As designers, we like to style ourselves as "creatives." Still, in my 13 years of experience, I have found that we are also pretty darn snobbish regarding how we approach our craft. For example, consider for a moment our choice and usage of fonts. Helvetica has essentially become the gold standard of advertising and corporate branding projects since the 1960s. Alternatively, Comic Sans is regarded as the pariah of all typefaces since it was invented in 1994. Sorry, Vincent Connare, you gave it a good shot.
The point I am trying to get to here is that although we claim to push the boundaries of our craft, we really are stuck in the past. As designers, we can't seem to relinquish the fact that Helvetica is incredibly dull now. So what do we do to liven things up a bit? Well, the industry seemed to go even further back and champion the supremacy of Futura once again. (This font was designed in 1927) I see it more now in the last 5 years than I have the whole previous 8 years playing with letters on my computer. And for the most part, I seem to only use sans serif typefaces as examples. Our "creative" reach goes even further back to the 1500s with fonts like Garamond when you look at the most used serif style fonts. Oh, for sure, we love to use the more recent Bodoni or Caslon typefaces (c. 18th century). Still, there really haven't been many modern serif fonts commonly used in design work today.
So here's how I think we got stuck in this predicament, so hear me out and please feel free to posit your own theories in the comments as well. Young designer straight out of college gets their first gig at a creative agency putting in long hours for less money than the nearest primary school custodian. They love a particular typeface they secretly stamped on all of their portfolio projects in college and decide to show the world how great the font truly is! BAM! Submitted. They leave the office with a pep in their step and celebrate with cheap Chinese take-out and Pabst Blue Ribbon. This is revelry, of course, only lasts until they get to the office the following day, poised to receive great acclaim on their breakout layout.
And then the questions come from the Old Guard, those who have been in the business for a long time. Those who most likely were brow-beaten into submission with Helvetica when they first left the hallowed halls of academia. "Why did you decide to use THAT particular font for this project?" I'm sure they thought of something great to say about their cherished font but shrank at the sigh of coffee breath and suggestion to use Helvetica instead. Whipped and intimidated, they "creatively" use Helvetica and the project looks like every other project for the most part. Does that scenario sound familiar to anyone else?
So now, at classy agency social events and trendy coffee shops, the diminished designer brags to his colleagues and friends that he has thousands of fonts in his collection. His friends gasp in astonishment at the number. The designer beams even prouder when they announce how many paid typefaces they have at their disposal. But now they cling to a small subset of 10 standard fonts from prestigious foundries that "everyone knows." All I can say to that is, "thank whatever gods you pray to for the coming of Gotham!" At least one of the stand-by fonts in everyday use was designed in the New Millenium.
So this blog post is not for my small-business and start-up clients unless they have a keen interest in design topics. This one is for that aspiring designer and creative visionary that sustained themselves on Top Ramen and well-drinks. In the rest of this blog post, we will open the 4,000 fonts on our desktop and present 5 free fonts we absolutely love (and subsequently purchased licenses for; don't forget to do that too, please.) These are not fonts made by mega foundries or found on every piece of content in the world today. These are fonts we love because, well, they just look damn good, and they didn't cost us an arm and a leg to acquire them. You can also find these on those giant .com free font repositories, and we are not ashamed to say we got them there. In fact, we're going to plug them for free. We toast you with our Monarch Vodka leftovers as you read through our list!
Akira Expanded by Typologic
Why we love this font: The font is bold and condensed but also expanded. Mind blown!
Where we like to use it: It looks great as a header on social media or a title page. We also like to use it in advertising pieces, especially for our lifestyle clothing brands. It looks nice and clean in outline form as well.
Favorite Glyph: We love how strong that S looks.
Brixton SVG by Ellen Luff
Why we love this font: This font stands tall, and since COVID-19 sidelined many of us, the handprinted texture and its grittiness spoke to my soul.
Where we like to use it: This is a display font, so we use it that way but love to use it as a negative space mask for presenting numbers or titles.
Favorite Glyph: Hands down, the R looks like a boss.
Liberation Serif by Red Hat
Why we love this font: This font was created by Red Hat, whose sole purpose is to provide open-source resources to enterprises. We fell in love with this font back in college because the serifs were just different from Times New Roman.
Where we like to use it: This is an excellent, readable type best used in paragraphs and text that needs to be gentle on the eyes but not 500 years old.
Favorite Glyph: The C gets its hooks into me, and the g looks clean.
Evogria by 7NTypes
Why we love this font: This is another display font, but we love its combination of sharp 90 degree angles and smooth rounded edges.
Where we like to use it: We use this font a lot in posters and social media posts because of its readability.
Favorite Glyph: The corners and curves of the P.
HK Grotesk by Hanken Design Co.
Why we love this font: The lower case glyphs in this font are all amazing
Where we like to use it: This is a great sans serif paragraph type for long body text.
Favorite Glyph: We love the look of the a and the m.
Although we only presented 5 of our top free typefaces, there are so many more fonts out there that we all love but just refuse to use in our work. Whether it is the restraints of the undying Helvetica generation or our own fear of letting that creative college kid inside of us out, we need to open up our font libraries more frequently. Do something bold. Do something different. Give Helvetica the bird. But you still should never use Comic Sans!
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