Papyrus and How Fonts Get Famous

This sketch from Saturday Night Live making fun of the use of the font Papyrus in the logo for James Cameron’s fantastically boring “Avatar” has already made the rounds. It’s hilarious.

It made me think though: with the possible exception of Helvetica, the only time popular culture acknowledges typography is when something has gone wrong—really wrong. Think of Comic Sans, which has earned a wide reputation for being a severely overused, terrible choice. Or Calibri which figured centrally into a major corruption story in Pakistan earlier this year (that scandal even became known as “fontgate”). Papyrus now joins those ranks as being remarkable for being notorious.

It says something about our craft when the only time the uninitiated have an opinion about it is when it’s gone off the rails somehow. This is not to say we shouldn’t have a sense of humor about what we do. We should—this SNL short had me in stitches. At the same time though, it would be nice to be recognized for the good we do, too. Design needs to do a better of job of explaining the value that we contribute to society, otherwise it’s just going to mean more ridicule.