Easier on the eyes.

Due in large part to my long friendship with J.C. Burns, I know a little bit more about typefaces than most people, which is to say: Not much. I know serifs from sans, ascenders from descenders, and have a few watery opinions on what works and what doesn’t. (I think Wired magazine, in its early days, set a whole new standard for “what doesn’t.” Also, my Volkswagen dealer uses the Mary Tyler Moore Show font, which I used to love and now hate. Your opinions may differ.)

J.C. — John — does not have watery opinions. He has very strong ones. (Most graphic designers do, I’ve noticed. They’re always swearing blood oaths over Optima.) I listen to these opinions because he knows his fonts. He carries them around in his capacious hard drive of a head, and at a glance can say, “Caslon.” or “Step away from the Copperplate. Right now.”

So when I started noticing a new font on highway signs about a year ago, I knew just who to call. John wasn’t home, but I left a message on his machine. By the time I reached my destination, I had an e-mail introducing me to Clearview Highway,

We’ve had lots of highway construction in the D in 2005, and on a trip to Ann Arbor this afternoon, I noticed how many Clearview signs are up now, and how much easier they are to read.

Predictably, not all graphic designers are pleased. Here’s a typical argument, which also offers some nice side-by-side comparisons of new and old.

(My guess is, most people won’t even notice. I think you have to cultivate an eye for typography. More than once in Fort Wayne, a computer glitch at the paper would make our typesetter switch fonts in the middle of a story, causing, for example, the second half to come out in the other paper’s body-copy font. I could always see this, but I was amazed at how many people simply couldn’t.)

One final note: Besides being a fine friend, a great website designer and my numero-uno computer troubleshooter, John has also offered to design the new name for Alan’s boat. AND he did our wedding invitations. A designer? Is a good friend to have.


A story you don’t have to be a typographical nitpicker to appreciate: Shame about the Helvetica.

Go ahead, drive yourself insane with the flag game. (I cheated like crazy, and still scored abysmally low.)

Also, a fine read on an actor who’s been in “The Phantom of the Opera” for its entire 18-year NYC run: Imagine it. Eighteen years of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s NutraSweet score, a hybrid that suggests Puccini as rendered by A Flock of Seagulls. Plus numbingly sentimental lyrics, courtesy of Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, such as “Anywhere you go let me go too/Love me, that’s all I ask of you.” It’s the sort of punishment that the Geneva Conventions were supposed to ban, isn’t it? But the math doesn’t lie. Tally up all the actual stage time — not counting rehearsals — and each of these three actors has spent a total of 750 24-hour days, more than two years of their respective lives, performing “Phantom of the Opera.”

“People ask me if I get bored,” says Andrews, who seems the very opposite of aggrieved and rarely stops smiling. “That’s not really an issue for me.”

Posted at 6:36 pm in Uncategorized |

17 responses to “Easier on the eyes.”

  1. Bartleby said on January 2, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    141. I suck.

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  2. Dorothy said on January 3, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I liked the article about the actor in Phantom. Makes me miss doing plays. After the exchange student goes back to Russia, I am determined to audition here and do SOMETHING, anything, just to get that fun feeling again.

    Hey I miss hearing Mary’s comments. Mary come back!! Maybe she was away for the holidays? Anyway, you’re missed, Mary.

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  3. Laura said on January 3, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Since I’m quite the nerd-nik, the entry about typeface got me plenty excited. My two favorite font stories:

    -When my son was in kindergarten, he was having a hard time learning how to read. Said Abram: “How can people learn words when sometimes they use serifs and sometimes it’s sans serifs?” A kid after my own heart.

    -Way back in the 80s, I lost in interest in Thirtysomething when a scene had Michael and Elliot talking shop about an edgy ad campaign they were working on. ‘Let’s use Helvetica Bold,’ one of them said. Edgy? Please. Couldn’t they have bothered to talked to a real ad agency? It ruined the whole show for me.

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  4. Pam said on January 3, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    I too am fussy when it comes to fonts. The company I used to work for before I retired always used Times New Roman for sales proposals. That was until I waged a successful campaign to change it to Arial. Times Roman was too “insurance company” and not “high tech”. Arial is easier to read and conveys neatness, orderliness, and accuracy. Times Roman says “I have gray hair and I’m not flashy or flexible”. Get it?? They probably switched back after I left.

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  5. alex said on January 3, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Well, Pam, Times New Roman may be stodgy but it’s infinitely more readable than Arial, hate to tell ya. In fact, in my various jobs in advertising and publishing over many years, I’ve always been taught that sanserif type like Arial should never be used for anything more than a headline. Why? Because it tires the eye. The same goes for reverse type (light on a dark background). Sanserif’s fine for a road sign but deadly in dense copy of any sort, which is why you never see a newspaper or book printed in anything but traditional serif type.

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  6. Nance said on January 3, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    One of the many revelations of my time back in college was the insistence, by my English teacher, that everything we wrote had to be in Times or Times New Roman. Sans-serif type wasn’t accepted. Reflecting on my era — manual typewriters, children — it was something of a shock.

    Alex is right. For body copy, you need serif. Display type is where you have your fun.

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  7. mary said on January 3, 2006 at 2:11 pm


    Mary wishes she was away for the holidays.

    I had a crap year as a recruiter in 2005, and I took a seasonal job to make some bucks for Christmas. I’ve been working 77 hours a week for the past five weeks. I wanted to work part time at Macy’s, but they’ve been booking me for 37 hours a week. I work 5 am to 1 pm at home atttempting to recruit, and 2 to 10 selling fine china and crystal at the same hourly rate I made 20 years ago. Next week is my last week. I am pretty sure I am going to be asked to stay on permanently, but unless they better than double my hourly wage, it ain’t happening.

    I’ve been reading nearly everyday, but haven’t really commented. Some people who listed what is on their mp3 player should be happy about that. John Denver?

    By weird coincidence, I watched the movie of Phantom of the Opera on New Years Eve. I fell asleep. I woke up around midnight and watched Godfather II. At 2 I woke up my younger son who was asleep on the couch and steered him into his bed, sorted out the cats and dogs,and went to bed. I worked all day Jan 1. Yesterday Ihad a day off. Thank goodness, since it was Rose Parade day, and the Macy’s where I work is near the route. I watched the parade on TV. It was raining really hard and the wind was gusting madly, so I was hoping for some sort of excitement like brussels sprout blobs blowing off dragon heads and falling on USC cheerleaders. Nothing that good. However, an old and huge tree in my yard made a loud cracking noise and fell over, hitting nothing of significance. Great luck, since it really could have done some damage.

    I look forward to a day of chainsaw fun in my near future.

    I wish all of you a very good 2006, and I wish 2005 a less than fond farewell. This was not a great year for me in some ways, and certainly not a great year for the earth. I hope for a year to come when chickens come home to roost, my income allows me to spend time with my kids, and there is less to be outraged about.

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  8. Dorothy said on January 3, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Mary I’m exhausted after reading your entry! I hope you will have a more restive time ahead.

    I can’t stand Times New Roman. To me it screams Ordinary, Boring, and Predictable. I changed the default in my WORD program to be Georgia. When I get bored with that I switch. I’m fond of Garamond and Century Gothic as well. The company I work for uses Arial.

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  9. mary said on January 3, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    To prove the point that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: I got a 355 on the flag game. I don’t know why.

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  10. Laura said on January 3, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    “For body copy, you need serif. Display type is where you have your fun.”

    True dat! Double true!

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  11. joodyb said on January 3, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    the serif issue i’m guessing is the theory behind jc’s copperplate comment. it’s all about moderation, something designers seem to know at birth and the rest of us struggle to acquire throughout our lives. thanks for the great link to the film/typog review. it reminded me of my struggle watching “Capote”: at least one of the (many, no doubt) pairs of glasses made for Philip Seymour Hoffman appears to contain glareproof lenses, distinctive for their iridescent reflection. It bugged me throughout, although otherwise the film seemed painstakingly edited for history and continuity. are such things the curse of the copy editor?

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  12. Bartleby said on January 3, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Antireflective coatings aren’t new; the classic single-layer magnesium fluoride AR coating has been in use for at least seventy-five years, maybe longer (camera, binocular, and telescope optics, mostly). It is true that AR coatings on eyeglasses weren’t common until relatively recently. But presumably someone who was willing to pay a not-too-terrible price could have had them a long time ago.

    But, speaking of odd eyeglass things in the movies: why have moviemakers consistently provided prop eyeglasses with flat “lenses” (windows, really) to actors? They are perfectly obvious from the apearance of the reflected images of their surroundings. Prop eyeglasses that are free of net refractive power could easily be made in a meniscus form (same radius or curvature on the front and rear surfaces), and wouldn’t look false, as the flat ones manifestly do.

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  13. brian stouder said on January 3, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    Childe Harold Wills – born in 1878 in Fort Wayne Indiana – sold calling cards as a kiddo, using a ‘crude home printing set'(1). As an adult he was Henry Ford’s chief designer and engineer (before there was a Ford Motor Company) from the time when Henry was building a car in a Detroit garage behind the Edison Illuminating C0mpany (where he worked). When the Ford Motor Company was coming into being in 1904 and was looking for a trademark, CH Wills (he hated the name “Childe”) remembered that printing set, and the flowing “F”, and produced a logo for the ages!

    (1) from The People’s Tycoon; Henry Ford and the American Century, by Steven Watts…a book which proudly proclaims in its end notes that its print is set in Jansen,

    >>”a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Jansen, who was a practicing typefounder in leipzig during the years 1668-1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens. The type is an excellent example of the influential and sturdy Dutch types that prevailed in England up to the time William Caslon (1692-1766) developed his own incomparable designs from them”

    See – this shows two things. First – lots of interesting nuggets can be found in the end notes of any book. And second – Mary Mapes at 60 minutes really shoulda’ talked to some print friends before she ran with her fraudulant documents!

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  14. joodyb said on January 3, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks, Bartleby. I was introduced to such lenses in the early the 70s. Had never seen them before. Maybe at that point the technology became more affordable.

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  15. Bartleby said on January 3, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    joodyb: I’m guessing that’s why. MgFl isn’t an expensive coating, but it’s not really suitable for eyeglasses; the coating is fairly soft and has to be cleaned carefully, which is something most of us don’t do with our glasses (despite my best intentions when each pair is new, it’s never too long until it sees my shirt-tail … or the even more ee-e-e-e-e-villlll Kleenex …) The AR coatings you get on glasses these days are fairly hard. I don’t know what material(s) they use.

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  16. Jim from Fla said on January 3, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    Wow…Type fonts and anti-reflective eyeglass coatings in the same comments string. How many bloggers can claim that? Nance, your audience in amazing!

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  17. Pam said on January 4, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Wow! I should have known better than to comment on fonts with this group! BUT…..no one actually reads sales proposals any more, so most of the content tended to be bulleted (for the 60 second managers). This is a pity since most of the CYA stuff was in the fine print. So what font should be used to make it both readable and look good on paper?

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