Your fonts aren’t small enough

As a graphic designer, do you design for the client or for yourself?

In the January 2009 edition of Wired Magazine, the Rants section has an item entitled “Sarcastic Letter of the Month.” Here is the excerpt:

I don’t think your magazine fonts are small enough. I can still read your magazine if I use a magnifying glass. Could you please make the fonts even smaller, preferably so they are no bigger than the period at the bottom of this question mark? Is it possible for you to switch to a font size of 1?

EDITORS RESPONSE: Why yes, yes we can make the fonts smaller! How about this; is this small enough for you? You should talk to Bob Cohn, our executive editor. His pet peeve is when we run tiny white type on a silver gray background. Only 16-year-olds can read it. We call it “Bob gray.” He hates it so much he quit.—Ed.

Their response in the print version is in a 4 pt italic serif typeface with 6 pt leading (I still own a type gauge from Compugraphic so I can check these things – I am thinking of donating it to the Smithsonian).

A Compugraphic Editwriter typesetting machine.
A Compugraphic Editwriter typesetting machine.

For those of you reading this who are too young to remember who Compugraphic was, the use of small fonts may not be an issue to you. You probably never bought a vinyl record album that had a large area for beautiful graphics and images. This ended with the introduction of the compact disk, causing typefaces everywhere to undergo what has been called “The Great Font Shrinkage.”

I agree with the Wired editor who complains about type only 16-year-olds can read. Design is about communication, especially if your client or boss is paying you to share their message with their audience. If what you put on the page (or screen) doesn’t serve this function, then you are only concerned about satisfying your own ego.

Jamie Bradley
Idea Translator

With over 30 years of working inside and outside printing, promotional and marketing companies, Jamie Bradley helps clients source and produce great marketing materials. He writes these occasional blogs to share ideas on how to create better and more effective products.