Type foundations


Comic Sans is the Nickelback of the font world; it’s the font people love to hate. What people often fail to realise is that it’s a perfectly good font created by a professional type designer. Unlike so many handwriting fonts out there it was crafted to work both on and off screen. The criticism shouldn’t fall on the font itself but rather on it’s inappropriate usage as it is definitely a font fit for purpose. Kids material and comic books, perfectly fine. That end of year financial report, maybe not so much.

To be fair, there is a serious lack of font education outside of design schools. Ideally the foundation would be laid in the early school years as you learn to write by hand and then gradually expanded as you move on to computers. It was with this in mind that I was shocked to discover the foundation for all school kids here in New South Wales; NSW Foundation.

NSW Foundation
NSW Foundation font

I don’t know what kind of government panel decides on what should be the canon of kids handwriting, but they are clearly not qualified to make such decisions. The man behind the font is a former teacher, and it could be that he optimised the font for how the kids best create the letterforms in the early years. Until that is explained to me I’ll go out on a limb and claim he’s not a qualified typographer. 

In creating this atrocity, lots of shortcuts have clearly been made with the working assumption that the shape of one letter can easily be transformed into another with no regard for typographic nuances. The uppercase Y for example is in a perpetual state of toppling over as it is basically the X with the right leg missing. Just because a lower case y resting on the baseline can casually dangle it’s descender at an angle does not mean and uppercase Y standing tall can do the same.

The O in both of its forms is similarly precarious, looking like an egg turned on its head. It is quite possibly the most unbalanced, and consequently the least attractive O I have ever come across. At least with the Q there is some sense of support.

Then there are the little optical illusions typographers tend to compensate for. The arm and leg of the ‘K’ seem to be completely disconnected, while the ‘M’ seems to have much more room in the right counter.

I also grew up with the idea that the ’t’ never extends all the way to the top line. This may be a bias on my part, but I can’t help thinking that the NSW Foundation ’t’ could benefit from being slightly shorter.

The ‘e’ seems to be narrower than any other letter, and when bolded looses its counter completely. 

The numerals are simply too ugly to critique.

As if making kids trace this atrocity wasn’t bad enough, the teachers also seem overly fond of using it for everyday communication and handouts.

No thought was given to letter pairings or tracking when the font was produced creating some rather terrible results, particularly when combining upper and lower case. Example shows how the ‘Y’ in my daughters name floats a mile away from the rest of the characters as if they were completely unrelated.

The visual balance of letter spacing may be excused if the letters are generally seen in isolation, but considering how often it appears in school materials this is an area which is in dire need of fixing.

To add insult to injury, the font is not free. You might be able to find a downloadable variant floating around on the net, but the fonts creator would like for all schools and institutions to buy a licence. A scholastically mandatory font should by definition be provided without cost to both teachers and parents so they can best support the kids.

You don’t necessarily have to consume Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style in order to design a font. Nor do you have to sit through hours and hours of font tracing as I was subjected to in art school. But if you are tasked to design the font which will set the typographic foundation for millions of kids, a few tutorials, and possibly a few rounds of peer reviews would to me seem like the right thing to do.

The internet is of course full of complaints without suggested solutions, so in an effort to remedy this I’ve started working on a cleaned up version of the font. Tentative name is Foundation Neue which I’m hoping to make publicly available once finished.

If any other typographers out would like to collaborate I’d be happy to set up a Git repo with the working files.

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