How Many Fonts is Too Many?
"In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest."
— Massimo Vignelli
A quick search of just a few font distribution Web sites will tell you that not everyone agrees with Mr. Vignelli. In fact, there are over 200,000 digital fonts currently available to graphic designers – and new ones are added daily. While Vignelli may seem somewhat of a Luddite, 200,000 fonts are clearly more than anyone can possibly use in a lifetime. Which begs the questions: "Do we need all these fonts?" and "Why are there so many?"
Why So Many?
The reason designers create so many fonts is simple: because they can. With design tools like Fontographer and FontLab anyone with enough money to purchase the software can crank out a digital font. Trouble is: not everybody is a good type designer. In fact, most of the folks using the software have proved themselves to be pretty bad – or at least only middling – typeface designers.
This is not to imply that there are no good digital typeface designers – or that creating a quality digital font is a slam-dunk. While it is relatively easy to make bad fonts, the good ones – the kind you probably want to use – are still the result of skilled artisans and talented designers devoting months to the process.
Do We Need Them?
Given the above, it's pretty obvious that we don't need all 200,000 fonts. There are, however, real benefits for graphic designers to the plethora of fonts that are now available. They can provide range of choice, the ability for distinction, improvement over older designs, and the potential for nuance.
More Answers To Common Questions
Need a good book face? Why limit yourself to Garamond or Baskerville?
Gilgamesh and Frutiger Serif are sound alternates to the standards of Stempel Garamond or Adobe Jenson when selecting an old style "book" face. Likewise, typefaces such as Laurentian and Malabar can also prove to be excellent replacements for the more common text faces.
More Designs Can Mean Better Designs
Many of the newly available fonts are revivals and improvements of older designs. P22, for example, has released a large number of revival typeface designs under the "Lanston Type Company" banner. Typefaces in the Lanston Type Company collection include designs such as Goudy Village and Kaatskill Oldstyle.
"I'm looking for a headline typeface that has the presence of Matt Damon – but with a sense of humor."
Many times, the selecting the right typeface choice is about nuance: the perfect choice isn't one of the "usual suspects." Design is about subtleties, and typefaces are no exception. And 200,000 fonts begin to come close to providing an answer to just about every typographic question.
The Matt Damon design with a sense of humor? How about Tactile or Dreamland?
So, having 200,000 fonts may not be such a bad thing. But if you think to the contrary, perhaps Vignelli is hiring.
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.