So Not My Type

Image from Hoefler & Co.

Oh, Archer, how I miss you! Your geometric lines and curvy ball terminals were so sweet and alluring. But when you got around on every advertisement, book cover and brand identity in town, you quickly turned from rare beauty to common floozy.

Since I first started working at Mucca some ten years ago, our type ambassador, Matteo Bologna, has continued to add typefaces to the infamous Mucca “forbidden” list.
In the beginning, this consisted of typefaces considered ugly or badly designed. If you dared use one of these you lost a finger (or rather, your digits were threatened). One such font that stands out in my mind is Optima, and since then a humanist sans-serif has never dared show its face on my screen.
As time went by, however, I noticed other curious fonts being added to the list. Helvetica? Is that a joke? In my previous jobs, Helvetica had been worshiped as a god among typefaces. It was a timeless classic—perfect for any occasion, it could do no wrong. (Come on, they even made a movie about it!)
But at Mucca, for some reason, it had become an “untouchable.”
Recently, I attended a lecture Matteo gave to a group of French type design students visiting our office. At one point in the discussion, he started talking about his utter hatred of the typeface Gotham, claiming it was boring and overused.
The audience looked shocked. It was one of their most beloved typefaces.
Later, when taking questions at the end of the talk, he was asked to name some of his favorite typefaces. With typical irony he replied that yes, Gotham was one of them.
Designed by Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000, Gotham was originally commissioned for GQ magazine. They wanted a sans-serif typeface that would look “masculine, new and fresh.” The result was a distinctive but clean geometric typeface based on letterforms found throughout New York City and from the early twentieth century. The font has since been widely used on many projects and identities, ranging from President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, to “Saturday Night Live,” and even Twitter.
Matteo said it was an amazing font that’s worked for a wide range of applications. But as a result, it’s also been overused—which has killed any kind of unique personality or recognition.
In an interview with Communication Arts, type designer Ksenya Samarskaya, who started her career working at Hoefler & Frere-Jones, suggests that “perhaps all typefaces could come with a usage counter. Just a meter. The use would become more restricted the higher the count.” Or as Matteo puts it, “They should have an expiration date.”
That said, have we at Mucca ever used Gotham and Helvetica on a project?
Although it appears I still have all ten fingers and toes, the answer is “yes.” Because sometimes, an overused typeface is still the right one. Its familiarity clearly defines a time, a place and a voice.
But in branding, when the time, place and voice need to feel fresh and forward-thinking, your type really needs to stand out. Don’t let it disappear among clone competitors. Be brave, and dare to be different.