Top 10 Overused Fonts in Design

You’ve seen them thousands of times – on blog posts and emails, in logos, in print advertising. They may even begin to haunt your dreams at night. They serve as a constant reminder of how difficult it is to design truly distinctive pieces today in a market inundated with written and visual media. They are the most overused fonts in design.

So what’s the problem with overused fonts, you might be wondering? They’re familiar, you’re thinking. It’s what my readers expect. They didn’t get to be overused without a reason. All of these notions have value; the key thing, though, is to remember that design should be fresh. It should help your brand stand out, be memorable, and draw people in. When’s the last time you heard someone say “it was the Times New Roman that pulled me in?”.

Designers and webmasters still use these fonts on a regular basis because they’re popular. The following is a top ten list of typefaces that you want to steer clear of. As my mother always used to say, just because something is popular, does not mean it’s right. Consider sending this list out as a public service announcement to your designers – please avoid using these fonts at all costs! Instead, push the boundaries of design and find something that’s appropriate, readable, and distinct.

Times New Roman

Times New Roman

This one seems to follow everyone around like a bad habit – in fact, it is a bad habit. Times New Roman is a popular choice among some of the top newspapers and magazines all over the world. If you opened or drafted any Word document prior to 2007, it was most likely written with the Times New Roman font face. Unless of course you were writing a college paper and trying to expand your page count, which brings us to our second most overused font.

Courier

Courier

With its fixed-width lettering, courier is a popular choice among college students who are hoping to expand that 4 page paper to a 5.5 pager by doing a quick font swap. I’ll admit that during my college days, I was guilty of using this font from time to time. Courier also makes frequent appearances on the blogging scene. We’re not sure why people continue to use this one online, but we wish it would disappear. Fun fact: this dinosaur has been around a while – popular in DOS operating systems circa 1987.

Arial/Helvetica

Arial/Helvetica

This font is for the user who got sick of drafting their pre-2007 Word documents in Times New Roman. Today designers use it all the time when creating websites, as it is simple and clean looking. While it may be simple and clean, it’s not going to win you any points for uniqueness. A couple of good alternatives to Arial are Calibri and Myriad – check those out if you are looking to maintain a streamlined look for your site.

Brush Script

Brush Script

This fancy font is a favorite among little league baseball teams everywhere. A popular choice among sports teams in general, you will oftentimes see this font written across the front team uniforms and caps. Because of its readability, it is the fan favorite of scripts. But if you’d like to stand out in the crowd, you’d be better off choosing another font. While this is a readable script, it’s definitely one of the most overused typefaces out there and it won’t help your sports piece hit a home run.

Bradley Hand

Bradley Hand

With its completely unrealistic ‘handwriting’ look, Bradley Hand is a favorite among people who are feeling too lazy to write a real letter or who have the odd notion that the font gives printed documents a personal feel. There are a number of better options out there that are more realistic handwriting fonts, but this one is used frequently in email, blogs and newsletters. Our advice: stay away from this one, the fake handwriting look isn’t doing you any favors and is unlikely to impress your readers.

Comic Sans

Comic Sans

Comic Sans used to scream “I don’t take life too seriously!’ Now it just screams “I’m an annoyingly overused font!’ Many people have Comic Sans as their default email font. And unless you are under 12, this is probably not okay. Why? Because when you’re trying to convey a serious message in your email, it is impossible if you are using this font. Nobody is going to take you seriously. It’s like writing an important letter in green crayon. So ditch the Comic Sans for any professional pieces or correspondence.

Curlz MT

Curlz MT

Nothing says cheesy like using Curlz MT font in any of your designs. This cutesy font is a newer typeface, yet it has exploded in popularity. And we’re not sure why, as using it renders any text almost completely illegible. While some may say it’s a whimsical font choice, its swirls and curls take away from the actual content of your writing. Readers are unlikely to focus on anything you have to say because they will be so distracted by this busy font, and similar to Comic Sans it should only be used if you are a member of the under 12 crowd.

Kristen ITC

Kristen ITC

This overused font is a popular choice of school websites everywhere. This one is in a similar category to Curlz MT and Comic Sans: people think it’s playful, cute, and fun, when in reality overused and probably doesn’t elicit the respect you are hoping for from your site visitors. If you are a teacher or school principal, please do yourself a favor and steer clear of this font. You may think you’re conveying a message of youthfulness and excitement, but if you’re using Kristen ITC for your site it just looks silly.

Papyrus

Papyrus

Papyrus has a magnetic draw for the newbie designer because it has a unique look to it. And it might be unique, if it weren’t used everywhere. If you walk down the main street of any town or city, you will probably see this font on signs for coffee shops, yoga studios, cafes, and in church bulletins. It’s especially popular with churches for its air of sophistication. Unfortunately, Papyrus is completely overused. There are a number of other truly unique fonts out there – our advice is to consider an alternative.

Impact

Impact

Impact is supposed to be a bold and exciting font. And once upon a time, it was bold and exciting. But when you’re driving down the road and it’s a staple font on every single billboard you pass, it kind of loses its luster. Impact is a popular choice for businesses who want a logo that will make a huge splash. Unfortunately, with the flood of logos using impact, it’s highly unlikely your business is going to stand out among the rest. Plus, it looks like WordArt. Not impactful.

The Good News

There are a number of attractive, exciting, and unique fonts available for use when designing your sites, logos, and advertisements. Whether you are a web designer, blogger, or amateur site builder, it is a good idea to do your homework and test out different fonts. Google Adwords and sites like Instant.ly allow you to quickly test out which font people prefer.

As a rule, you will probably want to choose a font that is unique but legible. Run your designs by friends and family to find out what adjectives they would use to describe your work – does it convey an air of sophistication or does it take away from your content? Is it unique or boring? Is it fun or too silly? Conduct some formal split testing using the tools above once you’ve narrowed down your choices. In a world where standing out above the competition is crucial to your businesses’ success, you will want be sure to avoid these overused fonts and instead invest the time in finding a script that’s legible, conveys the right mood, and is fresh.

Marty Reardon is a well-respected freelance writer with many years of experience covering the design industry under his belt. When he’s not covering eCommerce web designers in Chicago for companies like Orbit Media, he’s busy fulfilling his “bucket list” goals of skydiving and running in a marathon.

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30 Comments
  1. Frederick Aug 11, 12:22 pm

    You sure that’s an image of Comic Sans? Doesn’t look like it.

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  2. mediocre92 Aug 11, 12:23 pm

    I’m kind of missing Futura here. While Futura is definitely a very good looking and professional font, it’s bloody EVERYWHERE (except the internet, of course).

    Reply
    +1
  3. aledesign Aug 11, 1:01 pm

    My favorite font is Helvetica…good for more different style of sites… In generally i prefer fonts linear….

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  4. Susan Aug 11, 3:57 pm

    Agree with your premise, but please update your Comic Sans sample with a sample of Comic Sans.

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  5. youyouk Aug 11, 5:23 pm

    And Lobster too … :)

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  6. hasanyasin Aug 11, 5:39 pm

    Courier is not from times of DOS. It was first designed in 1955. DOS had Terminal which has much plainer letters. Whatever the history mistakes are, the views are the real problem here. Monospaced fonts have their own use mostly for coding and similar stuff. There are much nicer-looking fonts than Courier, Consolas for example. However, nobody except only you expects monospaced fonts to disappear. They are here and they will always be.

    You have a point that repeating things over and over is kind of boring; but I want to point out a very simple fact that even your article is currently printed on screen using Arial too!

    Sorry, the whole article is just naive and far from any kind of professional view.

    Reply
    +1
    • Designer Nashville Aug 11, 8:50 pm

      Normally, I wouldn’t take the time to comment here, but after reading this article and your comment I have a agree. I do enjoy most of DesignModo’s posts, but this seems like you guys had nothing to write about.

      While I hate a good bit of the fonts you listed myself, I think most of them have their appropriate places.

      The article is called “10 Most Overused Fonts in Design”. I dont think any professional designer considers a little league baseball jersey or elementary school website to be a “brand” that needs to stand out.

      As hasanyasin said, this post was rather unprofessional and shouldn’t be taken too seriously from the community.

      Reply
      -2
  7. Octavian Aug 11, 5:48 pm

    I would add Vivaldi to this list.

    Reply
    +1
  8. Jarod billingslea Aug 11, 8:38 pm

    Yeah but what about the recent ones that’s been used lately? Lato, Open Sans, etc. etc…. I see them all the time in web design galleries.

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    • Designer Nashville Aug 11, 8:53 pm

      Exactly. Or even Gotham and ChunkFive.

      There are fonts out there that are not complete crap like the ones listed here, but are still indeed overused.

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  9. Eli Aug 11, 9:51 pm

    There is much more to fonts than uniqueness.
    Brushscript and Helvetia are from very different leagues. I havent seen papyrus or curlz much used especially by designers.

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  10. Adrian Aug 11, 11:13 pm

    Thanks for your comments guys, but this article was written by guest poster, so is not our author.

    Good comments and you are right guys. Done for comic sans.

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    • Prerak Trivedi Aug 11, 11:37 pm

      Perfect! Now thats sans, Comic sans!

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    • Stanford Aug 13, 5:21 pm

      So does this mean you don’t vet your guest posters’ articles? I’m just wondering how that process works.

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  11. Marco Aug 11, 11:40 pm

    I would put League Gothic. Man that one is overused as [insert cuss word here]

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  12. Michael Aug 11, 11:47 pm

    I like that the main font here is arial.
    that said, i think the author may be a bit limited in their typographical history, which would explain the lack of understanding of some of the fonts (notably Arial “/” Helvetica: quotes added for snarkiness) ages and proper uses. i can’t say i entirely disagree with the point, but it would better serve the community to educate them on proper use, than gripe because they don’t understand proper use. /twocents

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  13. Dylan Aug 12, 4:28 am

    Great list though I was expecting less complaints about standard fonts such as Helvetica and Comic Sans, and more of Driod and Lobster fonts.

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  14. Bjørn Johansen Aug 12, 11:32 am

    “Run your designs by friends and family to find out what adjectives they would use to describe your work”

    If you ever to this, be ready for some filtering. They will apply their personal preferences (like “cute” and “playful”) instead of what your client is trying to convey (“serious” and “solid”). So if they say “boring”, you just might have nailed it.

    But a problem with this, is that you’re lucky if you get someone to actually say it’s “boring”. Family and friends will try very hard to not give you negative critisism, even if it’s valuable feedback for you.

    If you’re serious about design, stop freelancing and team up with at least one other designer. Run your design by your colleagues, or ask them to ask other non-designers for feedback.

    Reply
    +1
  15. Danny Aug 12, 11:33 am

    Sadly when designing for websites, the choices are limited.

    Sure you can crazy with exotic fonts, but what’s the point if a part of your audience can’t even see it? Even using font face or cufont doesn’t mean everyone can see a particular font.

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  16. Carla Aug 12, 7:00 pm

    These are ‘lazy’ fonts! They are fonts used by those so called ‘designers’ because they come with the system application. These are the fonts used by those ‘designers’ that do not want to spend money on anything, let alone a good font, to produce their cheap designs! I guess they also use the truetype format as well.
    Good typography is more than half of a good design job.
    Whom are you talking to?

    Reply
    +1
  17. Amit Sharma Aug 12, 11:01 pm

    Err, the rant entitled Arial/Helvetica, talks about Arial entirely (especially because people on Windows machines running Office who got bored of using Times New Roman would generally not have access to Helvetica), and the graphic shows Helvetica.

    Also, (type-snob alert) how dare you club these two together? Thanks Michael.

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  18. Jack Aug 13, 6:41 am

    This article is incredibly silly. I stopped at the classification of “Helvetica/Arial”. That alone tells me this person does not study type, and they have a very limited knowledge of typesetting in design.

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  19. AdamTheGr8 Aug 13, 6:00 pm

    Gotham should be on that list for sure.

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  20. GodinDesigns Aug 16, 6:28 pm

    I personally use Helvetica and Myriad Pro the majority of the time for my website content. When it comes to titles and buttons I like to mix it up.

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  21. Chris Hughbanks Aug 17, 8:37 am

    I used to be bad about using brush script waaaay too much

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  22. Sketchy People Aug 21, 4:16 pm

    Comic Sans should really have remained in use for the classroom and not made it to the mainstream web.

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  23. Betom Aug 22, 5:17 pm

    I usually use Brush for H1 and I love it

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  24. Mark Vincent Sep 4, 9:05 am

    So, you found the default Microsoft font set and thought you might punch out a quick flame bait article? Seems to have worked. Slow day in the world of journalism to trot this article out and call it a feature. The sad part is that somebody got paid to write this and is probably thinking what a clever piece of literary gold it has turned out to be. Can you put Mum back on the phone please?

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  25. BB Mar 9, 5:48 am

    Brush Script, Comic Sans, Kristen ITC, Papyrus, Curlz MT, etc.
    These are all GREAT FONTS!
    Why?
    Because when you see someone that uses these fonts – you will know right away – that this person is an amateur with no imagination or design capabilities.
    Avoid the people that use them and these fonts like the plague.
    These fonts are a brilliant acid test!

    Reply
    +3

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