Folk typography: a pet hate named Lobster

I have a secret pet hate. It’s a font, called Lobster. In the last 2 years I have literally seen it used in about 10 different logos, from a bottle store in the Cape Town CBD to a new retail centre in Woodstock. I’ve seen it on a book cover about South African design. I’ve seen it on the side of a truck. I’ve seen it on a billboard for cheap insurance. My partner, I’m sure, is tired of hearing me say… there’s that font again! The font says hipster, it says vintage, it says hand crafted. It reminds me of the original shop signs that were carved out of wood – not quite ‘ye olde shoppe’ but a bit later, and a bit more American. It reminds me of that old restaurant in the nineties called Woodcutters, who served you steakhouse fair on wooden placemats. You know the vibe.

It’s not the font itself that I hate, it almost has a place; but it’s the prevalence, and the lack of attention given to where and how it’s used.

Last week, Seth Godin wrote about a phenomenon he calls Folk Typography, which made me feel a bit better, because he nails it on the head. Here it is:

Folk typography – why is type getting so bad?

Well, actually, the people who are noticing it, the ones who care about kerning or keming or serifs or the rest… we’re not the reason that it’s getting bad.

It’s all the people who don’t notice it.

For thousands of years, type was something you did with your hands. If you were a writer, you were also the person who was putting the words onto the paper.

It was only in the last few centuries that setting type was a craft, reserved for people with a printing press, or a set of Letraset rub-down letters or even a top-of-the-line Mac with the right software.

And so, into this specialty, principles developed. There was actually a difference between professional and amateur typesetting. There was style and craft and insight that was worth paying for. There were magazines and conferences about what looked good and right and professional and cutting edge.

Of course, social media changed that. Memes and the rest, built on a flimsy foundation of Comic Sans and Arial and Impact. Whatever’s handy. And then what was handy became popular, and what was popular became the new standard.

And this is always the way. When the public gets tools, they use them, without regard for the rules that might have come before.

But there’s still a desire for craft, and people, particularly over 30, are eager to judge a book, not by its cover but by its type. Even if they don’t know why.

There will be a new set of standards for type, just as the quality of every folk innovation has improved over time.

WORDS: Sarah Jayne Fell & Seth Godin

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