Font Over-Exposure: Too Much of a Good Thing

Have you ever noticed that there are some fonts that get used over and over and over again until you start to wonder why anyone would use that font you just saw on 3 software boxes, 4 book covers and 2 movie titles in the last week on yet another product or ad? I’m not talking about relatively generic text fonts which get used again and again and don’t really register as being repetitive. That’s not really a problem. The problem is with very unusual title or display fonts with a specialized look which you can’t help remembering when you see them.

These are usually fonts which appeal to a particular audience or fit a particular theme. A designer sees them and says “hey, this font is just what I need”. He ought to be hearing an echo, because a dozen other designers are saying the same thing at the same moment. The phenomenon even feeds on itself, because a designer may have seen the font in question on some similar product in the past and forgotten about it, but the look lodged in the back of his mind somewhere, so when he is put to work on something with a related theme that look and that font match his expectations even if only subconsciously and pop right to the front of his brain when it’s time to pick a font for his project.

Morpheus is the classic example of an overused font. It and the many similar or clone fonts which are out there appear everywhere. I was in a bookstore today and saw Morpheus or an equivalent font on the covers of more than a dozen books, several DVDs, two calendars, a poster and a couple of CDs. It was hard to turn around without seeing it. It has a combination of unique peculiar looking elements which seem to create an impression of mysticism and magic, hence everyone latches onto it for any supernatural or magical design from fantasy novels to horror movies.

One of our fonts is similarly overexposed. Abaddon has become the favorite of the heavy metal rock, gothic and horror markets. If you go into a Hot Topic store in the mall Abaddon assails your eyes from every angle, with its most prominent exposure as the logo font for the band Godsmack. While this is gratifying to us as designers and font publishers, just as I’m sure the success of Morpheus is pleasing to its designer, the level of overexposure of these fonts is also frustrating.

Once a font reaches the level of overexposure you begin to see other, better and more appropriate fonts being passed over because designers have an unconscious impetus towards the look which has become established for the genre they work in, or they are just lazy and say “hey, this is a horror movie, let’s just use the font that was used on The Craft” or “Our goth-metal band’s CD cover should use that cool font on my Godsmack T-Shirt”. That’s not a terribly creative process when there are so many other great fonts which could be used instead of the obvious choices. Good fonts get neglected and fonts of questionable quality get entrenched and become tediously overused.

As a designer you ought to be conscious not just of fitting in with an established genre but also of the value of creating a unique original look for your product. It doesn’t take that much effort to go out and find a font which produces the same kind of impression as an overused font, but which has its own personality. We font designers are working all the time to produce new fonts which meet the same needs as other popular fonts but have their own unique look. Take advantage of our efforts and put these alternative fonts to work. In many cases newer fonts designed to fill the same niche as popular fonts are really better designs.

Morpheus has a number of technical flaws and aesthetic inconsistencies which may be fixed in an alternative font like our Orpheus. Even Abaddon has shortcomings. It’s one of our early designs and rather crude, with small caps instead of lower case characters and other shortcomings. Someone out there took advantage of this to produce a clone font with a rather nice lower case character set, and we’ve even made several similar fonts which are more interesting in several ways like Gehenna and Gehenna Extreme.  By looking a little further afield you can come up with intriguing alternatives to the obvious font choices and the result is that you may get a better made, more attractive font, plus people will be less likely to pigeonhole or make assumptions about your product because of the association with the products which made an overexposed font famous.

Using Abaddon for your band logo says “we’re a Godsmack clone”. Using Gehenna says “we’re sort of like Godsmack, but cool and original too”. There are an awful lot of fonts out there – something for every taste and whim. When designing a logo or the cover for a product try not to be seduced by obvious choices and overexposed fonts. Do a bit more work and explore your options. You’re likely to find an even better font which you can make your own. Then when your design or your product becomes a huge hit, you can start the process of overxposing that new font and see everyone else using it in imitation of you, trying to grab onto a little of your success.

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