Typomaniac

SIMON GARFIELD

Of all the truly calamitous afflictions of the modern world, typomania is one of the most alarming and least understood. It was first diagnosed by the German designer Erik Spiekermann as a condition peculiar to the font-obsessed, and it has one common symptom: an inability to walk past a sign (or pick up a book or a menu) without needing to identify the typeface. Sometimes font freaks find this task easy, and they move on; and sometimes their entire day is wrecked until they nail it.

This week saw a flare-up of fontroversies with the news that New York’s street signs were getting a reprieve from a 2018 deadline requiring the replacement of their iconic all-capitals format with a combination of capitals and lowercase. There will now be a more relaxed approach, the change occurring merely when the signs wear out. But the debate rages on: Are lowercase letters really safer in traffic (studies say they’re easier to read at speed) than capitals?

And what about the other type news this week, that Central Park has homogenized its signage and now boasts some 1,500 new signs in a face known as Titling Gothic, replacing the eclectic-cum-hodgepodge of signs that used to tell you where you could or couldn’t walk, sit or skate? And what do we think of Titling Gothic anyway, bold white on a green background—does it remind you a little of Helvetica, with that square block over the i and the teardrop heart of the a?

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[TYPE1]

The Beach Boys’ "Pet Sounds" album used Cooper Black. The font looks best from afar, and the bigger, the better—otherwise, it’s hard to read.

TYPE6

Penguin

European discount airline easyJet chose an old 1920s font, Cooper Black, for its branding.

Cooper Black

European discount airline easyJet chose an old 1920s font, Cooper Black, for its branding. It implies a warm fuzziness, as if to say: "We’re one of you! Climb aboard!" Before that, the font’s most famous appearance was on the Beach Boys’ "Pet Sounds" album. The font looks best from afar, and the bigger, the better—otherwise, it’s hard to read.

TYPE2

Penguin

Helvetica is the font of New York’s subway system.

Helvetica

Born in Switzerland in 1957, Helvetica is ubiquitous, often found in corporate logos (think American Airlines) and in New York’s subway system. It’s clean and modern but has enough quirks—like the teardrop belly of the a—to keep a friendly homeliness.

[TYPE5]

In 2009, IKEA changed the typeface in its signs and catalogs. IKEA before, in Futura.

[TYPE4] F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

IKEA after, in Verdana.

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