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Examples of Bad Font Use: Avoid These Common Mistakes

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/14/2012

When used correctly in a design, no one should really notice your font choice. If they do you've either got a lover of fonts on your hands or you've done something so terribly wrong your font choice sticks out like a sore thumb. Don't be a victim. Follow our pictorial guide of what not to do.

  • slide 1 of 10

    Impact Equals Less Impact

    Impact Equals Less Impact 

    When you want to make an impact what do you do? Well, in this case the designer has been literal and gone for the font named "Impact", which always seems to have the opposite effect. They've dialed things down a little by not going for Comic Sans as the secondary font -- hated so much there are websites dedicated to planning its demise -- but have instead opted for little sister Gill Sans. Not quite as bad, but still a lame font choice (it just looks lost), and the two twinned together just do not work. However, the thing that really caps it off is the multiple color choices at the bottom, even changing mid-sentence.

    Use a different color font in mid-sentence only if it is highlighting a particular point and then go back to the original choice. I know this was meant to be a comical message, but still.

  • slide 2 of 10

    Hello F Meet I - Ligature Hell

    Hello F Meet I - Ligature Hell 

    In case you can't see the problem with this font then I'll point it out -- the capital F and I of FINAL have got a little closely acquainted and instead are joining forces to create a capital A. This gives the page title a whole new meaning! Wherever you have a capital I right next to another letter, please beware -- there are other cases such as an L and an I making a capital U, for example.

    Although the font choice here is sound and in keeping both with the theme of the magazine (Retro Gamer) and a consistent approach throughout, the designer should definitely have taken into account how the overall piece would look rather than just typing it and leaving it as is. Just a bit of spacing consideration is all that is needed.

  • slide 3 of 10

    Wrong Font, Wrong Occasion

    Wrong Font, Wrong Occasion 

    There are parts of this pack design that are quite endearing, but the main font used here does not seem to either fit with the product inside or complement the rest of the font choices or logo. This curly font reminds me of Willy Wonka's packaging on his chocolate bars rather than something I would expect to see on a box of flour -- the two don't seem to go together at all.

    Also beware of using a complementary (or near complementary) color scheme with a font and a background. It very rarely works and can have the effect of people looking away. It's not a big issue here as it's only a small amount of text -- you definitely wouldn't use yellow for the descriptive text underneath, for example.

  • slide 4 of 10

    So Clever But...

    So Clever But... 

    Whenever you use a clever font, such as using other items to make up the letters you are in danger of taking it too far, or that people won't understand what the message is. This one works pretty well, although the different font to the top and bottom of the "MEN" really doesn't help the overall look -- it's unnecessary and makes the piece disjointed. I could also take issue with the alignment of the track listing underneath -- is it to the right, or is it centered? -- but that's for another article!

  • slide 5 of 10

    So Much Wrong (and a Little Bit Rude!)

    So Much Wrong (and a Little Bit Rude!) 

    There are actually so many things wrong with the font choices here it's hard to know where to start. There are too many of them to start with, and the font colors are all over the place -- it's really not cohesive at all. But I believe the big lesson here is that the font should be readable.

    Of course it should look nice, but not at the expense of the message. So many times, elaborate fonts are nice to look at, but the flourishes and swirls make it either unreadable or make a word look like something else. In this example the fancy lower case 'r' in curry has a flourish at the end that makes it look like an 'n'. It's always an idea to have someone check over your work before you publish, just in case something like this doesn't catch your eye.

  • slide 6 of 10

    Bling Bling

    Bling Bling 

    If you're resorting to adding cheap effects to a standard font to make it look different then it's time to pack your bags. Am I the only one that thinks of Word and its wretched WordArt feature when I see this? I also think that the effect has been taken too far in the bling stakes, as if you look at it for longer than a few seconds it gets pretty blinding and distracting, and for the life of me I can't remember what it says after only seconds of looking away because of this. If you must use effects then don't let them detract from the message

  • slide 7 of 10

    One of Font's Least Wanted - Papyrus

    One of Font's Least Wanted - Papyrus 

    While Papyrus isn't as hated as Comic Sans, it is likely to appear on most designers' top five fonts they'd like to bin. It's the font that crops up time and again on cheap home-produced flyers, chosen for having an "arty" feel. It seems to be the go-to font when someone has run out of inspiration -- "we want to make a statement but don't want boring Arial, what shall we choose?"

    I'm sure there must be a place for Papyrus somewhere in the world, but I have yet to find it. In this example it makes the advert look cheap, and in fact certain sections in uppercase are difficult to read. Fonts don't have to be interesting in themselves, indeed sometimes boring is best -- let the design do the interesting bit.

  • slide 8 of 10

    How Many Fonts Do You Need?

    How Many Fonts Do You Need? 

    Sometimes it's fine to use a mix of fonts on a single page, but I think in this case, five is excessive -- especially as we are only talking about a small amount of text. Here we see block fonts, brushscript fonts, elongated fonts and a weird mix of lowercase and uppercase all together. It depends on the piece, but any more than three fonts on a page is likely to look unprofessional.

    Perhaps a title would be in one font, the main piece in another, and a photo caption or small print at the bottom in another. Use your judgment, but when using more at least make sure they work together. The brushscript font here next to the very uniform block fonts of different guises just jars. It also ruins the flow of a piece if it's meant to be read as one section of text.

  • slide 9 of 10

    Weird Font Bad Colors

    Weird Font Bad Colors 

    Take-away menus and flyers always seem to have classic examples of what not to do with fonts and typography, and this one is no exception. The name of the restaurant here has used Baby Kruffy -- the clue here is in the name! What was the person who designed this leaflet thinking of? It's clearly a baby font that would look great on a baby scrapbook page or a baby shower invitation, but has no place on a takeaway flyer. Make sure the font style fits the theme of the publication. The color choices are also pretty shocking -- a red font when there is a good deal of text to read is not a good idea and definitely not when twinned with green.

  • slide 10 of 10

    Don't Make it Hard to Read

    Don't Make it Hard to Read 

    Before you say anything, yes I know this is meant to be font use gone bad. It's just such an excellent piece to demonstrate all that we've talked about so far I had to include it as our concluding slide. One thing we haven't mentioned until now is to make sure your font color choice different enough from your background color to stand out -- although make sure it doesn't clash either (red and green anyone?).

    Take a look at the one good font choice here -- the FAIL at the top of the page. That is how you make a font stand out if it may be lost against the background. With a white font color choice especially, unless it's against a black background, I would recommend adding a noticeable black outline to it as done here -- effective, isn't it?