Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is Archer Played?

One of the best contemporary typefaces, Archer (the entire family) from the great, great Hoefler & Frere-Jones is everywhere these days. ISO50 asks the obvious question, is Archer played?

From ISO50:

One of the very first articles I ever wrote for this blog lamented the careless proliferation of Archer, the slab serif from H&FJ. At the time, I was specifically reacting to the unfortunate redesign of the San Francisco Chronicle. That was in February of last year. Since then, the typeface has spread itself ever further, and continues to pop up just about everywhere.

Lauren Adams wrote a article about this very topic over on the AIGA blog. She states, “Archer’s instant stardom raises questions about its appropriateness. Can a font with such a defined character properly suit so many purposes?” She goes on to point out numerous recent examples of Archer’s continued domination of the ‘friendly’ typeface sphere. I was excited to see her article, as this issue continues to bug me the more I spot those little ball terminals. (Be sure to check out the blog she mentions, Archer Alert, for recent examples of Archer in the wild.)

At the end of my article back then, I asked if “Archer was the next Papyrus” — a polarizing contention to be sure — but maybe now my question doesn’t seem so far fetched. Before you get all crazy on me, let me say again that I am a *fan* of Archer. It looks good. I have nothing against the way it is drawn and actually think that it is quite amazing (like all of H&FJ’s work). Though as Lauren states, “an elegant typeface doesn’t simply translate to universal functionality.” I would add that such a distinctive typeface shouldn’t translate to ubiquity.

Like Papyrus, Archer shares a unique personality and the aforementioned “defined character”. Just as Papyrus became the go-to font for “exotic” or “earthy”, Archer has become the easy choice for “friendly” and “approachable”, which makes its misuse all the more prevalent. The more Archer is used in scenarios where it’s vaguely appropriate, the less effective it becomes in situations where it actually makes sense. As Christopher Simmons points out in the comments over there, “In unskilled hands even a Stradivarious will only make noise”. With Archer being clumsily wielded as frequently as it is, it’s this “noise” that has rendered unbiased viewings of the typeface impossible.

So I’ll ask again and this time duck for cover, is Archer the next Papyrus? Is it just a matter of time before the next summer blockbuster uses Archer for the movie poster?

Personally, I don't think that it is possible for Archer to be the next Papyrus, as Archer is a much more refined, correctly cut face. But the fact is that it is everywhere.