Readers live in a world of words, which we like to think of as a world of pure intellect and abstract thought. But books aren't just the concepts and stories that they contain -- they're carefully designed objects. Even ebooks and online articles contain elements of visual design that influence our reading experience. And the most important design element? The font.
Every typed word we read is packaged in a font. The font feels inseparable from the words we're reading but is the result of an entirely separate process of carefully perfected design. Without Helvetica, Times New Roman and Comic Sans, the reading experience wouldn't have subtle variations in visual aesthetic that allow both signboards and footnotes to be presented in a form that maximizes the ease and pleasure of reading.
As readers who are unthinkingly surrounded by fonts every day, we should take time to recognize and celebrate these marvels of design. And, more importantly, to rank them. Which is the best font? Which one makes us want to claw our eyes out as we read? Here, without further ado, is a highly subjective ranking of common and/or notorious fonts, listed from Most Outstanding to Most Undesirable:
Garamond is so obviously the best font that it would be offensive to try to justify it. It's timeless, elegant, understated and has every detail just right. Long live Garamond, greatest of all the fonts!
Possesses a modicum of Garamond’s class and refinement, plus high marks for the elegant capital Q. What a long tail it has!
We wouldn’t want to see Helvetica everywhere; a nice serif really does ease the process of reading through a chunk of text. That said, few fonts can make a sign or logo as cleanly bold as Helvetica.
You may recognize this font from Wes Anderson films. If you like Wes Anderson films, you probably think this font is well-formed, slightly quirky, and a lovely addition to any film. If you don’t like Wes Anderson films, you probably think it’s twee and stupid. We like Wes Anderson films.
What would we do without the one font that high school teachers and college professors alike demand we use in all of our essay assignments? It’s unthinkable.
Really just a not-as-good Garamond, but still pretty good.
Brash, bold, a little funky: Bauhaus is the statement piece of the font world.
A bit stodgy and old-fashioned -- this typeface family dates back to the 18th century, after all -- but with a hint of vintage charm.
It's not that there's anything wrong with Arial, per se, but there isn't much to it either. A solid middle-of-the-pack font.
Unless you're using a typewriter (while sipping a latté and adjusting your horn-rimmed vintage glasses), why would you want your text to have the ill-spaced, clunky aesthetic of a typewritten page?
It's trying to be graceful and dainty, but slips into cheesy and clunky.
Every time we open Microsoft Word now, our eyes are assaulted by the sight of Calibri, which replaced Times New Roman as the default font in 2007. Why?? Why would they do that? Listen, Calibri, you’re all right, but you're not quite ready for prime time yet. Filling the shoes of a seasoned font like Times New Roman is no job for newbies.
If you’re in fifth grade and doing some sort of school project that involves staining paper with tea leaves to make it look like an ancient scroll, using Papyrus may be acceptable. Otherwise… no.
Why does Wingdings exist? Why does art exist? Wingdings, while almost never useful, salvage a few spots on the ranking through their sheer bravado and creative initiative.
Unlike Wingdings, Comic Sans contains traditional English language letters with which recognizable words can be formed. Also unlike Wingdings, there's never a good reason to use this font. Comic Sans strives for whimsy but fails utterly. The banal goofiness of Comic Sans is the scourge of homemade websites and interoffice emails announcing the yearly employee barbecue.
An unlikely last-place finisher: Curlz MT beats out Comic Sans to be crowned the worst font of all. Despite Comic Sans’s time-honored position as the whipping boy of font design, there’s no getting around the fact that cheesy curlicues are the worst possible thing to have in a font.