7 crazy facts you never knew about typography and the lesser-known history behind these fonts.
Batman inspired Comic Sans
Comic Sans is a typeface that graphic designers love to hate. What you probably don’t know is that we have Batman to blame for this font. Vincent Connare designed this Comic Sans for Microsoft and it was released on the Windows 95 Computer font set. The font was created for use in informal settings or in elementary school materials. When designing Comic Sans, Connare took inspiration from a comic book on his desk. That comic book was none other than The Dark Knight Returns.
It should be noted that Connare claims he’s only used Comic Sans once since creating it.
The Ampersand is actually a Ligature
The ampersand is one of the most recognizable typography elements outside of the 26 characters. We don’t think twice when seeing an ampersand but it’s past goes back thousands of years. We don’t know exactly who created the ampersand but there has been evidence that it existed as far back as Pompeii. The ampersand started out as the *ligature et. This is Latin for and. So was born the ampersand. Over the year, it’s been changed so much that the original design of that ligature has been lost in flourish and design.
*A ligature is two letters that are combined into one letter. This is done for readability and formatting purposes.
The name Mrs. Eaves was inspired by an affair
The font Baskerville has been the inspiration for many fonts to come. It is named after printer and type designer John Baskerville. As the story goes, Baskerville hired Sarah Eaves to be his housekeeper while he set up shop. Sarah at the time was married to another man. Her marriage didn’t last and she eventually became Mrs. Baskerville. It is rumored that John Baskerville was the main cause of the split between Sarah and her husband as they were married shortly after. When Slovak designer Zuzana Licko set out to make a transitional font adapted from Baskerville, he chose John Baskerville’s mistress to name it after.
Futura has a crazy History
Designed by Paul Renner, Futura was marketed as “The Type of the Future”. Renner designed this typeface in opposition to the fonts used by the Nazi’s that were gothic and traditional. Renner wanted something clean and new. The Nazis were in the process of destroying anything that opposed them (including fonts) but for some reason, they decided to adopt this font and it was used in portions of the Nazi’s style guide (more on that to come).
Years later, when the United States was in a space race, NASA chose Futura to be the fonts on their spaceships. At the time, fonts were chosen mostly due to the availability of production materials and print. Because of the popularity of Futura and the simple letterforms, it was an easy choice. The plaque that was left on the moon was set in Futura. Pretty good run for escaping Nazi’s to flying to the moon.
Hitler was a lot of things, including an Art Director
This isn’t strictly about typography but I couldn’t overlook the crazy history behind this. Believe it or not, the Nazis had a branding guide that was over 550 pages long. This document contained everything you’d expect to be in a branding guide; logos, typography, color, etc. This guide outlined the use of gothic style fonts including Fraktur, a blackletter style font. This style changed over time (Hello Futura). My personal thoughts on this branding guide are that it's quite well done, especially for the time. My main critique is the use of Fraktur for body copy. It's fascinating to read through, especially if you have to explain yourself to an over-the-shoulder-looker. See the full guide HERE
The Declaration of Independence used a British font
It stands to reason that the typography used in the early colonies were created in England. America was still a new country and they didn't have a large selection of type that could be seen in everyday use, let alone formal documents. Having said this, it's still ironic that The Declaration of Independence was set in a type designed by British type designer William Caslon. The founding fathers may have been independent but they still relied on British design.
Old West Typography was Unintentional
Modern-day fonts have every look and style imaginable. In recent years, a brush style and rustic fonts have come into popularity. Many fonts have a textured variation added to their font family. This is meant to give the typeface a rustic feel. What you might not know is that this style is inspired by fonts in the 19th century and the texture was unintentional.
When westward expansion happened, pioneers had to carry their belongings in wagons or on horseback. Weight was a very important element of their travel. To save on weight, type creators started using wood letters instead of standard lead. Over time, these wooden letters would wear out and warp. This created texture that was not found in lead glyphs. At the time, this was seen as a cheaper form of printing and print production. This is why we associate that style of design with the old west. So when you see old wanted posters, you will know they were most likely done with wooden type.
In conclusion, when you are selecting a font, remember that every typeface has a history. Styles that we have come to take for granted may have a long history. Every typeface has a story and history as to where it is now today.