Tag Archives: font nerd

Mad Men Font Secret Success?

After yesterday’s heated heated discussion in the blogospheres about the actual font used for Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s new logo (It is Akzidenz-Grotesk, damn it!) the question still remains about why they would not just go with Helvetica.

There is the question of whether Helvetica would be popular enough state-side by 1963-’64 to be used for major signage. Heck, maybe the rise of Helvetica would mark a subtle plot point in the fourth season. However, as @TheRevDoctor pointed out, Helvetica had already been used in the American Airlines advertising campaign from season 2.

Still, one campaign is not enough to mark a complete awareness. It is not like they had some huge sign in the office that was like: THIS IS HELVETICA AND IT IS AWESOME.

Oh wait they totally did!

Look at the circled poster to the far right side. You probably know a designer who owns that poster. If not, buy one and become that guy!

Thanks to Doc’s keen eye, we know that the designers at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were quite aware of the modernity-defining typeface that is Helvetica. But the question still stands of why they would go with Akzidenz-Grotesk for the company logo even if they were aware of its typeface design progeny.

Maybe there is some credence to the idea that it easier to get giant metal letters and other random branding paraphernalia set in well-established typefaces. But then again, with something as important as company branding, you probably go custom-made. Furthermore, as the poster and American Airlines advertising campaign demonstrate, the typeface was well known by then.

Perhaps instead, the newly founded company wanted to go with a typeface that, while connected to the new era, still communicated a sense of establishment and stability. Therefore, they went with the proto-grotesk that is Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Or maybe the creators knew very well that people scrutinize Mad Men to such an insane degree that they could build up Internet buzz about the show simply by choosing a typeface that looks at first glance like the reviled Arial, rather than Helvetica, but is actually something that would have been somewhat appropriate for a company to choose at the time.

But that’s crazy, right? Right?

In conclusion, Akzidenz-Grotesk is a typeface of contrast.

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Mad Men Font Fail… or was it?

Tonight was the first episode of the fourth season of Mad Men. It was a bittersweet moment, in which we once again can revel in the mid-century modern adventures of the anti-hero Don Draper, but also mourn the approaching summer’s end.

One of the many enjoyable parts of the Mad Men viewing experience (besides laughing at the characters’ ignorance of upcoming historical events. Fools! Johnson was planning on sending more troops to Vietnam the whole time! And you will have Nixon to kick around anymore!) is watching in awe how the show flawlessly recreates the ’60s style down to pinpoint accuracy. Sure there are a few mistakes, but overall it is very impressive and does a better job at truly immersing the audience than almost any other show.

This is why typeface purists were shocked, shocked, to see the logo for the new Sterling Cooper Draper Price.

Behold! The high quality of taking a picture of a paused DVRd show with my iPhone.

Instantly, Twitter was a twitter with shock and disgust.

Is that…

Can it be…

Arial?!

For those who do not know, Arial is one the typefaces, behind comic sans and papyrus, most likely to get you in trouble with a font nerd. What makes it so repugnant is its obvious ripoff from, yet inferiority to, Helvetica (a typeface so wonderful it merits its own documentary). What is worse is that Arial was created by Microsoft as a stand-in for Helvetica simply so it would not have to pay for the superior original. Therefore, the ubiquity of the Microsoft software has ensured that Arial is used more often as a generic sans-serif than that pinnacle of the modern sans-serif that is Helvetica.

But certainly Mad Men’s art directors would know this, right? They wouldn’t use such an obvious Arial anachronism? So perhaps there are a few arguments that can save Mad Men from such a damning mistake in its first episode back.

1. It is not any typeface.

The logo isn’t on paper. It is not typed. It is not pre-fab lettering. It seems to be a stand-alone, one-time creation for the new company of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Perhaps the craftsman who created it merely made up his own lettering and went from there, rather than adhering to an established font as a guide.

This would explain the similarity to Arial. The artist looked at whatever sans-serif he had around to get a sense of design and then just kind of deviated from the standard shape.

2. It is Akzidenz Grotesk

I took the super-duper high quality camera-phone picture of a paused TV show and tried putting into What The Font. However, the website had a problem with the shape, contrast, etc. So I fumbled around with the SCDP logo and came up with this:

If you turn up the contrast really high and make it black and white, its modern art!

When I put this into What The Font, its top answer seemed awfully close: Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Akizdenz-Grotesk would actually be a great typeface for the Mad Men art directors to have used. According to Wikipedia, it was created in 1898 and was the first sans-serif typeface to be widely used, and it ended up influencing many later neo-grotesk typefaces. Neo-grotesk typefaces like Neue Haas Grotesk, or as it was renamed in 1960: Helvetica.

So lets compare Akzidenz-Grotesk to Arial.

Akzidenz!

Arial!

The height of the C in Arial in comparison to Akidenz seems to be the most obvious difference, but is it notable enough to prove that the Sterling Cooper Draper Price slogan is not in Arial?

I have enough faith in the Mad Men art directors to believe that they would have gone with not the FAIL of Arial, and not the obvious choice of Helvetia, but instead would have chosen something old and classic for the ’60s. Lest we forget, Helvetica was just released in 1960, only a few years before tonight’s episode. Furthermore, one can imagine that it would be slightly difficult to get large metal letters in the shape of newly released typefaces. One would have to get letters in something that had been around for a while. Something that factories had been putting out for a while, making in bulk. Something like Akzidenz Grotesk.

Mad Men art directors, I will never doubt you again.