What's Your Type?

Mary McCoy, Senior Librarian, Art, Music, & Recreation Department,
various colored alphabets
Every typeface has a personality and voice and conveys a message beyond the words in that message

I believe there is one perfect use for every typeface ever drawn, no matter how hideous.—Fred Woodward

If you’ve ever spent way too much designing an “Out of Order” sign for your office microwave, or silently judged a presentation with slides written in Comic Sans; if you had a visceral reaction when Google’s logo lost its serifs in 2015; if you love the 2007 documentary Helvetica, or sometimes select a bottle of wine because you like the label, then you already know what I’m talking about, and why I’m writing this.

Every typeface has a personality and voice and conveys a message beyond the words in that message. Typefaces have the ability to create moods and expectations and to make the reader feel a certain way.

For example, which of these parties would you be most likely to avoid?

Your invited to a party blue background

Typeface can tell us whether our party host is trying too hard, or not trying hard enough, whether children will be present, whether dinner will be served, or whether you should show up wearing a Halloween costume.

When you’re choosing a typeface, it’s important to consider its personality. It might sound strange to describe a piece of printed text as “friendly” or “formal” or “goofy” or “confident,” but that’s exactly the kind of message that typeface can convey.

Good typography is invisible; bad typography is everywhere.—Old graphic designers’ proverb

In political campaigns, where candidates are trying to project their values, personality, and mission at a glance, typeface is a vitally important part of that aim.

Bernie Sanders has historically relied upon the typeface Jubilat (his logo also remains largely unchanged since 2016). Julián Castro’s campaign uses Mallory, a close relative of the popular political campaign typeface Gotham. Amy Klobuchar’s logo is unconventional, using three different typefaces—one for each word in the logo (Mackay, Freight, and Avenir).

Elizabeth Warren’s logo is a custom typeface in the style of Cervo Neue Bold. It’s not uncommon for political campaigns to commission a custom typeface—Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign utilized a version of the popular typeface Gotham, tailored for the campaign’s use. Andrew Yang’s logo is in Halyard Display with the “Y” custom-drawn by designer Hannah White.

Cory Booker’s logo uses the Conductor typeface, while Joe Biden’s logo uses a typeface called Brother 1816, and Pete Buttigieg’s campaign uses Aktiv Grotesk.

Which typeface seems most approachable to you? Most traditional? Most daring or eclectic?

campaign logos
Fonts used in various political campaigns

Whatever your verdict, each of these typeface decisions was made deliberately, in an effort to make you, the reader, feel a certain way about a political candidate. As the field narrows, and we enter the height of the 2020 presidential race, these logos will evolve as well.

That said, during the 2016 presidential election, the logos used by Donald Trump’s campaign were notable for their lack of deliberate or consistent typography. Typefaces used on signs and logos varied from state to state and tended to include those available on Microsoft Office.

Of the campaign logos pictured above, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Amy Klobuchar employ serif typefaces, which have cross-lines at the end of the strokes, while sans serif typefaces do not have the cross-lines. Serif fonts are more readable on a page, so most books you read will be printed in a serif font. Serif fonts used in design can give a more traditional feel, while sans serif fonts are more readable online, and can give designs a more sleek and modern feel.

Some commonly used serif typefaces include Times New Roman, Garamond, Baskerville, and Courier. Some commonly used sans serif typefaces are Calibri, Arial, and Helvetica.

Another general principle of typography that you can use even if you’re not running for President, is to choose and use your typefaces sparingly. The graphic designers’ rule of thumb is to use no more than three different typefaces in a project, and fewer if possible. When choosing typefaces for a heading and body text, it can also be useful to pair a serif with a sans-serif typeface, as two serifs or two sans-serifs together can become difficult to differentiate.

The library has a wide selection of books on typefaces and typography, everything from designing your own fonts to learning graphic design basics. A selection of recommended titles is listed below. And since every typeface has a personality, why not find out which one best reflects yours? Take the “What’s Your Type?” quiz to learn a little bit more about the typeface that best matches your personality.

Until then, keep your typefaces classy, readable, and on-brand.

Recommended Reading

Book cover for The Language of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Handbook for Understanding Fundamental Design Principles
The Language of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Handbook for Understanding Fundamental Design Principles
Poulin, Richard