The Slippery Road

Isn't this an oxymoron?

I was looking through an old type specimen book today and found myself repeating, "Oh my God, what have you done?" There were awful mutilations of classics like Garamond and Bembo. They were fattened up as if being readied for a slaughter. I expected this. I wasn't shocked when I found wacky 1970s typefaces. And then I came across the terror. 

This is what happens when type is freed from the constraints of metal and allowed to take on all kinds of forms with photo-typesetting. It was bound to happen. Like most things in life, because someone can do it, they will. 

The 1960s counter-culture was a rejection of consumerism. It wasn't cool to buy stuff. So design evolved. Household appliances, cars, and polyester clothing now existed in "earth" colors: avocado, mustard, brown, ochre, and burnt orange. This way an anti-consumerist could purchase a giant Buick and feel ok. And to make sure that the consumer knew he or she was getting value, things got bigger. Ties became as wide as scarves, jeans had giant bell bottoms, and big hair was the style du jour. 

I'm assuming this is the reason for some of the type mutilation. If I could have a bold font, could it be bolder? Why shouldn't Helvetica have swashes? Aztec temples as letterforms? Why not? And could someone add even more curly items on a typeface? Although I will admit I'm warming to some of these, especially the numerals and ampersands. But I imagine that's the slippery road to hell.


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Director of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.