January 30, 2020
Font nerds spar online in profuse (digital) bloodletting
by Mike Lindgren
The Font Nerds are at it again. Few sub-populations of geek are as passionate or committed as that demographic who regard themselves as The People Who Know About Typography. (Needless to say, this population does not go unrepresented here at Melville House.) So when a writer named Séan Richardson asked Twitter users to identify what font they used for their own writing, the result was quite a kerfuffle. Even without getting into the font vs. typeface distinction (Ok, fine, font technically refers to point size and weight, typeface to the style of lettering), there were plenty of opinions. “Times New Roman, like a normal person,” one user wrote; another said, correctly, that “choosing Calibri equates to ‘I don’t care about fonts.'”)
Despite the fact that IT WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR USE IN NEWSPAPERS, NOT BOOKS, Times New Roman emerged as a clear leader, with the loathsome but near-ubiquitous Calibri running second. There were somehow a few votes for the grotesque travesty that is Arial, which some of us here on John Street would rather come out as cannibals than use, and a smattering of not very funny jokes about Comic Sans. One’s faith in humanity was somewhat buoyed by the plurality of respondents who answered with commendable choices like Garamond or Baskerville.
For the record, Melville House has no official position on this, although we do request that our authors submit their manuscripts in Times New Roman—a ruling with its roots firmly in practicality and ubiquity, rather than aesthetics. Unofficially, we pride ourselves on the impeccable taste of our designers and creative persons, whose choices tend to run towards elegant but slightly exotic faces like Bulmer, Arno, and Vendetta. The managing editor prefers Sabon, which he likes to think of as a signifier of understated good taste; our design director (holder of multiple industry awards) is an advocate of Minion, for body text only. Let a thousand flowers bloom, we say!
In one of their patented Twitter-dust-up play-by-plays, The Guardian said the question opened up “a Pandora’s box of preference and prejudice,” and ended by quoting a novelist named Max Porter, “who suggested a golden rule: ‘The font should never shout louder than the work.’” Now that is something we can all agree on!
Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.