Michael Bierut | Essays

I Hate ITC Garamond

Poster for ITC Garamond, Jack Summerford, 1979

My daughter Liz called me from college to recommend a book she had been assigned for a political science class: Mr. Truman's War by J. Robert Moskin, a non-fiction account of the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. On Amazon, I learned it was out of print, but she was so enthusiastic about it that I tracked down a used copy.

It arrived in the mail a few weeks later, and I opened it up only to receive a hellish, ghastly, devastating shock. The entire book, all 400-plus tightly-packed pages of it, is set in a typeface that I absolutely despise: ITC Garamond.

Sorry, Liz, I just don't think I can do it.

There are lots of typefaces I don't like, but each of them usually has a saving grace. I've always had a distaste for Herman Zapf's Optima, for instance, but I have to admit that there are occasions when it's been used well. Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an example. But ungainly ITC Garamond repulses me in a visceral way that I have trouble explaining.

ITC Garamond was designed in 1975 by Tony Stan for the International Typeface Corporation. Okay, let's stop right there. I'll admit it: the single phrase "designed in 1975 by Tony Stan" conjures up a entire world for me, a world of leisure suits, harvest gold refrigerators, and "Fly, Robin, Fly" by Silver Convention on the eight-track. A world where font designers were called "Tony" instead of "Tobias" or "Zuzana." Is that the trouble with ITC Garamond? That it's dated?

Maybe. Typefaces seem to live in the world differently than other designed objects. Take architecture, for example. As Paul Goldberger writes in his new book on the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, Up From Zero, "There are many phases to the relationships we have with buildings, and almost invariably they come around to acceptance." Typefaces, on the other hand, seem to work the other way: they are enthusiastically embraced on arrival, and then they wear out their welcome. Yet there are fonts from the disco era that have been successively revived by new generations. Think of Pump, Aachen, or even Tony Stan's own American Typewriter. But not ITC Garamond.

The most distinctive element of the typeface is its enormous lower-case x-height. In theory this improves its legibilty, but only in the same way that dog poop's creamy consistency in theory should make it more edible. Some people dislike ITC Garamond because it's a desecration of the sacred memory of Claude Garamond. That part doesn't bother me. For one thing, despite its name, Garamond as we know it appears to be based on typefaces developed by Jean Jannon, who lived about a century after Garamond, and Garamond based his designs on those of Aldus Manutius: it's hard to say where you'd locate authenticity in this complicated history. And I've been stimulated by Emigre's revivals like Mrs. Eaves and Filosofia, which take inspiration from --and bigger liberties with -- the work of, respectively, John Baskerville and Giambattista Bodoni with great success. But there are good revivals and bad revivals, and ITC Garamond is one of the latter.

There was a moment in time where it seemed that bad type would drive out good time. Reporting on a now-legendary 1987 debate where Paula Scher faced off against Roger Black and denounced ITC Garamond for the simple reason that "it's called Garamond and it's not Garamond," Karrie Jacobs pointed out what was then a cause for widespread alarm: "ITC faces have a way of muscling out the faces from which they were adapted...In the largest of cities, a designer has a great many type suppliers to choose from. If she doesn't want an ITC Garamond, she can get a Berthold or a Linotype version. But in a one-typesetter town, the odds are that the local type shop will offer mainly ITC faces. The distinctions between Garamonds then become moot. ITC Garamond is Garamond." Thanks to the internet and the digital typesetting revolution, there's no such thing as a "one typesetter town" anymore. Too bad. It sounds nice and peaceful.

ITC Garamond enjoyed its apotheosis when it was adapted as the official corporate typeface of Apple Computer in 1984; adding insult to injury, the font was condensed horizontally 80%. Associated with Apple's brilliant packaging and advertising for the next 20 years, the resulting mutation became a part of the global landscape, seeming no less impregnable and unchanging as the Soviet empire. And then, just like global communism, it just went away, replaced overnight with a sleek customized version of Myriad.

Today, ITC Garamond is no longer ubiquitous, but it pops up in unlikely places and still gives me a nasty start, as in my daughter's book recommendation. I've come to realize that I don't hate it for any rational reason; I hate it like I hate fingernails on a blackboard. I hate it because I hate it. Yet I do know one use of it that I would call an unqualified success: it's the classic poster by Jack Summerford from way back when the typeface was shiny and new, where the nastiness of the typeface and the dissonance of the message combine in one deafening clang. To promote the ITC Garamond's arrival in Texas, Summerford used it, in all its monstrous glory, to set a single giant word: Helvetica. It's not a good font, but just this once, it made a great punch line.

Posted in: Typography

Comments [117]

I am delighted to hear you fess up to something as old-fashioned and unfashionable as taste. Often with experience comes an overly philosophical detachment -- an overriding sensitivity to the relative merits of varying points of view. Repeated exposure to varying styles and the cycles of fashion in design can make one wary of ruling anything out. One can become in a sense, overqualified to maintain any kind of formal dogma. Perhaps this is because the previous generation was so oppressive. But today it is harder and harder to find people willing to risk taking any kind of stand.

This is unfortunate because irrational hatred for certain aesthetic choices is actually one of the great luxuries of being a maker. Maurizio Cattelan recently described it as "working with the back of your stomach." Cattelan describes how his work is informed and shaped by his emotional response, He tries to create with the gut instead of the mind. The flipside of that is dogma, but that needn't be a dirty word. Taking the time to make empowers you to make your own taboos as well. For me it is lower case Futura. WHY ? ? ! !

People have their reasons. I'll take my outrage.

I agree ITC Garamond is an eyesore, and I think the best Garamond-inspired typeface is Tschichold's Sabon.

I don't usually like reading sans-serifs. They are irritating and designers overuse them. I always wonder when I see a book set in Univers (and so many design books are) if the designer ever read anything in his/her life. That said, I often wonder why people single out Optima. It's one of the most elegant.
Tom Gleason

Somewhere in my archives I have a reproduction of Jack Summerfords Helvetica Poster. Always thought it was elegant and ingenius.

Never specified ITC Garamond. Can't imagine reading a 400 pg. book of Eye Strain.

I have an affinity for Compugraphic Machines and Merganthalers which I was trained many years ago.

Even learned the California Job Case when I was in my teens.

Wouldn't trade any of aforementioned for access to my computer and the internet.

Maybe I'd like to set type by hand once again.

I'd also like to take this time to Recognize two Designers we have lost: Geoffrey Beene and Richard Avedon. Both pasted away this week.

The funny thing is if Michael Beirut thought it lame it must be cool. Fly Robin Fly rips! And I do remember it. Thanks Mikey.
Brian Collins

I was hoping that somewhere in his rant, the author would provide us with an educated explanation of his "hellish, ghastly, devastating" dislike for Garamond. Well, as it turns out, he hates Garamond simply because he... hates it.

Let's use the same methodology to critique Michael Beirut's critique of Garamond. By his standards it could go something like this: This is one dog poop of an article.
Stefan Kjartansson

True, ITC Garamond isn't Garamond, but what available today is? A quick survey of the Typography Bible (AKA Elements of Typographic Style) reveals that Monotype Garamond is actually based on a face by Jean Jannon, Stempel Garamond is allegedly based on the original Garamond, but looking at the sample of the latter on page 74, you can see that liberties were taken, and comparing that same sample to Adobe Garamond, will yield the same conclusion. Also, didn't I read somewhere that Garamond's punchcutter actually designed what is known as "Garamond?" I don't remember where I read that, or what the fellow's name was. Can someone help me out?

Maybe these differences in form can be attributed to medium.

Of all of these typefaces, ITC Garamond is the farthest off the mark. The form is reasonable, but the exaggerated x-height is reminscent of a time when evenness of texture and the dignity of each letter were disregarded. I hope it wasn't designed with body text in mind.

I'm glad that Michael has written about this despised face (which I will admit I used as both headline and text for one of my very early books, Man Bites Man) because rekindling the Scher/Black debate about ITC Garamond is one sure way to take our minds off the election and the selected-in-chief.

ITC Garamond had all the components of a viable typeface. And it had a great name with a pedigre beyond compare. But when the X height and the descenders and the upper and lower case characters were composed togther in a word or sentence, it failed to do its job, it was never a harmoniously readable, workable, or simply able typeface.

Forgive me for changing the the subject, but if George W. Bush were a typeface, he'd be ITC Garamond.
steven Heller

I wasn't going to post, but felt that I needed to point out to Mr Kjartansson that his posting is rich in scatalogical materiel. By using the same methodology, that is.

What I found interesting about Mr Bierut's original post was that he admitted, even revelled in, his gut dislike of ITC Garamond. We all have tastes and revulsions for reasons which are as simple as simply not liking it. Celine Dion might be a very talented singer, but I can't stand to hear her sing. My fiancee doesn't like brown beans and won't eat them.

As designers, we come face-to-face with individual tastes every day in the course of making our work, from colleagues to clients to the general public. Everybody has tastes, damn them. Why can't they just admit that what we've done for them is good, that their taste isn't valid whne it comes to our design. Oh, but ours is.

I know how Tony Stan - may he rest in peace - felt when it comes to the acceptance of criticism and taste. A logotype I designed for a client in the Netherlands was critically blasted in a magazine review by Ootje Oxenaar, who said that he hoped that there "wasn't a whole alphabet of this." There was. Instead of being upset by the review, I took pride that he noticed the type enough to dislike it.

As for the historical accuracy of ITC Garamond; that hardly matters, I think. Anything other than an actual font of Garamond's types is an hommage, though some designs are more historically correct than others. Let's not forget that modern versions of historical types are attempts to approximate the printed impression of those source types, which varies a great deal from one printed impression to the next. Between the variations in output of each letter due to small changes in hot metal mixture, the abilities of the founder, and the consistency of the printer... Let's just say that no two lowercase "a"s printed by Claude Garamond looked exactly the same; they were typographic snowflakes.

In this day and age, we make digital fonts in which every instance of a letter is identical, unless we use technology to vary the output with context-specific alternation in OpenType, or by allowing bezier points to move around, as Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum did in their brilliant "Beowolf" in 1989.

None of which excuses the International Typeface Corporation for calling ITC Garamond, Garamond. The font gives Cluade Garamond a bad name, and confuses the market. I've seen a company whose logo is in a good cut of Garamond - Adobe, I think it was - but the address information was all set in ITC Garamond. It looked bad. Using two different cuts of Garamond are always a bad game, but when one of those cuts is ITC Garamond, it's just plain wrong.

But that's just my opinion. I'm sure Mr Kjartansson will find it a load of crap, but that's his right.

Typographic snowflakes. I like that.

Garamond ITC? Simply it is very, very, very ugly!
Fabrizio Serra


While I am, as you know, an advocate of first amendmant rights, I'm shocked and appalled that you advertise that you "hate" something as benign as a typeface simply because you "hate it." This kind of type-face nazism (typefacism if you will) is the kind of rhetoric that holds back minority fonts, like "ITC Garamond." Shame on you!
Liz Bierut

In response to Stefan Kjartsansson, one of the reasons I wrote the article was to expose my own bafflement as to the source of my dislike for ITC Garamond. As Dmitri Siegel says, it's all about that mysterious thing called taste, nothing more and nothing less. It seems an act of supreme denial to pretend that taste, intuitive and irrational as it is, does not play a large role in our work. In my defense, I'll point out that I don't suggest that anyone join me in hating ITC Garamond, or that anyone stop using it. Although, golly, I do hate it.

Liz Bierut, how sharper than a serpent's tooth are the words of an ungrateful child, unless, of course, we're talking about the sharp little serifs on a badly drawn typeface.
Michael Bierut

Let's all go, shall we? We seem to have wandered into a family argument. Good night, Michael! Good night, Liz! That's okay, we'll let ourselves out.

> it's all about that mysterious thing called taste

Not at all - at least not "all". No reason to be so apologetic for an entirely valid emotion.

A typeface's vertical proportions are supremely related to readability. Besides that, ITC Garamond also suffers from having a name it doesn't deserve - not because the "original" Garamond (as elusive as that idea is) is some sort of sacred cow (it could even be just the latter half of that), but because it strays too far from what such a design should [intelligently] be named. In fact I might suggest that -especially to a laymen, the point of Design- most text fonts are more Garamond (or maybe less unGaramond) than ITC Garamond.

And Liz, nothing exists without its opposite - there is no Love without Hate.


Thanks to Mr. Beirut for the response to my response, that regretfully came across a bit sarcastic.

So, Chester, don't touch that dial, let's continue...

In the book 'From Bauhaus to Our House' author Tom Wolfe describes architects Walter Gropius and his compound as White Gods which the jungle tribes fell down to their knees in awe. Their manifesto became international law and anyone that strayed too far, got tarred and feathered.

Being at the statue of Michael Beirut - comes a certain expectation of articulation. At the debates the other day George W. Bush reduced his responses to "I just know how this world works" and "I know how these people think. I deal with them *all* the time."

Not comparing the two, and I know Mr. Beirut hasn't quite spent 130 billion of our tax dollars to invade the ITC evil tyranny and he has every right to simply his opinion, but Michael Beirut is by now a White God and the tribes cries out for a better explanation: "Why do you hate nasty Garamond so much?"
Stefan Kjartansson

Okay, I've thought this through one last time, and while I can cite all the obvious reasons -- its datedness, the awkward too-large x-height, the fact that it borrows a name that it isn't entitled to -- if I'm honest, I hate ITC Garamond for the same reason I hate brussel sprouts.

I must say I've met a lot of designers who have constructed complex ideologies to retroactively justify design decisions == design compulsions, really -- that are pretty much irrational. I've done it myself. Sometimes it just seems more healthy to drop the pose.

The canine feces metaphor may have been extreme, but certain things bring that out in me.
Michael Bierut

> Thanks to Mr. Beirut

You're welcome.


I think it should be mandatory at this stage that all typefaces switch names every 10 yrs :)

That'll put an end to the poor branding so many faces get just by dint of birth. And people might actually start looking at them for what they are.

my secret fantasy is to sneak into a tabloid typesetters just before publication and do a sneaky change of all the superchunky sans faces they use and change em all for a day into clarendon or something. Be fun to see the reaction the next morning.


Mr Kjartansson, I hear/read what you're saying about White Gods and all, but I think that you're missing the point here. This is Mr Bierut's soapox - which he shares which three other designer/writers - and it's his prerogative to post whatever he wants to, on whichever subject. I certainly don't consider Mr Bierut to be a white god; he's a nice guy, actually. What we're experiencing in this posting thread is a group of people who mostly agree with Mr Bierut's feelings about ITC Garamond. (I hate the little foot serif on the lowercase "d". Drives me nuts.)

I laughed out loud at Ms Bierut's post. Of course, as a boy, I love a good pun more than anything in the world, and "typefacism" has to be one of the geekier puns in the history of punning. But there was a serious misstatement in Ms Bierut's post: ITC Garamond is not a minority font which is being held back. In fact, ITC Garamond was the majority font, the product of the military-industrial complex. Like an invasive species, it crowded out all other Garamond species through its presence in one-typesetter towns.

All of that being said, the fact remains that ITC Garamond is just not a good typeface, in the opinion of Mr Bierut and others, myself included. No white gods involved, just people with great taste.

While I am never one to let someone off the hook for a lack of self reflection in the name of advancing discourse, I would add that typefaces are not a representational medium. Like music and architecture, and unlike [most] painting, sculpture or literature, typefaces evoke references, they don't present them.

That said, I accept Michael Beirut's "gut reaction" to ITC Garamond. "Dateness" attempts to give reaction form. To unpack this, I would add that the color of ITC Garamond makes it weak and spindly on the page, something we really don't care for today. For example, if Mr. Hoefler will forgive the comparison, in contrast to ITC Garamond, the color of Hoefler Text is much more solid and produces a handsome coherence as text.
David Cabianca

I certainly don't consider Mr Bierut to be a white god; he's a nice guy, actually.

He is white so in American society he's 2/3 of the way there.
Gunnar Swanson

This might be a good time to confess that I used to love ITC Garamond -- even "worship" might not be too strong a word. The one time I used it, thankfully, was for my high school yearbook (where it made a smashingly unapt contribution to the book's Art Nouveau theme.) To my 17-year-old eyes, ITC Garamond was simply "Garamond," whereas the erratic and jumpy Garamond used by the yearbook's printer was "Fucked-Up Garamond." Under my tutelage, the entire layout staff (of two) quickly adopted this shorthand: we've got Fucked-Up Garamond on the Social Studies opener. Are these page numbers Fucked-Up Garamond, or regular? The personals on page 272 are fucked up. Not Fucked-Up Garamond, I mean, they're just fucked up. This was also the year that Spy Magazine started using Fucked-Up Garamond, and whether it was because of their thoughtful application of the typeface or their witheringly funny writing, I soon began to develop a taste for Fucked-Up Garamond. Even Hoefler Text, my first text face, was inspired largely by Fucked-Up Garamond, which by then I knew by its other name, "Linotype Garamond No. 3." And with that, my affection for ITC Garamond began to wane, and it wasn't long before I reassigned the nicknames.

It's easy to hate ITC Garamond in 2004, a time when typefaces can do just about anything we want. But in 1975, when the face was released, it was a major innovation. Like the rest of the ITC design program, it was unburdened by fealty to historical models, and free from the constraints of earlier, limiting technologies. Sabon had been bound by the unit width system of Monotype slug casters (and its success is a testament to someone's brilliance, perhaps Tschichold's); Linotype Garamond's italic was pre-compromised in order to accomodate the technical boundaries of duplexed matrixes (producing an erratic rhythm which Spy's art director presumably loved.) But ITC Garamond was designed in a vacuum: it was no mere machine part, it was a design, and its designer's wishes were paramount. Ultimately this meant that it was up to those who licensed the design for their typesetting machines to work out the technological end of the bargain, but ITC found the following very clever way to sweeten the deal.

In hot metal, typefaces were bound to specific sizes: 6pt Linotype Garamond might look nothing like the same design at 36pt, hopefully because the foundry had introduced changes at either size to make the design as legible (and appealing) as possible. With photo-, and later digital typesetting, this was not the case: one master served all sizes. In most cases, this meant that designs which flourished at 24pt would bottom out around 12, because their x-heights became too small, and their serifs became too light. If you're wondering why designers didn't anticipate this problem by simply designing fonts with larger x-heights and blobby serifs, you are not alone: you stand together with Tony Stan, designer of ITC Garamond.

Innovation doesn't always age well. Most of us don't like ITC Garamond, any more than we're thrilled by frozen vegetables when we have easy access to fresh. But I can see why ITC Garamond lives on: it's easy, consistent, and unthreatening, a sort of typographic Velveeta. Some might say it's even admirable, in the way that McDonalds or Karl Rove make for a fascinating study.

All of that said, I hate ITC Garamond. I really, really fucking hate it, and I commend Michael for making it OK to say so around these parts. Those of you who are with me, and are looking for an intellectual argument to prop up the visceral one, are welcome to borrow mine:

ITC Garamond's enlarged x-height arguably aids legibility; what it really does, by design, is conceal the fact that text set at agate size uses the same drawings as that used for headlines. But a major drawback of this approach is that this large x-height comes at the expense of the ascent and descent, which are both vital to legibility. This problem is amplified with the addition of weight, as can be seen in ITC Garamond Ultra, where the ascenders are so short as to challenge the disambiguation of the h and n.

If someone starts a thread about Optima or Rotis, please let me know.
Jonathan Hoefler

This has become a little like an improptu 'Typefaces Anonymous' meeting on the Jerry Springer show - Mrs Bierut: "Aw Jerry, he's been unfaithful and started seeing that ill-proportioned old hussy ITC Garamond again, right here in our trailer, and he said it was over back in '76" Jerry: "Ms Garamond, how much did Mr Bierut contribute to your x-hieght enlargement?"

It's just so nice to see people fired up about type - typism or not - we spend so much time with type, it's easy to fall in and out of love, I think it's just that no-one likes to badmouth an old lover. I guess it's just in case there are any skeletons in the closet - "OK, OK, I confess Jerry, I did use ITC Garamond, but only the once and I was very drunk - it didn't mean nuthin!"

Christopher Skinner

This is the best discussion this blog has ever seen.
I love it.

Thank you, Jonathan, for the segue: Optima and Rotis indeed!

Let me confess upfront: I hate all three, with a vengeance. I hate them like Michael does: because I cannot stand them. And I hate them because they each stand for an attitude that I hate. Forget the name Garamond; it would still be as bad if it were called ITC Mondoga, ITC Tony or ITC Michael. It was designed in the early 70s, when we had long hair, (yes, even I had hair then) on our heads and in our faces. We wore those stupid bell bottoms, beads around our necks, slept on waterbeds and generally didn't have very much to say for ourselves. The Beatles were done, the Vietnam war was essentially over and everybody was waiting for the Age of Aquarius.

ITC Garamond looks like a typeface with bell bottoms. All the proportions are wrong - when it bends down, you can see its butt cheeks. The large x-height wasn't there for legibility but for fashion, just like hipster jeans weren't comfortable nor were they practical, but cool. Or so we thought back then. I should mention that I was almost 30 when ITC Garamond was introduced, so I cannot claim total ignorance as an excuse for initially liking some of the faces that represented advertising-influenced Manhattan typography. Close-not-touching was too tame for this stuff, it had to overlap and go crazy on ligatures we had never thought possible, nor even desirable. But we also wore our hipsters too tightly round the crotch, and typefaces like ITC Garamond, AvantGarde Gothic, ITC Souvenir and others appealed to that fashion sense of everything having to be too tight, too exaggerated and too cute. ITC Garamond is like Claude dressed up in an Elvis suit.

If ITC Garamond is vain, superficial and sings with a falsetto like a BeeGee, Optima is patronizing. It hasn't got the guts to be either a proper Sans or Serif, so it keeps all its options open and appeals to the middle. And you see it most where the food is bad. It thrives in middle America, in badly lit hospitals and in parking garages with no headroom. It suits everything and pleases nobody. Optima would indeed make a good president. Hermann the German Zapf is a fine calligrapher and has designed some pretty amazing typefaces that have been over- and badly used, which isn't his fault. But Optima shows too much of its origin: post-war Germany, the early 50s. With the country in ruins and not enough to eat, there was an understandable desire to go back to wholesome type that promised peace and harmony after 12 years of Hitler and 5 years of occupation. Optima is a well drawn face, at least in its original version. And you hardly see it in Germany. Not sure what that says about our politics.

Rotis is not a typeface. It has some great letters, but they never come together to make words that don't look contrived or uncomfortable. It looks best on gravestones and similar large architectural applications.

We have a word for that in German: Rotis is a "Kopfgeburt", it is born from (by?of?) the head. Aicher wrote a great theory about how one would have to make the most legible typeface ever but then proceeded to prove with Rotis that a theory makes a typeface not. He was a graphic designer, and the difference between us and them is that they start with an image of a page (preferably with all type looking evenly grey) and assemble elements - images, headlines, text - until that mental image corresponds to the look of the page. We - the typographic designers - read the text, think about who might read it and where, choose a size for the publication, a typeface, a column width, margins, etc. The resulting page may never win prizes and certainly won't be art (in the "creative" sense), but it'll be legible, even readable and it should also be aesthetically pleasing.

As many designers seem to lack critical faculties (present company obviously excepted), they judged Rotis by the theory cleverly provided and not by the evidence in front of their eyes. Whenever I speak out against Rotis, I am accused of jealousy and not giving credit to a fellow typedesigner. It is interesting to note that not one "real" type designer considers Rotis a typeface. Right, Jonathan?

Aicher certainly didn't do himself a favour by aiming so high with his first proper type design (he had previously adapted Univers for Bulthaupt and the Traffic typeface for Munich airport).

Rotis is thus - if I say so myself - a very German typeface. It succeeds because people need White Gods so they can switch off their critical faculty and just believe what they're told. And if you're German, you believe an order even before it's issued. We call that "pre-emptive obedience" (actually, we call it "vorauseilender Gehorsam", the English word is my translation). It upsets me having to observe how the USA seem to be going back to their teutonic roots by adapting this type of behaviour when it comes to matters of Homeland Security and the treatment of visitors.

But that is another topic.

One last note on this topic:
Michael writes: "Typefaces, on the other hand, seem to work the other way: they are enthusiastically embraced on arrival, and then they wear out their welcome." I am afraid that this is only true for fashion faces and for very small markets, like magazine design. Real typefaces take at least 3 years to get noticed and 5 to get adapted. Then they slowly build a following. Mind you, I am talking about text faces, and obviously ITC Garamond never was one of those. But if you consider that Linotype's best-seller list is still headed by Helvetica and followed by Univers and Frutiger, you realize that the good stuff stays around like a good Beatles song. My own ITC contribution, ITC Officina, has been around for 14 years now and is only just gathering momentum.
erik spiekermann

I laughed out loud when I saw that Liz is a Swattie - a classic retort - defending a disenfranchised typeface is exactly the kind of attitude I'd have taken while I was there had I a typographical bone in my body at the time. I wonder if you're reading Moskin for Halpern and if the new sushi bar is all it's cracked up to be...

Anyway it certainly was a breath of fresh air to hear Michael call us out on retroactively applied theory. I am the first to wince at arbitrary design choice, but in my own work I find a conundrum... I know that my choices will inherently carry my previous experience with color theory and type history and differing graphic ideologies etc... so in one sense they can always be justified. But often that spark of creativity has only that previous (auto) education as its saving grace from the arbitrary nature of design (sorry saussure). If I chose this ochre and that violet to go together it was because I had a gut reaction to it's flow during that mad creative instant.

I wonder how many of us attack the great white with vehemence that ill-affords precious minutes of articulating how or why each choice relates to our overarching agenda for new froms of visual communication, or what relationship it has to a client's mission statement...and if it is indeed that our own dialectics of design stem always from the creative instant and can only ever be articulated afterwards over a good post-cigarette.
Andrew Breitenberg

> .... preferably with all type looking evenly grey ....

I think more than blaming typographers for this, one can blame Modernism.

> not one "real" type designer considers Rotis a typeface.

For a change: no comment.
(Except this "paracomment", I guess. :-)


BTW, there's something I keep forgetting to mention: There's a type designer by the name of Phil Martin* (a colorful old-school phototype guy) who actually takes credit for the obese x-height fashion, claiming that ITC stole the idea from him. I think I believe him... and have no problem redirecting my ire. :-)

* http://typographi.com/000852.php


nice thread. i think there is great sophistication in making something ugly or out of fashion look attractive or compelling. it has a lot to do with fashion and times -- scripty fat seventies seems to be good nowadays -- and i think playing with context is important. summerford's helvetica poster is an example of this, as are peter saville's plays on early modernism that he did with factory records. the 'sexy ugliness' of cooper black, which eyemagazine wrote about last year, is another one. it can be done through context or configuration, with or without irony. as someone already mentioned, typefaces are referential, and i admire designers who choose a typeface and subvert its intended use. its like used clothing: it looks ugly hanging off the racks of the salvation army store, but in creative hands, new life is breathed back into it. i look forward to the day someone turns me on to optima.
manuel miranda

A large x-height is not in itself bad. I direct your attention to LettError's Critter typeface, whose x-height is gloriously large. And it is appropriately so, unlike ITC Garamond, whose proportions are off, not just for a Garamond, but for a typeface.

And since we've drifted off on a tangent, let me also diss Optima, which, despite how good it looks on the Vietnam Memorial and labels for Ridge Vineyards wines, just doesn't do it for me. Nor does Rotis, where theory eclipsed reality. Where Otl Aicher failed, Herr Spiekermann's erstwhile in Berlin, Luc(as) de Groot succeeded with his "Thesis" super-mega-hyper-ultra-family. Though, with just over a thousand fonts, it's a little daunting...

Personally, as I've been figuring our how to be a type designer, I've learned that type will almost design itself; the type will let you know how it wants to look; its proportions, weight, contrast, spacing, &c. Bad type always seems to be screaming its dissatisfaction with its form, which makes it hard to deal with. Good type is pleasant and coöperative, and seems to set itself.

To react a little to some of the issues raised by Mr Hoefler: Contemporary type designers have access to amazingly useful tools for the practice of their craft, but even if we are able to create variations of fonts for use at a specific size or output medium, it's still up to the type user to select the correct variation. It is our challenge, then, to create "single-master" type which can be used at many sizes and on many media.

As an aside: Mr Bierut can't read "Mr Truman's War" because its typeface is so horrid to him. But what happens when a book one is reading is set in a typeface that one loves and admires? I have extreme difficulty reading any book set in Dwiggins' elegantly quirky Electra. How can you truly enjoy a text when you're stopping to admire every lowercase g?

PS/BTW; the "target='_blank'" code gets stripped from posts...

> A large x-height is not in itself bad.

Although there can't be a fixed "ideal" for a font's vertical proportions, I feel this statement is essentially misleading. Without wanting to get too technical here: Readability depends on more than apparent size; the extenders (ascenders and descenders) provide "information" highly conducive to an efficient reading process. A font has to use the Cartesian area intelligently (and in tune with the needs of actual language) to explicitly promote readability. This is a big reason why for example different writing systems tend to have -and tend to need- different proportions; give Arabic a Latin x-height and it implodes.

> How can you truly enjoy a text when you're
> stopping to admire every lowercase g?

Easy: stop being such a type designer. ;-)


I've followed the conversation a bit today, but got bored a little past "dog poop". After the character count settles I think you will find that ITC Garamond is better taken one word at a time and that it's ok to dislike something "just because". It's called intuition and god knows design needs intuitive thinkers.
Jack Summerford

ITC Garamond's long-standing ubiquity as the signature of Apple Computer makes it everyone's typeface. For those, like Michael — whose inner stickler seems to believe there might have been a better choice — this seems not so much a question of subjective intuition as one of supercilious indoctrination. At the end of the day, corporate validation (as in the case of the Apple logo) makes it public, and bad design becomes everyone's problem.
Jessica Helfand

Many thanks, Mr. Spiekermann, for providing an explanation for the fact that, no matter how hard I've tried, I have never been able to get more than mediocre results with my beloved Rotis. My admiration for the intellectual idea of the face -and that for the work of Aicher himself- didn't let me question the qualities of the design. I was clearly suffering from an acute case of vorauseilender Gehorsam.

I'm afraid our time is up, said Mr. Spiekermann, this typetherapy session is over. :)
Jesus de Francisco

Speaking of free design resources. (Unfortunately ITC Garamond is not one of the free fonts, but there are some contenders.) We've just launched a (admitedly not such a
pleasure to surf) but legitimately extremely useful site for designers. .. free web graphics, all home made and free to plunder

This has been alluded to in past posts, but:

I wonder how much of my hatred for faces such as ITC Garamond and Optima and Gill Sans (my own, certain to be disagreed upon, addition) stems from our intimate knowledge as contemporary designers of what is fashionable or 'cool'. Mrs. Eaves and Filosofia, in particular, are faces that I currently see as contemporary and elegant, but I've seen them so much in other work that I retreat from using them as often as possible, if only to not be classified as a 'trendy' designer. I say I have no problem with aesthetics, and part of my personal design philosophy is to introduce aesthetic and visual sophistication to the larger audience that we are able to hold as designers, but it makes me wonder how much of my work is designed solely for an audience of other designers, who are really the only people able to detect what is trendy or new in our field.

I know the points I am raising aren't really revolutionary or new (thinkers in architecture, art, fashion, and design have been thinking about these things for a great while longer than I have been alive) but I thought they were important to raise in the context of a discussion that is dealing with aesthetics and aesthetics alone.

Thank god, at last, for this discussion, anyhow.
Ahrum Hong

In response to Mr Hong's post...

One of the few things to survive through the ages of Graphic Design is/are typefaces, either through the legacy of their drawings and code, or through hot metal types, punches, matrices, and printed samples. We can, in this day and age, approximate Gutenberg's or Bodoni's or Garamond's works, using approximations of their typefaces. (We can even use roughed-up versions of their fonts to approximate the paper and printing of their days.)

However, to quote Erik van Blokland; "New typography requires new typefaces." Sure, you can make new work using old materiel, but that materiel will carry with it months, years, decades, or centuries of history. The Reviled Fonts Club, of which ITC Garamond, Optima, and Rotis are charter members, (and Matthew Carter's Charter is not,) carry decades of history, as detailed above by Herr Spiekermann. The typefaces which Mr Hong mentions, Zuzana Licko's Filosofia and Mrs Eaves, carry with them only a few years of history, but their ubiquitousness has perhaps resulted in their being branded as "trendy". Even good type*, then, can be unwelcome.

*To my taste, that is.

Filosofia and Mrs Eaves might well fall afoul of trendiness, though I don't think anyone here would characterize ITC Garamond or Optima as trendy. As for whether popular typefaces should be resisted, I wonder: some of the best graphic designers are those who manage to effortlessly make use of the typefaces the rest of us dismiss as trendy, awful, or both. I'm often amazed to find that Vaughn Oliver has arranged a heartbreaking scherzo for Univers Condensed and Poster Bodoni -- it's like finding that the most delicious duck breast you've ever tasted was served in a reduction of Tang and Jolly Ranchers. Lorraine Wild, Barbara Glauber, and Gail Swanlund are other designers who possess this rare talent in great abundance, and I always recommend their work to incipient type snobs. It's hard to dismiss even Hobo and Fette Fraktur once you've seen them used together on the same business card, harmoniously and without even a whiff of irony. Jack Summerford is right: we need more intuitive thinkers.

Mind you, I'm still waiting to see someone make ITC Garamond look good. Perhaps Design Observer should post a juried prize for the best and most sincere use of the face.
Jonathan Hoefler

My post was in response to Ahrum Hong's -- Chester slipped in.

By the way, "new typography requires new typefaces" is one of Jeff Keedy's chestnuts, not Erik van Blokland's. And citing the examples I gave above, it's a doctrine with which I absolutely and completely disagree.

Also by the way, Matthew Carter's "Charter" is inspired largely by the work of Pierre Simon Fournier le jeune, giving it about 240 years of history to carry.
Jonathan Hoefler

I am starting to publish a local magazine... for large bodies of text, WHAT typeface do you suggest?

So far, ones I like are...
Goudy (only sometimes)

I agree that the x-height of ITC's Garamond as well as the overall skewing of it is very 70s, but not beyond that. However, I think because it has that distinctive look, that it is fantastic for large pieces of text, only when condensed and bold. It looks great that way. However, I have to agree it is pretty bad looking at 100% and for large bodies of text (ie: a book).

However, you never really said if you like Garamond in general, and which ones. Do you?

I think all the hating on the 70s and vintage trends is silly-- they may have been trends, but so are so many other things we do, it fits the style of the time. And I for one see nothing wrong with a typeface that is sort of a voice of the time period, giving that specific look in design-- those looks, I feel, never fade in that there is always some beauty to be found in them, always some redeeming quality, always something to learn from them and to apply to design. It's a time period in design and typography that is nearly as important as all the rest.

> we need more intuitive thinkers.

Well, I can't disagree with that, but it seems to imply that we have too many "logical" thinkers. We don't. I guess thinking in general is lacking...

> .... giving it about 240 years of history to carry.

In fact I think you would state that any font has some history behind it. Fair enough. But still, some fonts are more progressive than others, and we need that.


I see that Mark Farrow has been voted 'the best graphic designer working today' in Creative Review's annual Peer Poll (October 2004 issue). Apple computer and Farrow's Pet Shop Boys sleeves using ITC Garamond make the face, for me, part of the 80s idea of the post-modern 'classic' rather than any kind of 70s funkiness.

By the way, this discussion contains some of the best writing I've read in months, whatever face you read it in. I particularly love Jonathan Hoefler's passionate exactitude -- all that wonderful stuff about 'slug casters' and 'duplexed matrixes'!

It's soooo 90s to slag ITC Garamond! ITC like Emigre reflects the typographical fashions of a certain era. You have to judge ITC in terms of an age which revolted against formal style. Their typefaces were designed to have a casual feeling and a real sense of whimsy (ala Push Pin Studios). If you want to see ITC typefaces used well just look at old issues of U&lc for inspiration. Those ancient jems of newsprint are part of what got me interested in graphic design (thanks to my Dad bringing home issues).

ITC Garamond perfectly reflects Apple Computer and Baby Boomers in the mid-80s (i.e the Yuppies): It's the idea that you could be a "suit" but still listen to the Grateful Dead. In the case of Apple it was the idea of the Macintosh being a serious corporate workstation, but also being user friendly at the same time.

Just for the record I read "Mr. Truman's War" and think it's a enjoyable read - even if it isn't well designed. But THE Harry Truman book is "Truman" by David McCullough, however my favorite is "Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman" edited by his daughter Margaret Truman.

Michael Pinto


Don't like Garamond? Dont use it. Delete it from your hard drive, erase it from your memory. Simply throw the very idea of it away.To paraphrase/steal/extrapolate that Tibor quote used by someone in creative review on one of those Comic Sans posters. The world doesnt need any more pontificating about typefaces. We need ideas not naval gazing.

How much time do you people have on your hands? Can't you think of anything more productive to do with it, than write banal quasi-intellectual, pointlessly eulogising critiques on typefaces??? We puke so much theoretical pollution it hurts to even breathe.

I am no better than you. The very fact I have filled a space in my life engaging in this nonsense makes me just as bad if not worse.

But hey! Its OK! We've found that tipping point in our lives where you think that a typeface designed in 1975 is important enough to waste time discussing its merits/faults. Thats a good thing. Its that beautiful moment when you realise that your life so far has merely been a series of ill-fated descisions you weren't in full control of, that lead you to be sitting in front of your apple mac, on a website, at some kind of typo-culdesac, away from your loved ones, discussing something called Garamond.

Go back to your families and remember your career was never important. We have been fooled all along! Go outside and feel the fresh october air on your cheeks!

Every Edward Gibbon has his Duke of Gloucester.
Jonathan Hoefler

Salami: come on, dude, lighten up. It's just a blog, read by a few geeks talking about geeky things.

To come clean, I've expressed the same frustration at navel gazing, and on this very site as well (I have a very low tolerance for art v. design debates).

That said, I like talking about fonts because I use them a lot and have to make a lot of decisions based on font choices. If there was a blog set up by a few painters, I wouldn't be astonished if they had an idle debate between the differences in the qualities of cobalt blue and cerulean. Or shocked by an architecture discussion about materials. Or offended by writers talking about words... see where I'm getting with this? Choosing fonts is an aesthetic decision and talking about ugly fonts is fun because they're easy targets and they're distasteful and practitioners choose everyday not to use them for a reason. And, more than any of that, the retreat from talking about theory is really refreshing. I mean, what would you have us do? Talk about the current state of postmodernism everyday?
Ahrum Hong

I know Jonathan Hoefler won't mind my saying this: but before you fall too much in love with his "passionate exactitude" (as Momus has evidently done), perhaps I should gently point out that his reference to "Monotype slug casters" is a terminological inexactitude that cannot be excused. Monotype machines cast single sorts; it was Linotypes that cast slugs. He spelled "accommodate" wrong too in the same post, but we all do that once in a while.
Matthew Carter

The post and comments are engaging. However, I must confess, I keep getting lost! I can't seem to keep track if the "posted by:" line precedes or follows each comment. My eye identifies the dashed rule as the seperator of individual comments (which is precisely at odds with the intended meaning) -- am I the only one having this problem? I desperately wish the layout were less ambiguous. Sorry to interject a new topic (although tangentially related to Bierut's root frustration), but my confusion interferes with my enjoyment of (and edification from) this conversation.

> It's soooo 90s to slag ITC Garamond!

Fortunately I wasn't hip in the 90s, and I hope I won't be in the 00s either.

> have to judge ITC in terms of an age
> which revolted against formal style

Forget the ITC of the disco era. I'd much rather judge designers who today set a book in ITC Garamond, or who believe that "choosing fonts is an aesthetic decision" (what a wonderful escape from having to think), or balk at plain ol' communication no less.

> We need ideas not naval gazing.

Here are some ideas:
Accept the limits of relevance of personal expression. Get a grasp on readability. Learn to respect the needs of users. Don't live for pats on the back from peers. Don't friggin' use ITC Garamond for a book.

> Go back to your families and remember your career was never important. We have been fooled all along! Go outside and feel the fresh october air on your cheeks!

Now this is good advice. Especially if you live in the southern hemisphere.


Oops -- thanks, Matthew. For "Monotype slug caster," please read "both Monotype machine-casters and Linotype matrices, as well as foundry type."

I wish I could chalk this up to a typo, but I think I misunderstand something elemental: is a slug exclusively the product of a linecaster? I'd thought that "slug" applied to any piece of mechanically cast type, whether a Linotype's lines or a Monotype's sorts. I take it this isn't the case?

Jonathan Hoefler

When I was 15, in 1979, my favourite typeface was ITC Souvenir. (Plus, there was nothing cooler than dry transfer lettering!)

Wow, what a crowd! I posted at ITC Garamond Hatefest 2004!
Kevin Steele

"Slug" was the usual word for the complete line o' type cast at a single operation from assembled matrices by a Linotype (or Intertype) machine. "Slug machines" was used generically to distinguish these line-casters from the Monotype machine which cast individual pieces of type and assembled the cast types into a line. I've never heard "slug" used of a single piece of type. I'm guessing that the Linotype slug got its name from a resemblance to leads, strips of type-metal used for spacing between lines that were also known in their thicker sizes as slugs.
Matthew Carter

I think you'll find ITC Garamond looking fine on menus for Italian or BBQ restaurants. Other places to look are brochures for historical sites, museums, and nature preserves. Can't recall seeing it in a book, but that would be the book designer's mistake, not Tony Stan's. These examples, I presume, can be attributed to the graphic designer's approach instead of the typographic designer's. But within limits, the use of any typeface is perfectly valid, and I don't think it would be bad if a typographic designer was to use ITC Garamond if it worked. Sheesh!

And I like ITC Garamond. Looks like the bright kid in the green woolen sweater.

I laughed, I cried, I learned something new. Thank you Design Observer.

Next week can we hate Serpentine?
Joe Pemberton

next week can we hate Serpentine?

Yes, please. And with it all mannered faces that are "art-directed" according to some formal idea, rather than the origins of our alphabet, which was and is writing.
erik spiekermann

First Rotis, now this... :-)
I'm trying hard not go for these baits, mostly because I don't like how fishermen taste - they wear all this heavy clothing that keeps them warm but obscures what's inside.

The hand is to the eye what art is to design.


back to Oct 5 10:47 comment from Matthew Carter : ... Not the only one confused. I was thinking the same when I came across your comment.

Hating is personal. Typeface choice for a design should be whether it is right for the job - doesn't have much to do with hate or love.

Hey Dad and all the rest of you designers, hobbyists, etc.

I hate ITC Garamund Ultra also. We're doing a an assignment in electronic publishing about the fonts that we hate. Guess what?

Comic Sans MS and ITC Garamund Ultra rank 1 and 2 for me.

Yeah, those were givens.

Anyway, I'm glad we share the same views about the font (it's genetic I guess) and I'm sorry that there are so many people that are getting hostile over the word "hate."

To quote Jonathan Hoefler, "come on, dude, lighten up. It's just a blog, read by a few geeks talking about geeky things."

He's got the idea.

Drew Bierut (son)

"By the way, 'new typography requires new typefaces' is one of Jeff Keedy's chestnuts, not Erik van Blokland's. And citing the examples I gave above, it's a doctrine with which I absolutely and completely disagree."

Thanks for pointing this out, Mr Hoefler, but when I heard those words, they came out of Mr Van Blokland's mouth during his keynote at ATypI in late September 2001, so for me, they will remain his words. I was very inspired by the statement, as it gave me a valid reason to be designing typefaces. A couple of weeks earlier, on September 11th, I was given very good reason - as were most of us, I posit - to question our choice of career. Despite the good that design can do in the world, we were powerless on and after that terrible day.

Since you disagree with the statement, we'll just have to disagree on this point.

"Also by the way, Matthew Carter's "Charter" is inspired largely by the work of Pierre Simon Fournier le jeune, giving it about 240 years of history to carry."

Charter may be based on Fournier's gorgeous work - Monotype Fournier has always been one of my favorite "dark horse" book fonts; it reads beautifully - but it is very very much its own creation. Mr Carter's rational construction and drawing of the letters puts Charter in the same historical and æsthetic category as the works of his colleague Mr Unger, despite any references to Fournier's work. All of which to say; Charter is a contemporary typeface which doesn't carry Fournier's historical baggage.

Mr Hoefler, your own "Didot" typeface family achieves a similar trick of being so new that it doesn't appear as a revival, but stands as a new work, unencumbered with the weight of history. The same holds true for Zuzana Licko's "Mrs Eaves", which is as much a revival of Baskerville as Charter is a revival of Fournier.

Also, it's very amusing to note that Mr Bierut fils has as little time for Comic Sans as every professional designer I know. And where is Electronic Publishing offered as a class, and what grade level are the students?

As for Ms Bonner's statement: "Typeface choice for a design should be whether it is right for the job - doesn't have much to do with hate or love." If that was the case, we would all be using one of five typefaces, (at most,) and there would be no need to create any new ones. While typefaces are suited to certain kinds of work, there is no "right" typeface for any given job, but several "right" typefaces from which the designer may choose. And that's where taste comes in.

(I knew I could get back to the subject of this thread if I tried hard enough.)

As an aside, I'd just like to note how relieved I am that Michael did not name his children after typefaces, unlike some people.

Mr Potts, to whom do you refer? Your link did not lead to any typographically-named offspring.

While I agree that it is a bad idea to name children after typefaces, I think that it is entirely appropriate to name typefaces after children.

Sorry, Chester--just trying to sound like an insider when I am so not. Tibor's daughter is named Lulu Bodoni. Which is better than Lulu Fraktur, certainly...

> it is a bad idea to name children after typefaces

One could do much worse.

We had family friends who planned on naming their child Calvin, with Cline as the middle name... We are no longer seeing them.


We could all be worse off -- type designer Douglas McMurtrie named his son Baskerville.
Jonathan Hoefler

I wonder what face Mr. McMurtrie chose for the "trip me" sign on the back of Baskerville's shirt?
Douglas Dearden

Chester, with the benefit of a Parents' Day visit last Saturday, I can report that the "Electronic Publishing" classes that today's ninth graders are taking seem to be switched-on versions of what me and Drew's mom Dorothy used to call being on the staff of the school paper or yearbook. The tools have evolved from hot wax to Pagemaker, but the content is largely the same collection of pictures of the football team in action and vehement diatribes about the fascist dress code.

On Parents' Day, I did have a disconcerting moment when the "E-Pubs" teacher told us that the class was studying typefaces and next would be moving on to layout principles. Dorothy asked me, "Why do you keep making those faces?" before I even realized I was making faces. Or why, exactly.

After all these years of bemoaning the fact sad state of arts education (and non-existent state of design education) at K-12 levels in the United States, I suppose we should be pleased that 14 year olds are formulating opinions (and agreeably negative ones) about typefaces.

Oddly, no one seems to teach touch typing anyone. That's actually a skill that comes in handy.
Michael Bierut

The Helvetica poster is the best thing I've seen in a while (a real insider joke). I'd like to see more graphic items like that on this blog.
anthony barkdoll

Please forgive me for the poor quality of my written English (I'm French).
Anyway, here's a curious footnote to Mr. Spiekermann's rant involving Optima and Rotis : in Typographical Warfare, an article reproduced in the Texts on Type anthology (Heller & Meggs, Alworth Press), Otl Aicher writes that he had once started to design a typeface which would be serif AND sans serif at the same time. He adds that his design was nearing completion, with proofs displayed on the walls of his studio, when he was visited by another type designer (whose name remains concealed) who released a typeface very similar to his own before he had a chance to do it himself. Does Aicher suggest that Optima was stolen from him by Hermann Zapf, or what ?
Stéphane Darricau

Michael, thanks for the clarification on Electronic Publishing. My high school was too small to warrant a newspaper, so I never had Drew's experience, and I was fired from my yearbook photographer gig early on. (The reasons for this dismissal are lost in the mists of time.) Of my own volition, I took a Typing class which left me with a good sense of the keyboard, though not a psychic connection with it. (In fact, very little of my secondary education has stuck. I know that Maurice Duplessis used to buy votes with ice boxes, but not much else.) Nor did I avail myself of Art classes, instead choosing Technical Drawing and Geometry.

As for your face-making at Parents' Day... Could it be that you feel that high school teachers are ill-equipped to be teaching their students about design? Or perhaps you are concerned that the "correctness" of a layout will be judged according to criteria established by a textbook, thereby negating the "it just works" qualities of many design solutions. And what textbook is being used to teach the course? (Excuse me if I leap to conclusions about the aptitude of teachers of Electronic Publishing at Bierut le jeune's school.)

Is it better to be taught nothing than to be taught poorly? Is it better to be uninformed than misinformed?

> Does Aicher suggest that Optima was stolen from him by Hermann Zapf, or what ?

I've actually pondered that case and done some [light] research. From what I remember one conclusion I arrived at was that the timing of it all didn't work out for Optima to be the culprit. In fact the one font that sort of made sense in the context of everything was Pascal, by Jose Mendoza y Almeida. For one thing, look at that "a" and compare it to Rotis's. I know that Rotis wasn't the font in question, but a designer (especially an "outsider" who doesn't rely on type design for a living) will often continually refine a certain model sitting in his head. On the other hand, Mendoza y Almeida strikes me as the type of person who wouldn't swipe another's design.

BTW, do note this terminological twist (which I know from reading his landmark Typographie that Aicher was "guilty" of): sometimes people will use "sans" to mean fonts without stroke contrast, and "serif" to mean with. Note for example how Aicher named the contrasty sans component of Rotis "Semi-Sans".


> Hating is personal. Typeface choice for a design should be whether it is right for the job - doesn't have much to do with hate or love.

I've been wanting to respond to this since I saw it posted...

Choices (wether typographic, marital, gastronomic, etc.) have everything to do with hate and love. By ignoring or removing either sentiment (hate or love) is why so much design work becomes mediocre. Michael's hatred for the seriffy Garamond may perhaps be the reason why he sets Helvetica so nicely.

Even I can't resist jumping into this and I admit it's because this thread's got that feel of a happening place. It's been great to have this going on while I'm dealing with my introductory type class. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

Like Dmitri way up at the top, I'm delighted to witness, at this level, the confession of a taste-driven decision in design. Combined with Jeff Keedy's latest essay, I wonder if Something's Happening.

I'm not bothered by Michael saying "I hate it because I hate it" (and, I suppose, its inverse, "I love it because I love it"), as long as I'm not required to hate/love it, too.

Getting back to teaching type, though I've been urging my students to read this discussion, I wonder if it'll only distress them. Even less certainty about what's "good typography." Or am I misreading?

Lastly, I'm reminded of a discussion some years ago on the AIGA education list about teaching type. Someone wrote in asking for good assignments for students. I asked if anyone had a convincing argument to give to students why they should do "good typography." (I know, for many of the folks above, that's a ridiculous question.) No-one had a response then—are there any now?
Kenneth FitzGerald

> Hrant
I've checked it myself and I agree with you. Optima doesn't fit the bill : in 1958 Zapf was already a quite famous typographer, and Aicher wouldn't describe him as "a designer who has since made a name for himself". He adds that the unnamed designer released his typeface "the following year", which makes 1959 (too late for Optima).
Regarding Mr Mendoza, I can add that he would certainly note have paid a visit to the co-founder of the Ulm School of Design because he so strongly objected to the teaching given there.
The mystery remains unsolved.
Stéphane DArricau

Mr FitzGerald, while I'm sure that this is the obvious answer, here it is anyhow: Typography has a responsibility to readers. That's not to say that graphic design as a whole doesn't, just that typography - and iconography - carries a specific message, and unless it delivers that message clearly, it's not fulfilling its responsibility.

It helps me to remind myself about this fact, and it makes typographic decision-making a much simpler thing.

To Mr. FitzGerald's students:
Don't worry. You aren't required to have such detailed, impassioned and/or silly views on typefaces at this point. Taste develops over time and in some sense against your will. Only years and years of being forced to confront ITC Garamond on the job and in the world could forge such a steely view of it. Hatred and bile will be yours to cherish in time, fear not. It is perhaps more important to observe is the mechanics of critique and post-rationalization on display here. These skills will most likely serve you better in your education and career than any position on an individual typeface.

He adds that the unnamed designer released his typeface "the following year", which makes 1959 (too late for Optima).

Not necessarily. Aicher wasn't exactly a type buff, and in 1958 probably didn't know much that existed outside of Akzidenz Grotesk. Also, in those days, release dates didn't mean very much. Optima took 4 to 5 years in the making, and there may have been some publication or other as late as 1959 when Aicher saw Optima for the first time. He wrote about that incidence more than 30 years later and even a fastidious person like Aicher may not have remembered everything to the day.

Mind you, I cannot imagine why Zapf should have ever visited Aicher's studio. He was almost as far away from his world as Medoza, if not geographically.

The other explanation is simply that Aicher was post-rationalizing. He was a late-comer to type design and discovered a lot of things in his late 40s that other designers had been doing. He even "discovered" Times New Roman in the early 80s and wrote an essay about how great that face was and that he would use it from now on! That aquaintance shows up a few years later in Rotis Serif. He probably had an idea about a face between Sans and Serif, might have even made some sketches (although I doubt that - there is no evidence in his earlier work of even getting close to type design), but the rest seems a hint of paranoia and answering some of the criticism of Rotis being neither a proper Sans nor a real Serif, but a hybrid. If Aicher had invented hybrid type 30 years earlier, that would have made it more justifiable as a juvenile error or as being ahead of his time.
erik spiekermann

> there is no evidence in his earlier work
> of even getting close to type design

Isn't lettering "getting close to type design"? In issue #31 of Baseline magazine there's a nice article (pp 17-24) about Aicher's early work, and you can see some posters he made for the Volkshochschule (in the mid to late 40s) with a pretty distinct contrasty sans* of his making (as well as a less original monoline sans). The article also mentions that he made adaptations** of Bayer's Universal, and Post Antiqua. So although I agree that he was wet-behind-the-ears to some extent, the awareness of letterforms (and their proper spacing, at least at the "aggregate instance" level) was very much there, no?

* Which might actually provide good clues in this mystery.

** Something many "real" type designers often do, no? :->

> the rest seems a hint of paranoia

This seems highly possible. Note for example how he declared his farmhouse to be its own state, independent of Germany. On the other hand, I'd love to do that myself with my house - for one thing this upcoming alleged election is great motivation... except I won't actually own my house for another two decades. :-/


Thanks chester and Dmitri for the comments. The rationale chester provides is the one I stress: respect, empathy, and pity for the reader. However, how does one determine what is "responsible" in the face of situations like Mr. Truman's War? If I was an awake student, I'd think that a major publisher putting out that book totally undermined that argument. If such blantantly awful texts get released, what's my (the student's) incentive to do "better"? What's my empirical evidence that it's not the best type? And, pragmatically, why expend the labor.

Of course, I have answers. Philosophically: pride of craft, and pragmatically, if you want to work for Michael Bierut, you need to do excellent type. But I feel that the first is on shaky ground (I've used the metaphor of dove-tailed joints but must also admit type isn't like carpentry—the text won't fall apart quicker if I use ITC Garamond), and the second is wiped away if you don't want to move to NYC.

To Dmitri's point, I agree as I want to produce (buzz words coming, hold on) critical thinkers far more than the designers. But—and I offer this only as observation, not counterpoint—as I've been in design, I've become far more personally accepting about stuff like type. My snide comments about student font choices always have quotes around them. I like some faces but, overall, don't see a font choice as worthy of hatred. Then again, the typeface I most love in this world is Not Caslon, so we all know it's pointless to have a rational conversation with me about type...
Kenneth FitzGerald

Mr FitzGerald, I like your dove-tailed joints analogy; if the designer of Mr Truman's War had used a different version of Garamond, the book would not have fallen apart as a readable text in Michael's hands.

I completely agree with you that poor craft reflects poorly on the craftsperson, and that a shoddy product reflects poorly on the producer. The publishers of Mr Truman's War did themselves a disservice by publishing the book in its ITC Garamond-y state, in Michael's eyes, at least. (And many of us concurred with him without seeing said book because the very idea made us shudder.) But what if they had used Times New Roman poorly? (As is the case in the pages of Vanity Fair magazine, where not even an fi ligature can be seen.) Would Michael have posted his post? Or what if the book was set in another arguably dodgy ITC font, like Souvenir? If Michael had a fondness for that font - as I do - we wouldn't be here.

So, where does the line get drawn between good and bad? Between quality and shoddy? If you couldn't tell a dove-tailed joint from Adam, would you be perfectly happy with the quality of your MDF Ikea coffee table? Indeed, MDF tables are far easier and faster to make than a wood coffee table, but there's less craft involved. Your students would indeed be right to ask why it's important to go to all the trouble of making something good, when something average will do.

I would say that the answer is: respect for the user and pride of the maker. It's a bit of a cliché, but we humans are always striving to be better, to go farther faster. It's this pride, or call it love of exploration, which has taken us to the bottom of the sea, the surface of the moon, and in our own ways, pushes us all to make what we're making as well as we are able to. (This does not apply, of course, to movie sequels.)

All of which to say; if Michael saw a beautiful and smart piece of communication using ITC Garamond, he might look beyond the type to the craft and respect and pride in the piece.

PS; I feel that "hate" and "love" are not polar opposites of each other, but are both opposites of "indifference".


You have to force me into this hate fest, eh?

I'm surprised I didn't answer your challenge on the AIGA educators' list but you and Chester pretty much answered it. "Good typography" means a few things:

1) Effective/affective type: Not, I assume, what you meant by your challenge (ignoring for a moment that aesthetics are part of affective type.)

2) Ergonomic type: Courtesy-to-reader answers this one.

3) Type that fits an aesthetic, a tradition, and/or arbitrary standards: The working-for-Michael Bierut line gets to the answer for this. There's no reasons that a writer needs to worry about subject-verb agreement unless he might have to write for people who care about such things.

Any communication contains the subtext "You can trust me because I am like you." Speaking the "wrong" dialect marks the speaker as an outsider or a pretender. Many people react to the dialect by wondering why they should listen to such a speaker. That makes the presentation less effective. A designer should know how to do things "properly" because not knowing how to do "good typography" means that the designer will be unable to present an effective message to many people.

As much as it pains me to admit it, there may not be an important moral argument for using an apostrophe rather than a tick mark. But anyone wanting to get a job as a graphic designer is probably claiming to be detail-oriented, aesthetically aware, obsessive about getting things perfect, and tuned to the arcana of graphic design. The tick mark counters those claims.

I believe that most of category 3 is also part of category 2. With all due respect to Mr. Bierut's revulsion, there are probably many good uses for ITC Garamond (at least if we're sticking to category 2.) A book in that face would fail all three.
Gunnar Swanson

Sorry to get you off the sofa, Gunnar (while you're up, get something for Rosemary, okay?). I do wish you'd stayed there, though, not because I disagree with your rationales but because I know (and appropriated) them. I'm trawling for new ones.

I'm still unsure. Maybe I'm just trying to be the undergraduate design student I never was by hanging onto this. But doesn't the existence of Mr. Truman's War—and many other typographic artifacts present company would shudder at—invite (urge?) the conclusion that it's all taste. Only Category 3 can be defended. Otherwise, you have to articulate why a major publisher would knowingly put out a difficult-to-read book. If such awful type is acceptable, what rationale do you give a student for not doing what works for them—just like most of the design world seems to be doing?

At my left elbow, I have a large stack of student projects I'm evaluating. Most have what many of the above folks would consider bizarre typographic choices for the assignment (a class roster). It seems that I have to, essentially, convince the students they are blind or irrational for making their choices after I stressed Categories 1 and 2. None of the students seem to fit either of those designations that I can tell.

Before I just attribute it all to inexperience, I feel I should confront my assumptions and motivations first. And what my/our real goal with type should be.
kenneth fitzgerald

Kenneth—Far be it from me to discourage your confrontations of your assumptions and motivations but there is a time to say "Because I know more than other people do." (The bad news is that as soon as we say it we damned well better know a lot more.)

Most people can't tell if a guitar is in tune but a substantial number of people will find something better in the music if the band tunes up. There may have been a day when record companies were run by people who cared about and knew about music. Now they are run by lawyers and accountants. You can't count on them saying "the rhythm guitar is flat." The publishing industry is in a similar situation. I don't have to articulate why a major publisher would knowingly put out a difficult-to-read book unless there's some evidence that the word "knowingly" applies.

We don't have to get into an argument about whether A is 440 Hz or 337 to agree that, all other things being equal, a musician that doesn't care about tuning is a worse musician. And if the musician who does care says "the backup singer is flat," it makes sense for the one who didn't notice to listen harder rather than to say that it's all a social construct (even if it is.)

The reason that graphic designers need to keep the metaphoric guitars in tune is that it is likely that nobody else will object to something being a few Hz off. Nobody complains that everything is in tune and I've never had a client say "can you make the letterspacing a little funkier?"
Gunnar Swanson

I just want to take quick issue with the tuned guitar analogy. Any idiot can tell you when guitar is out of tune, but very few people know how to fix it. So it goes with typography -- it's easy to see when something's wrong but there are precious few who know how to do anything about it. That is the hardest thing to learn as a designer: how to revise, how to re-approach. Teaching design means teaching students how to stay interested in graphic design -- interested enough to go back in and fix something or bin it and start over.

I would go one step further and say that you can't "teach" design. At least not in the way you can teach maths or english. A designer needs to teach themselves through loving what they are doing, and always trying to go one better.

designdrops.com - a resource for designers

When designers talk about math I always wonder if they've ever met a mathematician.
Gunnar Swanson

Gunnar, I hear ya. DD, in college my Discrete Math professor instilled in me a very pronounced love of the field, and I was always trying to go one better. I remember this one extra credit assignment, something to do with recursively proving the addition of two discrete functions, and I racked my brain at it for days, sometimes on the verge of giving up, until I was the only one in the class who figured it out. I was proud, and in love. And all these years I've kept her in my files.


Mr Swanson and Mr Papazian, I fear that you have both been duped by Mr/Ms Drops. You see, Mr/Ms Drops is a snake oil salesperson who posts innocuous little messages in the discussions on this site as a way of driving traffic to his/her snakeoil website. Hence the Presidential Debate-worthy sticking-to-the-subject-ness of the post.

designdrops.com - a source for snakeoil

While I can't say that I share the same dislike for ITC Garamond as Mr. Beirut, I am starting to foster a deep-seeded hatred for the millions and millions of specialty fonts that have flooded modern typography. It seems that more and more I am seeing these "one-time use" fonts in publications. Sometimes they fit perfectly into the design, but most often, they are either overused or deviate so badly from the style of the piece that they because a nuisance.

For example, I came across a font called "We Love Corey". After being drawn in by the title, I took a look at the character set. I soon found out that "We Love Corey" is a themed font dedicated soley to Corey Feldman (the famous 80's child actor of Goonies fame). Each character featured a line art mugshot of Mr. Feldman in all his glory.

I feel as if I am constantly wading through a sea of these junk fonts, but sadly my trusty plastic orange arm "floaties" are beginning to lose their buoyancy.

Steve Mack

> For example, I came across a font called "We Love Corey

If I may... to ease the wading I would recommend staying away from fonts named in the form of a sentence.

I must agree with Matthew Carter that it is hard to catch up on this string. The dashed rule which serves to underscore and credit a post, actually seems to divide it and group with the text to follow.

Garamond ITC is groovy, not to say I prefer it, but like several Zapf and Benguiat creations, it seems to have made life easier for the letterers and sign painters of the day. Add Cooper Black to the mix. They all seem part of a post-Beatles group of Mods. ITC Garamond is something like a cartoon brother of the original. It probably makes the Helvetica punchline that much richer being told by the stand up comic sibling in its family.

Erik Spiekermann - I always enjoy your thoughts, but you told us a story in San Diego years ago, about David Carson refusing to give up the stage at an event in Germany. This is my first post here, but as I just read the Design Observer "rules of engagement" concerning the length of a post, I think your word count might exceed Michael's.

Is there a prize for the typographer who uses the most letters?
Don Hollis

> David Carson refusing to give up the stage

Wow, that sounds even worse than what he did in Thessaloniki this year: not show up. That was sort of refreshing actually. Except for the $8000 waste.

> Is there a prize for the typographer who uses the most letters?

Yeah. A free copy of "We Love Corey".


Well, I like ITC Garmond because of the large x-height and shortened ascenders and descenders.
Darlene Trowell

And I like lard because it tastes good and my palate enjoys it.
But I don't pretend it's good for my health.

Nice analogy. I don't have any particular problem with the font, but I can see how it would be cumbersome in large doses. It may not be as easy on the eyes as many other typefaces they could have chosen in its place. Maybe the author chose it specifically to make our lives a little harder. :(
Josh Perlinski

Well, I'm not going to get into the discussion because I'm just an undergraduate design student from a third-world country, but I'd like to say that I've read all the comments and it was fantastic to observe such a rich "conversation". Also, I was amazed by the people who post here, several names that I usually only read about in articles, magazines or even books.
Thank you for your time :)

Dear Michael Bierut,
As to ITC Garamond and Optima I agree with you. It all makes me thinking of the output of massive marketing from ITC to get people believe that their Garamond is a typeface worth taking seriously. In the beginning when ITC people were busy spreading their message I visited ITC in New York and was kindly received by Ed. Rondthaler who showed me around and told me of the work at ITC. As I brought some bad typeface outlines, which he seemed to like, he also asked me if I had an interest in working with them in the studio. Today I am so happy that I refused though the proposal was flattering for me, a young undecided and ambitious typographer from Sweden. In 1999 I finished my typeface Indigo Antiqua on my own and with this typeface I hopefully have made a usable alternative to all odd Garamonds and Palatinos.

Best whishes from Johan Ström
Johan Ström

I've always loved Garamond - I used Linotype Garamond 3 for ages because it was the only version with a decent "zero". Then came ITC Garamond and I loved it even more - even when I couldn't get it to look right (I always assumed I hadn't got the skills to use it properly).

And then one day I realised that although the letterforms were great to look at, as a text face it sucks. I had thought the condensed version would be great for text-heavy documents, but it needed so much leading to make the text even vaguely readable it that it rather negated the point of being condensed.

But I still love it - that massive x-height, the ridiculous condensed version - InstaLogo! It makes me wonder how many other fonts (like Rotis, Serpentine, Italia or my own favorite, Raleigh) were fonts developed out of a few letters originally designed as a logotype.

Erik Spiekermann is right - really good fonts take time to develop and gain acceptance, but once they have achieved that recognition they have staying power.

Unlike Optima, Eurostile, Microgramma and Avant Garde which were, and remain, execrable fonts.

Fabulous forum!
harry sutherland-hawes

george w bush is kinda like itc garamond, his eyes are not quite sized, his mouth's tight, and his smile is way off and insincere.
by the way chester, stop sweating that ol' dog bierut, instead of hate, just look away?.
peter huynh

Most appropiate the term 'Typefacism'.
Mr. Bierut, there's too much hatred in this world already without picking on innocent typefaces as well.
Show a little love, open up, be positive - dedicate the next 'Pentagram Papers' to it - go on, you can do it, plus you'll feel much better. Mr. Bierut, there's no future in being a 'Typefascist'.

P.S. Hi DM!

And to think it was my own daughter who coined the term "typefascism." Sigh.
Michael Bierut

I hope there's some middle ground between fascism and humoring crappy design.


Wow! I am not a designer. I run a massage therapy school and I have a pdf brochure that contains Garamond-black, Garamond-light and Garamond-lightitalic. I found ITC versions of all of these at fonts.com and did a google search to see if this ITC font would work - so that I could edit my brochure.

That led me to this wonderful geeky thread that exposed a world I never knew about! Font geeks! You guys are fabulous! Philosophy, politics and a dialectic after my own heart. For me it's anatomy, history, politics and music, for you guys its fonts! That's marvelous. I am totally with you guys. And for what it's worth, George Bush "knowing how the world works" is unacceptable because of it's consequences, while disliking Celine Dion is my own business.

Does anyone know where I can download non-itc versions of the fonts I need?


Adobe Type has some good type (and they have two versions of Garamond).
Andrew Twigg

Hello, my name is David and I'm addicted to typfaces and discussions about them. (Hello, David...)

Wow! A blog which contains references to two awful fonts: ITC Garamond AND ITC Souvenir.

If I just take it one day at a time, I can conquer this thing...
David Koeth

is that ITC Garamond rearing its ugly head in the movie ads for Meet The Fockers ?

I'll never forget the first time I saw ITC Garamond. I had designed a logotype using Garamond No. 3 and was working on a related booklet which I had speced out to match and sent off to the typesetter (this was early 80's). The typesetter called me up and said that he had just received this new Garamond font and suggested I use it for the booklet. I commented that I guessed that was OK, if he thought it would look good with the logotype which was on the cover in Garamond No.3. When I saw the galleys I called the typesetter back and asked if he was SURE this was Garamond. For whatever reason (time, money, I don't remember now) the booklet went to press with ITC on the inside No. 3 on the cover. Unfortnately the booklet is still around after all these years. And it still drives me nuts.
Randall Smith

On Rotis:

Minor civic scandal last year.

Since Expo 67, Univers has been, more or less, the official typeface of the city of Montreal. All public transit, the Metro, city buildings, vehicles and fire stations have signage in Univers (aside from commuter train stops, which use the none-more-Deep Space Nine font, Handel) The 1976 Olympics brought a flood of more Univers, as all the graphic materials and posters were designed by Otl Aicher.

So last year, the newly amalgamated City of Montreal decided that a New City needed New Typography, so they paid $25,000 to a graphic design firm to expunge the Univers 55 Roman version of the word "Montreal" from the city's cloverleaf logo...and replace it with Rotis.

The merged boroughs voted for demerger shortly after. Coincidence? I think not.

I'm a Classical architect and traditional urbanist. When it comes to type, I don't have the tools to explain why I don't like some fonts, but I suspect that when I don't like new versions of the traditional fonts it's because they've lost their traditional proportions. I dislike all the ITC versions I know from the Garamond and Caslon families.

Someone in the field might be able to tell me wy the following shouldn't be true, but I like ACaslon 100% better than any ITC Caslon or Garamond. And I tend to agree with Christopher Alexander when he says that the intuition can be better at judging these things than the mind, particularly when the mind has been conditioned by a 20th century professional education.

Most fields seem to be more and more esoteric because of theories that trump appearances.
john massengale

Anyone who thinks "no font is wrong, it's all just taste" can try setting book text in Jokerman or Ransom sometime.

On the other hand, if the typographer were using ITC Garamond in an attempt to evoke a retro 70s feel, I'd think it was fine, just like if he colored the poster in avocado green and burnt orange. In order to "judge the font in the context of 1975", I'd have to be trying to communicate that context in my use.

The important lesson to learn is that even though something may be useful for one specific task, that doesn't mean it's a good generic design tool.
Joel Bernstein

I would say that "no font is wrong".

Personal taste is a big part, but I think the most significant fact of the matter is "is this an appropriate use of this particular font?".

As much as I simply loathe 'Comic sans', I cannot bring myself to say that 'Comic sans' is 'wrong' and 'should never be used'. Instead, I would have to say that it is a font with a very very narrow scope of application, but has unfortunately been made available to the masses and is perhaps the most abused font in existence.


I'm so glad that the hate I have for Rotis is shared by others. It's
almost fitting that Australia's government welfare department -
Centrelink uses it almost exclusively...

I may be dreaming but ITC Garamond and Rotis seem to share an
inkling of the same geometrics.

It's only 4 years since the last comment... :)
Daniel Walkington

Im agree with dan, if we give a wrong use to a font... could be the most ugly font ever, or in case the most beauty font in the world. Keep up with good design and good font election.

Well, i need to said... a nice post never dies :P

There's got to be a psychological illness that defines such an obsession with fonts.. can't read a book because it's written in a certain font. sad....

ahh! people, and their silly fetishes...

Man, this is your official wake-up call. Its just a bloody font, nobody gives a crap.


I have trouble with Garamond because it's so thin that it is difficult to read.
Rishabh Rohan

Yes! Thank you. I have always had a tremendous distaste for ITC Garamond, as well. Another place it is well-used is in and on all of O'Reilly's tech books. They're dropping it, though.

Rotis is the corporate font company that I work for. 5+ years of typesetting everything in Rotis. Then they decided one day that we'd should start using ITC Garamond for certain projects.
Harvey Allan

The beautiful typeface Hoefler Titling is very very close to Garamond.
Joshua Eckert

Jobs | July 21