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When type foundry Hoefler &
Frere-Jones released its typeface
Archer two years ago, it was an instant hit among designers.
Multiple corporate giants quickly swept it up for their redesigns.
Smaller companies followed suit. Online, Archer became the subject
of numerous blogs, with everyone from website designers to
scrapbookers granting their approval. No one seemed to have
anything bad to say about the slab serif and its elegant and
functional, yet subtly quirky forms. But Archer's instant stardom
raises questions about its appropriateness. Can a font with such a
defined character properly suit so many purposes?
Examples of the various styles of Archer, the slab serif
typeface designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones.
Archer was originally commissioned by Martha Stewart Living
magazine in 2000. Hoefler & Frere-Jones combined elements of
two opposing type styles: the plainness of antique serifs and the
modernity of geometrics. Archer uses ball terminals in both the
lower and uppercase forms, creating “a font that's friendly without
being silly, and attractive without being flashy…well-mannered,
easy to work with, and inviting to read,” according to its
designers. Archer is the ideal typeface for a magazine that serves
all who aspire to a do-it-yourself lifestyle of perfection.
Examples of the use of Archer in Martha Stewart Living, April
When Archer was publicly released in February 2008, several
other companies also rebranded themselves with the slab serif.
Suddenly, you would see the typeface on paraphernalia for financial
institution Wells Fargo
and its subsidiary Wachovia. Does Archer's inherent
charm fit with something so rational and serious as a bank?
Screenshot of Archer as used on the Wells Fargo Advisors
In May 2008, Newsweek hired the prestigious
design firm Number 17 to
make over the magazine. But the adoption of Archer for its interior
type resulted in some public skepticism of its use. Andrew
Boardman, designer and writer of the blog Deckchairs on the Titanic, echoed
common complaints when he wrote that Archer “is so over-used and
inelegantly styled [in Newsweek] that reading the magazine
is an exercise in futility.” He became so focused on the slabs and
dots of the typeface that it became “like reading a garden.”
Boardman admitted that Archer is a “great display face, but it
doesn't work for Newsweek.”
Examples of the ways that Archer is used in Newsweek, April 5,
Newsweek wasn't the only journal to pick up the typeface.
In February 2009, The San
Francisco Chronicle also began using Archer for its
mastheads. Giant white titles now pop against various colored
rectangles, creating a rainbow of headlines. Matt Petty, senior art
director at the paper, says Archer “offered a bit of whimsy to a
very formatted redesign.” His design team appreciated both the
range of weights and the “little rounded surprises” that appear in
some of the letters. The Chronicle received similar flack to
Newsweek, but to a lesser degree since the main content
maintained a traditional serif font.
Archer used in a print ad for pita chips.
Now Archer is everywhere. A simple Google search finds the font
being used for a Mexican
restaurant, political news
blog, church conference
resort, file-sharing website,
digital scrapbook, to name a few of the 234,000 hits. Need more
evidence? There's an entire blog documenting Archer's
omnipresence. Not all of these implementations are conceptually
inappropriate, and most are even aesthetically pleasing. But what
is it about Archer that is so alluring? Why now?
Archer boomed right when the U.S. economy went bust. With
unemployment continuing to soar and businesses declaring
bankruptcy, with newspapers and magazines folding and personal
savings accounts shrinking, Americans, more than ever, crave trust,
comfort, friendliness and other fuzzy feelings. Companies are
responding, and Archer may be part of the solution.
Before adopting Archer, Wells Fargo's equivalent typeface was
Myriad, a sans
serif font known for its precision and readability. Myriad worked
fine until culture shifted. Banks needed bailouts and society
needed reassurance—Archer to the rescue. Colorful posters with warm
images of families and phrases rendered in Archer now adorn each
bank. Wells Fargo's brand agency was attracted to Archer's
“contemporary personable style” that was both “down-to-earth and
confident,” complementing the bank's brand. It wants to be
associated with Archer's graceful gestures, secure angles, and
playful ball terminals. With similar logic, Newsweek isn't
the boring bearer of bad news, it's your friendly next-door
But not everyone needs a facelift—the aforementioned ski resort
certainly isn't struggling with a waning perception of trust like
so many American banks. And the typeface isn't exactly free of
charge. The smallest package of font weights costs $149, and it
takes $399 to buy the whole family. This brings us to “Most Common
Reasons for Using Archer,” number two: it's pretty. The
truth is, Archer is an exquisitely designed typeface, and people
recognize that. If you use it, maybe your brand will look well
designed too. But an elegant typeface doesn't simply translate to
universal functionality. Perhaps Typographica
reviewer David John Earls said it best: “Archer succeeds where
others falter. I only hope that in its use out in the wild…people
give it the same level of thought.”
Lauren is a graphic designer from Iowa, living in Baltimore, Maryland. She received her MFA in Graphic Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and her BFA in Studio Art at the University
of Iowa, where she learned to appreciate design through the grid-like pattern of cornfields. Her writing has been published in AIGA Voice and in Ellen Lupton’s book, Graphic Design Thinking (2011). In addition to design, she enjoys vintage maps,
coffee, and outdoor adventures.
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