A Handful of Fascinating Typography Tidbits

A Handful of Fascinating Typography Tidbits

Today, I present to you a small handful of informational tidbits which will act as glimpses into the world of a typography enthusiast.

You may not currently think about the impact of a period, types of fonts, or understand why people grumble about Comic Sans, but hopefully after this article, you might.

1. New York Times Nameplate – The Impact of a Period

The period in the New York Times nameplate died on February 21, 1967. Around the time of the removal, they put out a news release claiming that removing the period from the nameplate would save tons of ink every year.

Although the alleged ink savings were beneficial, they were not the original reason for the redesign, the Times was looking to update it’s appearance and hired Ed Benguiat to make a number of typographical alterations. According to his Wikipedia page, Benguiat has designed over 600 typefaces, including Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and, the original Planet of the Apes film.


2. The Origin of Serif and Sans-Serif

Although the exact origin of serif is still debated, most theories seem to point back to the days of stone carvings. One of the more popular theories (Father Edward Catich, The Origin of Serif 1968) suggests the serifs are a result of carvers chiseling over painted outline of letters on stone, where the brush strokes would create the flares at the edges of letters. Serif fonts are helpful in body paragraph text, as the individual serifs serve to guide the eye across each character.

Sans-serif is just the opposite, based on the French word sans, which means without.

3. Trajan – The Movie Poster Font

If you’re looking to create a movie poster, hold on, apparently there is only one font that matters – Trajan. This video does a superb job of pointing out exactly how much of a standard it has become:

Another fun fact – Trajan is the official font of Columbia University.


4. Helvetica or Arial?

If you know anything about fonts, you’re probably familiar with these two sans-serif kingpins, but why are they so gosh darn similar? Furthermore, how do you tell them apart? I love Typography has an excellent breakdown of the history of the two fonts:

Designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger, Helvetica’s design is based on that of Akzidenz Grotesk (1896), and classified as a Grotesque or Transitional san serif face. Originally it was called Neue Haas Grotesque; in 1960 it was revised and renamed Helvetica (Latin for Switzerland “Swiss”).

Designed in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype (not Microsoft), it’s classified as Neo Grotesque, was originally called Sonoran San Serif, and was designed for IBM’s bitmap font laser printers. It was first supplied with Windows 3.1 (1992) and was one of the core fonts in all subsequent versions of Windows until Vista, when to all intents and purposes, it was replaced with Calibri.

So what are the exact differences between these two fonts? This image overlays Arial and Helvetica on top of each other to help bring some of the subtle differences to light.


5. Comic Sans – The Ugly History

Comic Sans was never intended to be used as an actual typeface. Vincent Connare created Comic Sans in 1994 for Microsoft Bob, a children’s computer game released in March 1995. Connare thought that Times New Roman was not appropriate for the speech bubbles and went about creating the typeface we know today, inspired by comic style lettering.

Since that time, more and more people have been using/misusing this typeface in non-comic speech bubble situations, which has lead to Ban Comic Sans initiatives.

Further Reading

Posted Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

18 Comments 3 Mentions

  1. Design Informer Author Editor

    Great post. Just bookmarked this post for further reading. I definitely want to check out the different articles that you mentioned on my free time.

    By the way, I recently did a funny post as well about Comic Sans. You should check it out. :)


  2. Eric B. Author Editor

    Wow! I’ve never really thought too much of typography. Thanks for sharing all of these cool little bits of information.


  3. Austin Author Editor

    Great post! I got a 50% on the Helvetica vs. Arial quiz. I guess that I can’t tell the difference very well.


  4. Spencer Allan Brooks Author Editor

    I just discovered bancomicsans.com two days ago! How festive!


  5. Cosmin Author Editor

    Yep, Trajan is a wonderful font, I used it on the site in my URL, but then it got…well…kind of abused :(

    Thanks for the insights Sam :)


  6. Shurandy Thode Author Editor

    Great read! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Brendan Author Editor

    Got a 19 out of 20…Mattel was just a mean one!

    Glad to see people getting educated about Arial. Helvetica is such a better font!


  8. Emmet Author Editor

    Excellent post! really enjoyed that vid about Trajan! and the Helvetica/Arial quiz is great! Thanks!


  9. Shawn B. Author Editor

    This was an awesome post. It is really refreshing to have the dust of obscurity brushed off a topic like that. I like how instead of going too far into any one topic you kind of touched on a nice set with interesting videos and odd facts.

    This would be nice followed by an article about web typography. I am really unsure of what the optimal spacing and font choice is for the internet, and there is so much you can mess with with CSS.


  10. Jessica G Author Editor

    Great article! However, one correction: Microsoft Bob was not a children’s game, it was a Windows user interface that was designed to be intuitive and simple, and thereby ostensibly attractive to those who were new to personal computing. I worked in retail software sales at the time and we nicknamed it “Windows for Old People.”
    Comic Sans wasn’t the only thing wrong with Bob, but it was one of the (sadly) most enduring.


  11. richi3f Author Editor

    Great post! Thanks for sharing, I got 17 out 20 in the quiz.


  12. Stanford Rosenthal Author Editor

    great post, thanks!


  13. Hugo Author Editor

    If you are looking for free fonts, check http://www.fonts2u.com. Discovered it just few days ago. Their
    character map search is awesome! Saved some time when looking for specific character maps supported.


  14. Jawaad Ahmad Khan Author Editor

    Great post.
    13 out of 20 on the quiz. And it really is true about Trajan, I’m def. gonna look out for that next time I’m at Blockbuster.

    I find it funny though how the guy in the Trajan video told movie poster designers to try out Comic Sans, and thereafter we learned about the horrible horrible tales of Comic Sans.



  15. Vincent Author Editor

    I am fascinated by this post.


  16. Louis Vuitton Taiga Leather Vassoli GM Boreal M32637 Australia Author Editor

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  17. Lili Author Editor

    That’s so awesome thanks


  18. Ed Benguiat Author Editor

    . Stop wit the B/S… You like it use it — You don’t like it don’t use it.
    It’s your personal taste. You can’t argue about taste Try it and you loose.
    I like Chocolate flavor ice cream… you like Strawberry — Just don’t bother me with all the
    bullshit. I know what I do in typography is in good taste. What you do Bad Or Good is what choice is all about. Also the bottom line is like the motion picture business the movie that makes the most money is what counts at the end, Comic Sans made a bundle so……
    Let’s leave the good or bad home for the present.



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