This conversation reminds me of an article that Michael Bierut wrote about a hammer designed by one of the Pentagram partners. The tool in question was a handsome thing and had several manufacturing advantages. He used it as an example of how great design is. The problem is, I doubt that Michael has actually ever used a hammer for more than a few minutes in his life. The hammer met all of the needs of designers and marketers but had some flaws apparent to someone who had spent much of his life swinging hammers. Often type designers are the people with the least interesting opinions on type design.
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I have strong beliefs about design and respect and encourage others having strong opinions. I am, however, always a bit amused at people who find character flaws in typefaces and act like they portend the coming aesthetic and practical apocalypse. Complaining that the dark spot caused by the lower case g in Gill Sans makes it less useful than it might be is one thing. Implying that Gill should be dug up from his grave and his body mutilated for crimes against typography or that English people should be excluded from world trade because of it would be quite another.
Every typeface has limitations. (Some seem to mainly consist of limitations.) It makes sense to make statements about how broadly usable a typeface might be. It makes sense to state that it is or is not particularly useful for a given requirement of space and task at hand. It even makes sense to comment on particular aesthetic reactions ("I love the Adobe Garamond italic ampersand" or "Times Roman is surprisingly beautiful if it's monster big") but dismissing a typeface as "useless" or flatly "bad" or raising an eloquent criticism like "it sucks" seems to make considerably less sense. It starts sounding like a hammer review by someone who doesn't pound nails (or limits himself to 6d finish nails but wants to dismiss a framing hammer as "way too big.")
Sabon, BTW, doesn't have a strong personality that draws me to it but (perhaps as a result of its plainness) it plays well with others. It is easy to use in a situation where more than one typeface is needed. In many situations, that is an excellent tradeoff for some characters that might seem less appealing than they could have been.
Gunnar Swanson Design Office
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at East Carolina University:
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