If a new study by Princeton psychologists is any indication, we’ll be seeing a surge in ugly typefaces within the near future. After switching out straightforward text book fonts for “disfluent” ones like Comic Sans and Haettenschweiler, the team of researchers found that students’ reading retention “signiﬁcantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read.” Given the potential educational application of this evidence — as well as its inevitably misapplied implications — here’s a preemptive field guide to five of the most reviled typefaces we’ll regrettably be seeing more of soon.
What is it: Although designer Chris Costello wanted to create the hypothetical look of ancient English script — had it been, say, written on Egyptian parchment two millenia ago — Papyrus has become synonymous with lazy pretentiousness. The faux-archaic feel of this calligraphy-inspired script has become a staple for short hand self-seriousness. Common uses: Avatar’s subtitles, coffee shop signs, wedding invitations
What is it: Apparently based on the handwriting of British designer Richard Bradley, who has otherwise dedicated his letter design to Christian literature and scripture, Microsoft claims Bradley Hand “humanizes the look of digital text.” There’s certainly a softer element here, but it comes across more like a crappy computer approximation of cursive than anything with a human touch. Common uses: year books, AIM profile quotes, announcement fliers
What is it: Modeled on the fonts used in classic American comic books, Comic Sans was released in 1994 by Microsoft as an informal, non-connecting script. Although supposedly inspired by Dave Gibbons’ lettering in Watchman (as well as John Costanza’s script in The Dark Knight Returns), Gibbons himself later lamented: “[it’s] a shame they couldn’t have used just the original font, because [Comic Sans] is a real mess. I think it’s a particularly ugly letter form.” Common uses: lemonade stands, community public message boards, water cooler notes
What is it: Composed entirely of dingbat symbols (i.e. a character or spacer used in typesetting), Wingdings consists of seemingly familiar images and signs that amount to infuriatingly nonsensical text. Still, the font got plenty of attention in 1992 when the new Windows 3.1 showed the character sequence for “NYC” as a skull and crossbones followed by the star of David and a thumbs up, which, despite the font’s seeming meaninglessness, reads pretty unambiguously anti-semitic. Common uses: amateur encryption, one-off symbols, pissing readers off
What it is: Kristen is the typeface embodiment of the word “zany” — an awkwardly forced attempt at playfulness. Like Comic Sans, Kristen just comes across as dorky and weirdly infantilizing because its contrived joviality is as stiff as its letters are calculatedly curved. Common uses: pre-K and elementary school classrooms, childish cards, baby section signs at department stores