John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Designer James Victore has a lot of strong opinions about the dumb fonts employed by local businesses.
James Victore has worked hard at his design career, reaching such mileposts as exhibiting posters at MoMA and doing work for Esquire and The New York Times. So when he's strolling down the block and sees a questionable font (in this case, for Starbucks), you maybe want to listen to his opinion that it's a "fat, nasty sans serif."
Victore recently took a spin around Queens and Brooklyn in an old Army jeep, examining signs and typography to "try to figure out what the hell it's for." His judgment tends to fall critical. Here's his thought on a waxing center's eggplants-mating logo: "There's been a designer here... which is not always a good thing." On an artsy-fartsy corporate billboard: "This would be an awesome piece of lettering and a great piece of street art, if it was." On a foster-care ad featuring whimsically drawn words like "achievement" and "potential": "So what they're trying to get the words to say, they should've worked harder and had an idea first."
The tour was sponsored by Adobe Typekit and the collaborative-business incubator Makeshift Society, which are staging several typography-themed events this fall. But its host comes off as genuine enough that there's barely a whiff of marketing. At one point he even stops to "improve" a mural with his own pen, before making a hasty retreat.
There are many lessons for businesses to learn here. But if you had to walk away with one, it has to be the poor restaurant that used tomatoes in place of an "O" for its name. Laments Victore: "Are the tomatoes supposed to be pronounced?... I don't know how it's pronounced."