They’re All the Same — Aren’t They?

Written by Chris Long on October 26, 2004

Bembo? Minion? Garamond?
Ahhhhhhhhhh, what’s the difference, anyway?


  1. C Rugen says:


    I’d write to her, but don’t know if I have the energy to compose something that isn’t mean. She couldn’t really think that the authors are being upstaged by the font, right? Was this little tract necessary for anything other than the flouting of ignorance? I’d point out that the NYT has a literary section and not a typography section, but maybe those are all the same too…

    On second thought, maybe I should write her.

  2. tfutrell says:

    unfortunately these are the type of people that we deal with every day. the people who think that a Picasso is stupid because he doesn’t paint a portrait to look like a real person. i don’t feel angry by paige wiser’s column, but i do plan on writing to her. a writer is truly interested in the written word. they SHOULD want that word written in a font that specifically suits their needs. Chip Kidd is wonderful at this. it is ashame that an article like that was even written.

  3. Max Khokhlov says:

    Sad but true.
    And why do they need designers then? If all’s the same, let’s print all stuff black ‘n white on gazette paper! No layouts, no fonts!

  4. Colin says:

    Just let her self-publish everything in Word. I’m sure it’ll sell just as well.

  5. John Morse says:

    “All type faces pretty much look like — well, this one — to me. This one? It’s called Century Schoolbook, according to the graphic designer in the next cubicle.”

    When she says “this one” is she talking about her screen while she types or the paper coming off the press? The version I read was set by Safari from the web designer’s HTML command “font face=arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=2”.

    So the question of whether the author need worry about the choice of typeface is completely up to her. In any case, the designer of the publication will bear that responsibility. It is a very poor designer who, intentionally or not, upstages the author.

  6. John Butler says:

    Quick, someone pay me to talk out of my ass.

  7. Down10 says:

    Pfft. Philistine.

  8. Tom says:

    > Quick, someone pay me to talk out of my ass.

    I thought that was a hobby.

  9. ”And why do they need designers then? If all’s the same, let’s print all stuff black ‘n white on gazette paper! No layouts, no fonts!”

    Yeah, and since there are so many songs, paintings, books etc out there already…let us just stop the evolution and use what we already have. Thankfully human kind don’t settle with that, or at least some of us don’t. ;-)

  10. Armin says:

    My favorite:

    “There are an estimated 30,000 fonts for the English language, and there’s no law stopping anyone (you! me!) from inventing another.”

    Yup, that’s what we need. A law that sends typographers to jail for inventing another.

    I can more or less see the author’s “concern” but the problem is that it is a ridiculous concern. It’s like complaining about the first or second pages of books having too much information about the publisher, ISBN information, edition, etc.

    Oh well, the Sun Times is not the best paper anyway.

  11. TJ says:

    When she says “this one” is she talking about her screen while she types or the paper coming off the press.

    This is a really great observation. I thought the same thing, and I’d guess she was talking about what was displaying on screen. That specific fonts maybe needed for different forms of print is probably completely above her head.

    I asked a friend of mine who was the former art critic for the Sun-Times about Paige once. He descibed Paige Smoron, now Paige Wiser, as “incredibly bubbly” which I took to mean “incredibly ditzy”. That she works for a paper and only “discovered” fonts recently is a reach — but who knows.

  12. sean says:

    If those of you who plan to write letters would be so kind as to make them open letters, I think that would be great.

    I would like to hear what you say to her and what her reply may be.

  13. Erik says:

    She went from Smoron to Wiser? Talk about marrying up. That makes me think she is just a fictitious character in a bad satirical novel.

  14. C Rugen says:

    That Smoron to Wiser thing deserves an article more than her public display of ignorance.

    Has anyone written her yet? I haven’t had the time.

  15. Dan Reynolds says:

    Yes, please! Please write, and please post copies/links/answers here.

  16. Nathan says:

    The thing that gets me is that she does know the difference between fonts. Everyone does. When a type evokes a feeling or makes reading more enjoyable, everyone notices. If the book was written in some hand written script she would defintely learn to appreciate the one’s we use for books and publications.

    I was talking to someone the other day about how unconciously, the typeset evokes a lot of meaning.

    let’s just switch over to use only Comic Sans.

  17. Ricardo says:

    When she says “this one” is she talking about her screen while she types or the paper coming off the press.

    I think she means the one in the print version of the article, since she goes and asks “the graphic designer in the next cubicle” — but heck, who needs designers, anyway? Or colophons?


  18. Jose A. Contreras says:

    Hi all, this is my first comment ever. Here’s what I wrote to this writer



    From: Jose Antonio Contreras
    Date: October 27, 2004 3:26:17 PM EDT
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: About the fonts of wisdom and other types of type …

    Hello, I just read your article in the following link:

    I don’t if you’re interested in what some people in the design/typography business are thinking about your piece. But in case you do, allow me to direct you to the source where the above link was found and currently being discussed

    Also, if you allow me some feedback of my own, I’ll tell you that your piece seems tremendously uninformed and frivolous. I suggest you do a little research before declaring your ignorance to the world (“Of course, all of these fonts look the same to me…”)

    Your words sound like saying “all music sounds the same to me” or “all languages other than my own are just mumbling.” Or simply “I don’t know better.”

    Cheers, (read my P.S please :-)

    Jose A. Contreras

    P.S. I don’t mean to offend you or sound too harsh, I promise. And to contribute with a little substance, I suggest you read the following article: [NOT MY TYPE, By James Button, Published in The Age, September 13th, 2003]

  19. The article refered to in Jose’s post scriptum can be found here:

    I guess most people here have read about the Helvetica issue, but I had not yet.


  20. For me and in a sense of the classic typographer this must be one of the most honoring articles ever.

    As long as we’re not taken notice of, we do a good job.

    She says:
    “All type faces pretty much look like — well, this one — to me.”

    That should like mean to us: Well done mate.

    Wouldn’t it be much worse if anybody could spot a difference between the faces, litterally, if anybody would be interested in type and typography?

    I think it is not about talent, but about personal commitment to the thing itself. So, well, anybody can spot this difference if he/she invest a certain amount of time.

    It’s about readability not artistic expression. If you want to be an artist, do lettering or display faces. As long as it is about to design a text face put your ego way back and be happy.

    We can only survive by being ignored.
    Typography is the black art, partly because it deals with contrast, but beacause it is somewhat misterous and hidden to the major part of the population. At the same time it is everywhere. So we might have do deal with such comments if our typography seems to become more important than the source it shall deliver: content. If there wouldn’t be content there would be no typography, no spacing, kerning, in fact no letterforms would be needed.

    So in parts she’s pretty right, but the way she’s serving it is truly ignorant and somewhat shortsighted

    These statements are my opinion, I don’t know if they are scientific, but for me they’re logical and open to discussion.



  21. Hrant says:

    I don’t think humans can ever be totally transparent. And pragmatically, that tells me they shouldn’t try to be.


  22. OK, you don’t have to be ghost to do some good typographic work, but you do not need to claim any more rights than the main thing you have to promote.

    In the field of books this might be content, because this is why books are written. Books made because of letterforms are graphic design, not type or typography.



  23. Kevin Cannon says:

    Maybe we’re the ones that are wrong.

    Maybe Type Choice should be strong and silent, something we carefully choose that forever goes unnoticed.

  24. ‘Transparent’ isn’t right.

    A better metaphor is to the bass in popular music. You don’t listen to it consciously unless you are a musician, but well done it makes the melody and singer sound much better. This applies to a bit lesser extent to the whole rhythm section. Now a bass player (typographer) will always notice the bass (the type) and see how well it’s done, have favorite styles of playing (typefaces, layout) etc.

    To say that all bass playing is the same would be just as ignorant and oblivious as this writer about typefaces…

  25. Todd Trumbull says:

    Here’s a cliche I can’t resist using: Unclear on the concept. I also refuse to write this off as mere ignorance, since her own paper just redesigned not too long ago. Did she not understand anything about why that was done? The issue of transparency is one thing, but the problem is that her piece downplays the role of careful, intelligent decision-making with respect to typography and other design considerations, which take place at her own paper as much as anywhere else! She should know better, and it’s unnerving, frankly, that so many of these people — and seemingly the ones most vocally disdainful of graphic design — still exist in newsrooms today.

  26. jm says:

    Well, if she thinks that concern with “type” and “fonts” is going to REPLACE content, I guess that anything published (at least!) since 1931 would be merely a vehicle for font.

    Maybe if the writing is like hers, that might not be a bad thing.

    (Oh naughty, naughty me…)

    p.s. Actually, there is a nice little defense of fonts in the beginning of “60 Alphabets” which I had never read before. It is a bit long for a comment, though.

  27. Dominik says:

    It’s clear that everybody likes to be honored for the work he/she has done. But maybe the major part of the people just doesn’t see setting type and choosing a typeface as something that has to be honored. Nobody recognizes it, because the thing is: It has always been there and was never recognized more or less. Clearly what she says is ignorant, but what I meant: We don’t have to wonder why she writes an Article like that. So I can’t get why everybody is that enraged about it. It is a good image of what type is for the average man/woman.
    Besides: The people who have a favor for base in music are similar to the people who have a favor for type, when it’s about books. Many people listen to music and many people read books, but in both fields there are only some that want to deal with the essence. That more people deal with base in absolute figures, is caused because nowadays more people listen to something rather than read something.

  28. Shannon says:


    I agree that this Ms. Wiser’s article does display a large amount of ignorance. I also agree with one of the earlier comments that her remarks seemed on a par with the kind of uninformed comments one sees about abstract and other art forms.

    I think that if Ms. Wiser ever has to read an extended text in a poorly designed typeface, she might gain a better respect for the art of typeface design. I would not hold my breath though.

    I also agree that typeface is a somewhat invisible art form, but that really does not mean that a typeface designer is any less an artist, and any less deserving of credit. It takes a great amount of skill to design a typeface that has good readability. If a designer of book typefaces does their job correctly, their art is not even noticed. However it is art none the less, and in my view, that art deserves recognition. I seriously doubt that anyone would contend a short note at the end of a book is going to compete with the book itself. That is just silly.

    best regards,

  29. Milan says:

    I don’t understand why she wrote an article on a subject she doesn’t know or care for. She has nothing better to write about than express her ignorance of typogoraphy?

  30. Howard says:

    I am also a musician, that is why I like so much the comparison between the bass player and the type selection. It is really explaining the meaning (and content) that is so clear for us, after all people caring about means to transfer a message!!!, and the people who do not care. It is Ok if someone does not care about it, the disturbing part is if those last are trying to spread their lack of aesthethic sense and after all, taste and ignorance, writing nasty articles in popular (and apparently non peer reviewed) media. Type is diversity and communication. I assure one thing: nothing will stop the imagination and creativity of human beings. This apply to letters, a refined expression of how to communicate the same with almost the same shape. It is an amazing human power not to disregard. I feel sorry for those who can not enjoy something simply because they do not look carefully to see it is not identical. Ask more (important) writers. People with artistic sense
    could detect those subtle nuances. Often not best sellers. By the way, type are sort of human abstract adaptations, are not they?

  31. Stomaphagus says:

    I wrote her, but I limited myself pretty much to the colophon discussion. She can stay in the dark about typography, that’s fine, there’s no converting her. Here’s what I said.

    “I used to design art books for a living, and I have to say, I agree. The self-obsessive colophon has gotten out of hand. Pre-Knopf (hell, pre-USA), the colophon was the publisher’s information, necessary stuff about the book — where was it published, when, by who. Nowadays the Library of Congress info takes care of that, and the colophon is a holdover. ‘Nuff already — print the thing and get outta the way.

    “That said, there can never be too many typefaces, or brands of bourbon.

    “Minion was the first complete typeface I bought. Zillions of little characters, suitable for typesetting Hungarian, if you have to. Cost me over $250. Useful font. Robert Slimbach is a good type designer, but then all his stuff looks a little alike to me.”

  32. Stomaphagus says:

    We can only survive by being ignored.

    That’s the truth, Ruth.

  33. Milan says:

    “The whole duty of Typography, as of Calligraphy, is to communicate to the imagination, without loss by the way, the thought or image intended to be communicated by the Author.”

    -Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson

  34. Hector Muńoz Huerta says:

    This made me piss off. I had to write her a bit about the topic to calm down. Where did she got the story telling this “Alfred A. Knopf” invented colophons? As far as I know Gutemberg´s Catholicon had a colophon.

  35. Bobby Henderson says:

    Paige Wiser’s column said:
    “When the New York Times updated its front-page font in October 2003, it merited a 642-word story. In Times Cheltenham, if you were wondering.”

    Um, can someone please tell me what the hell “Times Cheltenham” is? I thought those were two different fonts.

    Now Cheltenham and Glouchester look a bit alike to me. Her descriptions of what looks alike make me wonder if she is blind.

  36. Hrant says:

    “Times Cheltenham” is probably what Carter’s new replacement font is called, “Times” meaning the New York Times. But the story body wouldn’t have been set in Cheltenham — probably only the heading.

    Gloucester (note spelling) is Monotype’s Cheltenham clone, so I would hope it’s close! There have even been Cheltenham clones made in early-20th-century France, I was recently shocked to learn — I thought the French were above copying a cowboy font (as much as I personally like the face).

    > …. wonder if she is blind.

    Blindness is not always of the eyes… Grasshopper.
    Or something.


  37. Justin Cone says:

    I sent her a link to this discussion and suggested she check it out. Here’s what she wrote back:

    “No! I hate feedback if it’s negative… but thanks for thinking of me!”

    Nice. That kind of thinking is becoming increasingly popular in this nation…

  38. Hrant says:

    She will be in our minds, always.


  39. J. P. Giese says:

    Like Justin, I sent Paige a link to this discussion (maybe I should’ve mentioned that here). Her answer to me was:

    “Yick, I hate negative feedback. But thanks for writing (kind of).”

    And I must say that I found this almost sweet. Somehow.


  40. J. P. Giese says:

    PS: After reading Justin’s posting I wonder whether there’s anything like a software email answering machine that, at the click of a button, pseudo-intelligently composes phrases of a certain meaning (you know, like those AI dialog partners that pretend to understand what you’re typing).

    Yikes! Negative feedback is not good. But thanks for telling me your opinion.

    Ouch! I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Eek! Positive feedback I like better. Thanks for mailing me anyway.

    Then again, what else is there left to say.

  41. jlt says:

    What kind of journalist doesn’t want to read criticism of their work? Any journalist who wants readers to hide their criticism needs to look for a line of work a little less public. How can anyone expect to improve without a lot of crit?

  42. Bobby Henderson says:

    I think a lot of journalists these days are narcisists. Certainly not all are infected with self-importance and self-love. But I suspect that of those who write themselves and what they think into news stories. And I would not expect such folks to be very open at all to criticism or comment about their work or their opinions.

  43. Hrant says:

    > What kind of journalist doesn’t want
    > to read criticism of their work?

    The New American Century kind, duh.


  44. Dominik says:

    Is there something like “journophile”, perhaps they should also establish a “critique” section. But either way,I don’t think she’d visit.

  45. Hector Muńoz Huerta says:

    “She will be in our minds, always.”


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