textual equivalent of those campaign ads where every person is saying just one word and it's meant to be all touching and inclusive but it really just means that you have to add 100 more people to your punch list.
People With Uplifted Crescent Bodies and Circles for Heads
These colorful stick figures are raising their arms in joyful hope, and they've been doing it for about 30 years now. The design is especially popular among religious groups, which is weird because you'd think that at least one of these little guys would be angry at God for not giving them a face. But the real linking element among the swirly crescent people seems to be "youth," because logo designers believe that "youths" are in the human larval stage and have not yet developed legs.
Someday, little buddies. Someday.
Why It Needs to Stop
It's touching to know that in today's cynical world some of us still believe in groups of people who can take part in an eternal blissful rave even though their heads are not connected to their bodies. But nothing screams "creepy church youth group from the '80s" like swirly decapitation-figures. The middle-aged people whose companies use these logos appear to have fired their design teams and are now trying to appeal to youth by using something that was trendy when they were young, like your great-grandfather trying to get you to mow his lawn by promising you the scalp of an 18-year-old Japanese man.
The result: I don't care if it's an international resort conference held by UNICEF, I see one of these logos and I know it's just going to be shag carpet and a felt praise banner with teardrop-shaped flames on it and at least one creepy guy with thick glasses and a gray-speckled mustache. And nobody wants to be part of that.