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Type is a pillar of graphic design excellence, classic, timeless, potent. But are attitudes toward type changing in the face of sweeping challenges to the design and media worlds? With this question in mind, we distributed our biennial type survey to 10,000 art directors and graphic designers. The responses are rich, varied and complex. But here is the take away: for those who value type and its power to communicate, the results are filled with good news. Highlights are published here, thanks to Veer, one of the most innovative and designer-friendly font and image providers in the world.

— Gordon Kaye,

We live in a time of disruption for design and media. And yet, our new biennial type survey shows significant continuity with regard to type and type decisions. First, the vast majority of professional graphic designers – roughly nine-in-ten – continue to assert purchasing influence over type for their firms, agencies or departments. Second, designers still judge a typeface based on first principles: how well a face or collection is crafted and how well it communicates the message of the project. Third, creatives still believe in their gut that type has the power to make or break a project, and they affirm that type still matters in a most transcendent way. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” says Creative Director Lynell Wilcha, “type is a 9.” That sentiment is common throughout the results.

The survey was sent to 10,000 art directors and graphic designers in early November. Of the respondents, 89 percent say they are actively involved in the purchase or specification of fonts and font collections. This is precisely the average of our past four type surveys, which have fallen consistently between 86 percent and 91 percent. The respondents are predominantly Mac users, though a solid one-in-five use Windows for their design work. The results show that the vast majority of these type purchasers design for both print and online ‒ over 70 percent in fact. Interestingly, those who answered say their budgets have remained stable for type purchases, though “price” is a slightly weightier factor in buying decisions than in past surveys. That budgets have remained stable is a bit surprising since those for other design elements – imagery or premium papers, for example – have been contracting under the pressure of a relentlessly grinding economy.

We asked readers which typefaces are the most abused or overused. Not surprisingly, GDUSA readers have intense feelings about such matters. The winner – loser? – for most overused typeface is Comic Sans. Alvin Wilcox of Finishline Creative Group spoke for many when he named his three least favorite faces: “Comic Sans, Comic Sans and Comic Sans.” Nathan Adams of Studio Opolis also caught the spirit when he asserts: “Comic Sans needs to just disappear.” At the same time, we saw a new candidate emerge this time around for king of the bad fonts: Papyrus. Mona Johns of Mona Lisa Graphic Design argues: “Papyrus is the worst. Every time I see it I know it's used by a wannabe designer, it's usually an administrative assistant looking for the most decorative font on the system. And Papyrus or any script font in all caps is a clear sign of an amateur or a do-it-yourselfer who doesn't want to hire a designer.” Indeed, Papyrus came within a few precious votes of toppling Comic Sans from its pedestal. Maybe next time. Meanwhile, a broad range of fonts were cited for overuse or abuse. These included: Hobo, Impact, Trajan, Garamond, Arial, Times New Roman, Grunge, Neutra, Helvetica, Souvenir, Gill Sans, Futura, “the Pinterest font,” and “all handwriting fonts.” But Mary Richinick of Mary Richinick Graphic Design summed up the view of the vast majority: “I am tired of Papyrus. My least favorite is Comic Sans.”

In our previous surveys, the consensus among typophiles has been that web design was limiting, sometimes frustrating, and therefore not a place for type to shine. Indeed, the most common strategy in designing for the web was clear: keep the choice of fonts simple, clean, web safe, and cross-browser compatible. Certainly, that sense of constraint still exists. But today’s survey suggests that a gradual evolution is taking place as technology advances. Says Keith Smerak, Partner, Element Six Creative Group: “Many designers and developers seem to see type as an afterthought. I'm happy to see type control getting more prominence on the internet – the trend is changing for the good. Type is equally important on the web as it is in print.” In the same spirit, Woody Schauer, Art Director, Schauer Design, says: “Type is still not as important on the web as in print but it is becoming more so with the use of Google fonts and other web based fonts.” Adds Amber Sawaya, Partner, Sawaya Consulting: “Type selection is incredibly important now that we have web fonts and retina iPads. Three years ago we weren’t allowed to care about type as web/app developers.” Says Joy Panos Stauber, President & Creative Director, Stauber Design Studio: “Type decisions for the web are still important. Not to replicate print, but to make sure the type supports functionality and creative direction – that it supports communication… Type online is getting better all the time.”

Do you buy, recommend or specify type/fonts for yourself or company?

Yes 89%

Do you design for?

Print 95%
Internet 74%
Both 71%

Has your budget for type?

Increased 12%
Decreased 11%
Stayed Same 77%

Least favorite/most abused typefaces?

1. Comic Sans
2. Papyrus
3. Hobo
4. Impact
5. Trajan


Type is usually my first priority. It’s about how my viewer will take in the communication and if that’s clear then other elements can follow.
Kisha Williams, Graphics Communication Specialist, IKEA

Type decisions are of the utmost importance. Type is a critical element in setting the tone for a creative direction and supporting any form of communication.
Joy Panos Stauber, President & Creative Director, Stauber Design Studio

Type is on the same level as image in many of my designs and layouts. It must be handled as a design and communication element - following form and function to create the ultimate message.
Sue Taube, Art Director & Designer, Taube/Violante

Type is very important. When hiring, I always look for people who love to work with type.
Vernon Ellis, Creative Director, Studio G at Grossman Marketing Group

On a scale of 1 to 10, type is a 9.
Lynell Wilcha, Creative Director, Lynell Wilcha Design

Just as we cannot survive drinking polluted water, a design cannot survive bad type. Choosing the right typeface for conceptual, contextual, and legibility purposes is essential.
Kevin Hagan, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Very important - the type gives a visual voice and needs to be in harmony with the message and the brand.
Jimmy Ball, Senior Art Director, [x]cube LABS

Type is right at the top. Looking through my type book is one of my first steps.
Gail Kearney, Art Director & Designer, One Flight Up Design

Type is very important as each font and weight of that font conveys a story that should relate to the message and concept of the project.
Susan Hutton DeAngelus, Exhibit & Graphic Designer, StudioMUSarx

Type is at the very top of the hierarchy. Image may be more important in some cases - but the type is critical to the polish of the project.
Christine Landry-Briggs, Art Director, Deluxe Corp

Typography takes top priority because it begins to tell your story.
Kim Brown Irvis, Freelance Art Director, KBI Design

Type is just as important as the message or imagery. I'd probably say that type is second on my list of elements.
Ed Roberts, Creative Print, ElectriCities of NC, Inc.

Extremely important. Type needs to match the specific event or project design or company identity.
Regina Key, Manager, Creative Services/Destination Concepts

Very important. Type is one of the first things I look at and define.
Yasuyo Takeo, Art Director, Keaton Row

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How do professional designers feel about the free font offerings? The good news about free fonts is that they are… well … free. In the immediate monetary sense. The bad news, according to our readers, is multifold: the files can be risky and unreliable, the quality and craftsmanship inconsistent, the looks derivative and overly decorative. Not to mention the ethical dilemma presented to creatives who are adament about being paid for their own labor. When all is said and done, the balance comes down against the use of free fonts – except in an emergency or for a rare one-off use or when students are involved. A few comments capture the tradeoffs. Tracy Drake, Marketing and Sales Support, Electrolux Professional states: “It is dangerous because viruses await unsuspecting downloaders of free fonts.” Matt Heximer of 10four Design Group says: “Free fonts are usually total crap. However, if you are willing to look long and hard you can find the odd gem. Most often it is not worth the effort to search through the duds.”Adds Steve Lasko, Creative Director, Lasko Design + Consulting: “Very mixed bag. I notice a lot more issues with spacing and kerning refinements and letter combinations with free fonts. I rarely use free fonts.”

We asked what type sellers could do better. Designers know what they want and do not hold back. Indeed, there are many more suggestions than we can publish here. But here is a brief wish list: lower prices (surprise!), more flexible licenses, easier search, more Open Fonts, more education and customer service, and better promotion to let customers know what is new and available. In fairness, type designers and sellers got more than the usual share of praise. “Keep up the good work” was a general refrain.

What are the most important factors in your type purchasing decision?

1. Quality/Craftsmanship
2. Specific Needs of A Project
3. Price
4. Ability to Preview Typefaces
5. Open Type Format
6. Reputation of Designer/Seller
7. Potential Use in Multiple Projects
8. Desire to Try New Fonts

For what kind of projects do you purchase or specify type?

1. Logos/Identity
2. Brochures/Collateral
3. Advertising
4. Websites
5. Cards/Invites
6. Direct Mail
7. Email/Enewsletters
8. Publications/Periodicals
9. POP/Packaging
10. Annual/Corporate Reports
11. Catalogs
12. Apps/Mobile Devices