Typography plays an important role in journalism. While newspaper typefaces may not seem as exciting as the content itself, they are a mode of creative communication.
The very curvature, shape and aesthetic of letters are often and understandably overlooked; the extent of the writing’s impact is usually contemplated through word choice and diction. From a visual perspective, however, the font is foundational; a paper’s main objective is to deliver information efficiently, and an effective message is elevated by clear design.
As current and former design editors, we’ve had our fair share of working with The Daily Californian’s official typefaces: Benton Sans, Tiempos Headline and Plantin MT Pro. This is a transcribed conversation that we had one day in the office:
Kaitlan Tseng: Benton Sans allows something as traditional as a newspaper to be visually compatible with the modern age. It’s sleek and clean. It’s also the paper’s only sans serif font.
Courtney Le: It’s the fun font that we can use in the paper. As Daily Cal designers, we’re restricted to three fonts, which challenges us to manipulate Benton in many ways.
KT: I think it looks good in all caps.
(Courtney’s stomach growls. She starts snacking on honey wheat pretzels.)
CL: Not gonna lie, I’m hungry. I kind of want fried chicken.
Eunice Chung: Me too. You know what else reminds me of fried chicken? Benton Sans Condensed. The juicy meat is already there, but the crispy crust takes it to the next level. It’s modern with an edge, and I appreciate its simple structure.
CL: I actually don’t like it that much — it looks pretty tight, and increasing the space between letters to make it readable sometimes pushes the words too far apart. You can’t tell where each word ends or begins.
KT: What the H E C K :/ But the spacing is so aesthetically pleasing!
CL: When the spacing is actually readable, I don’t think it looks proportional. Tight, narrow letters with large spaces in between don’t look that balanced. If we can’t agree on this, what about regular Benton? Thoughts?
KT: It’s fine, I guess.
EC: It’s all right, like unseasoned chicken. Palatable and nutritious, but not exactly delicious.
EC: I feel like Tiempos is the most popular serif font at the Daily Cal. Usually, graphic artists tend to gravitate toward Tiempos, as opposed to Plantin — it’s visually balanced and fills white space nicely.
CL: It’s also used in the paper’s headlines.
KT: OK, controversial opinion: Tiempos in all caps is not my favorite thing.
EC: Hmm, sometimes serif all caps can look a bit chunky. Sans serif all caps looks more cohesive.
CL: Well, I’ve never used all caps with serif fonts, which is telling. But I’ve never had a set opinion until you guys brought it up. So, I’m still undecided.
KT: But Benton Sans Compressed with Tiempos Italic is my go-to combo.
EC: I can tell — it’s a part of your signature style.
KT: Tiempos Semibold Italic has a very soft feel, fluid … buttery, like creamy mashed potatoes
CL: That just made me hungrier.
(Courtney’s stomach growls aggressively.)
CL: I never thought to mix fonts like that. I usually try to make everything pretty consistent. Potatoes are really good with chicken, though.
When I first started at Daily Cal, I liked using Tiempos a lot because of how formal it looks. So I avoided Benton for a while. I guess that says something about fonts, though. Fonts have tone. I like Kaitlan’s approach of combining fonts. More robust tones!
Plantin MT Pro
CL: If we’re going to continue with the food metaphor, Plantin is like vegetables. It’s routine but necessary for your health … That doesn’t sound quite right. What’s a word that bridges veggies and the newspaper?
EC: Essential? I mean, I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. No one really uses Plantin when they’re making visuals; it’s not meant to catch the eye — it has to be a strong base.
KT: But guess what, Plantin is actually the most-used font (proportionally) in the paper. It’s used for all the copy text.
CL: It’s readable — legibility is what matters most. Plantin is PLAINtin. At the end of the day, we’re designing for a newspaper. The content needs to be presented legibly. And you know, because it’s so common, it’s unbiased in its own way. It serves its purpose really well.
EC: I guess the fact that we can’t say much about Plantin speaks to how neutral it is. Personally, I don’t have an opinion on it.
CL: Yeah, it’s very utilitarian.
KT: But good grief, do we need it!