I will try to keep this on point.
Recently I posed this question on Twitter:
“If a type designer makes a typeface with a specific intent, is it their duty to make that intent explicit wherever it’s offered?”
It didn’t ignite a conversation but it’s been on mind for a reason.
Visit this page to see a pay-what-you-want font called Wisdom Script. It probably looks familiar—it’s been getting around, as cheap things do.
The main banner image on the page shows the name of the font set in the font, on a horizontal baseline. Now scroll down and look at the four examples below “See it in Action.” All four images deviate from the banner image and have something precisely in common. We’ll come back to this.
A typeface should serve a purpose, it should aim to solve a perceived problem (big or small). What drives this particular creation?
The information on this page is minimal. There is a sentence stating that the script was originally designed for a poster series of bad advice. There is also a credit for the designer, who is a college student that once tried amateur stand-up comedy.
Bad advice and jokes. We’ll come back to this.
Now let’s visit this page to see Wisdom Script presented on the designer’s own site. Amongst scattered samples there is a description of the font. This version has an extra sentence:
“Wisdom Script is designed to be on a thirty degree incline to get perfectly vertical strokes.”
Now we know the purpose of this font. It was made to achieve vertical strokes.
In recent months I have seen Wisdom Script used in advertisements, magazines, and even, embarrassingly, a logo for a well-funded startup. I have never once seen it set on a 30º angle. I don’t expect to as long as the font’s intent is hidden. And even if revealed, I don’t expect everyone to follow that intent—there’s no way to police a font, other than with cautionary tales.
My drive here is not to critique the script’s make, I think the many flaws are obvious. And I’m purposely skipping over an easy thesis, which is that everyone using a free font would be better served by purchasing the license for a well-developed script, made by a professional, especially since scripts are one of the cheapest categories of fonts. But if you take another look at the four samples provided on Lost Type, it’s clear how the angle masks the wonky letterforms. In that light, the quality of the font does not improve, but in following it’s own logic, it makes some sense.
Normally I might avoid openly critiquing the work a college student, but this font has been offered to the world for free. It is spreading quickly, affecting all kinds of design. Though surely the fire will burn out after a popularity backlash (the designer himself acknowledges this), I have to wonder…
Is the vagueness of the font’s intention a kind of silent bad advice? Is this an amateur comedian’s darkest and most successful joke?