The Unfortunate Omnipresence of Archer

Posted by Alex

One of the very first articles I ever wrote for this blog lamented the careless proliferation of Archer, the slab serif from H&FJ. At the time, I was specifically reacting to the unfortunate redesign of the San Francisco Chronicle. That was in February of last year. Since then, the typeface has spread itself ever further, and continues to pop up just about everywhere.

Lauren Adams wrote a article about this very topic over on the AIGA blog. She states, “Archer’s instant stardom raises questions about its appropriateness. Can a font with such a defined character properly suit so many purposes?” She goes on to point out numerous recent examples of Archer’s continued domination of the ‘friendly’ typeface sphere. I was excited to see her article, as this issue continues to bug me the more I spot those little ball terminals. (Be sure to check out the blog she mentions, Archer Alert, for recent examples of Archer in the wild.)

At the end of my article back then, I asked if “Archer was the next Papyrus” — a polarizing contention to be sure — but maybe now my question doesn’t seem so far fetched. Before you get all crazy on me, let me say again that I am a *fan* of Archer. It looks good. I have nothing against the way it is drawn and actually think that it is quite amazing (like all of H&FJ’s work). Though as Lauren states, “an elegant typeface doesn’t simply translate to universal functionality.” I would add that such a distinctive typeface shouldn’t translate to ubiquity.

Like Papyrus, Archer shares a unique personality and the aforementioned “defined character”. Just as Papyrus became the go-to font for “exotic” or “earthy”, Archer has become the easy choice for “friendly” and “approachable”, which makes its misuse all the more prevalent. The more Archer is used in scenarios where it’s vaguely appropriate, the less effective it becomes in situations where it actually makes sense. As Christopher Simmons points out in the comments over there, “In unskilled hands even a Stradivarious will only make noise”. With Archer being clumsily wielded as frequently as it is, it’s this “noise” that has rendered unbiased viewings of the typeface impossible.

So I’ll ask again and this time duck for cover, is Archer the next Papyrus? Is it just a matter of time before the next summer blockbuster uses Archer for the movie poster?

34 Comments Leave A Comment


Richard Daly says:

April 14, 2010 at 10:51 am

If you believe that all popular things are used inappropriately, then you’ve answered your own question: Archer is popular, therefore it is being used inappropriately. It’s almost inevitable.

There are two problems with this line of reasoning, though:

There’s nothing to indicate that inappropriate design would be reduced if Archer weren’t popular. Bad design might be spread out among 20 different typefaces, instead of consolidated into a single face, but bad design springs from designers’ bad choices, not the tools those designers chose to use.

You’re also ignoring all of Archer’s qualities, good and bad: as if the only thing wrong with Papyrus – the only way Archer and Papyrus are similar – is popularity. FF DIN is really popular, too, but it’s not display type, so it’s not as eye-catching. But if the argument is that display type can never get popular without being bad, we’re not exercising judgment about design, only fashion.

– Love your work.


Matt Sauter says:

April 14, 2010 at 10:56 am

Remember that I’m just spit-balling, and these are personal preferences. So please bear with me.

First of all, well said. I’m glad to see someone who appreciates Archer asking these questions in a public forum. It seems as though we’re experiencing an abundance of grossly misused type in general. The advent of typography as a trend has led to a lower “average” in terms of quality. Archer is a wonderful example of this. Beautiful work, but questionable implementation.

I’m not sure that it’s really the next Papyrus, though. Archer is a handsomely crafted slab serif, used in situations that don’t necessarily seem appropriate. Papyrus, while useful on occasion, doesn’t seem as well crafted to begin with. Now, I realize that this could be simply my interpretation. By the time I began my design education, Papyrus had already developed a certain reputation. Undoubtedly this has colored my view of it, perhaps unfairly. But if there’s even the slightest legitimacy to my claim, it’s worth consideration. We need to take into account the craftsmanship of a typeface, not just the implementation of it. A Stradivarius can produce sounds of a legendary quality, even after it’s been rescued from unskilled hands. And while Archer isn’t a Stradivarius, I believe it can perform exceptionally in the correct situation. At the time of this writing, I can’t recall witnessing Papyrus do the same. If anyone else has, I encourage them to share. I always welcome fresh perspective.



Adam Butler says:

April 14, 2010 at 11:04 am

Honestly, compared to the ridiculous overuse of Papyrus and Comic Sans, Archer’s use is still pretty scarce. Sure, some of its applications aren’t exactly appropriate, but hey… at least they’re not using Papyrus or Comic Sans.

Also, I don’t think Archer can ever be the next Papyrus due mostly to the fact that it’s not readily available for use by EVERYONE. However, if Apple starts including Archer in their stock font libraries, then I could see the typeface being used in virtually everything.


Brent Spore says:

April 14, 2010 at 11:08 am

I to love Archer and I completely agree with your point. I really dislike Papyrus. Not just for the overuse and misuse of it but it’s just not a timeless typeface IMHO and has some serious limitations at smaller sizes. Plus the fact that its free makes it even more of a candidate for misuse. Archer has a certain class to it, a timeless potential and it’s not free (yet and I hope never).


Alphonse says:

April 14, 2010 at 11:56 am

I think you’re confusing Papyrus with Trajan, which has plagued movie posters for years. Papyrus is another plague, but not of the poster world.

Archer is hardly overused. In fact its not even the most overused H&FJ typeface that was commissioned for a magazine. Gotham is spreading far more quickly.

Even if it spreads, it will never reach the level of Comic Sans, Papyrus, or Helvetica/Arial. Well, unless it becomes a pre-installed typeface on every computer. Even then, would it really be a problem? The issue with a typeface like Papyrus is that its really obnoxious and blatantly obvious to pretty much everyone. Archer on the other hand is quite beautiful, classic, and can be used for pretty much any type of design.


Merr says:

April 14, 2010 at 12:13 pm

is Archer the next Papyrus?

No it’s not. Move along now please.

Honestly. The same argument could be held against so many popular typefaces, it’s boring. Most of H&FJ (gotham as Alphonse pointed out), museo, some from sudtipos and house ind, yadda yadda yadda. Hey, you could make a post about those as well.

Nah, kidding.


Jesse says:

April 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

This is a hard topic because there is not a very concrete problem. Or maybe there isn’t a problem at all. Like Richard said above popularity isn’t a problem. Neither is overuse, if the situation indicates a particular font is the font for the job. Archer, Papyrus, Helvetica, and a dozen other fonts all do a job and do it well. Well enough to be widely know for it. And that is where we get bothered

It would seem then that the problem is not in the wide use of a font, but in the wide knowledge of the use of a font…

What i mean is that maybe the real problem (and fear) we are having is when design choices and solutions become obvious enough to popular culture that no one need ask a designer anymore. Our professional value goes down, and we have to endure seeing bad design floating around as salt in our wounds.

PS. I would rather see nice fonts, doing the job they were meant to do than see a stream of total garbage fonts from free sites.


matt says:

April 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I am not a fan of archer & I hate seeing it everywhere. If someone was to misuse a face, why not misuse something awesome like black slabbath?


jonny.gotham says:

April 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Honestly, if Archer did takeover and replace Comic Sans or Papyrus, I think we’d all sigh in relief at least a little bit – at least it’s a somewhat practical typeface and extremely tolerable, even in misuse.

As for what I think is actually happening, I’m not quite sure if Archer will be the next typeface that plagues us as type geeks/designers/etc. It’s been said many times already – it simply isn’t built-in or easily grab-able for such widespread misuse. You also have to be somewhat knowledgeable to even know what Archer is, and I don’t think that will change rapidly.

I think at best, Archer will live its life for a while as an “IT” font for designers, ride the trend wave, and then be relegated to life as a reliable standby typeface – much like Gotham will, too, I think. There will always be misuse because some random person will grab it and do whatever, but eventually it will settle in the hands of designers as working for scenarios a, b, and c reliably, and rest at that.

I really like Archer as well, and I am currently using it for a project (I started it a LONG time ago though and I’m just getting back around to it, if that helps pull me out of the trend wave!). It is disconcerting though, to see something good become so popular and misused.

As far as fear goes, I don’t know if we are fearful of the day when no one needs to ask a designer. Maybe, but the idealist in me still thinks that the good work will shine through …somehow. The people that marginalize design were probably going to be hard to change anyway, so that just leaves the masses that don’t and those on the fence that simply might not understand, and then the burden falls on us to show that there is a difference and that it matters.

I, of course, could be completely wrong about all of this… probably the most likely scenario of all! Cheers.


Brendan says:

April 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

We pay big bucks for good typography, so it wounds our pride when everyone else does the same thing, because then we’re not different anymore. If I bought a Mini Cooper for its great craft and cool looks, and everyone else goes out and gets one, I’m not that special anymore.

But, this isn’t a big deal for more generic fonts like Helvetica, Univers, or Gotham because, like the Camry or Accord, they don’t have that instant recognition that Archer and Papyrus have. So, when you buy a font for its style instead of its function, you’ll inevitably be disappointed when more people get on the bandwagon.

And some people really do get ticked off when they see Hummers sporting 30 inch rims and not a bit of dirt on the car, so a righteous anger at the font being used incorrectly is an interesting one to consider. But doesn’t that make you question the purpose of the thing anyways? Who’s to say that Hummers aren’t supposed to be status symbols and not off-roaders? Why is the SF Chronicle wrong for using Archer (not saying I disagree, just saying)?

Just some food for thought.



Neil says:

April 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm

If anything, I think Archer might be the new Avant Garde. Really exciting for everyone when it was first introduced, came to define a whole style and era, eventually looking terribly dated, but ultimately riding the wave of revivals pretty well. I think H&FJ are in the position of Emigre in the 90s or ITC in the 70s. Between Gotham & Archer, their fonts give the current era its look. Archer is embarrassing now, but it’s a better face than Papyrus in so many ways. It has the potential to be rediscovered as a classic in, say, 20-30 years.


james says:

April 14, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Archer is the new Gotham. Gotham is the new Helvetica.

Papyrus is not a good typeface. The over use of Archer does not make it a bad typeface, although I do agree with everything you said here, I am really, really sick of seeing it all over the place. Just I am sick of seeing Gotham everywhere.

The trouble is, everyone know that H&FJ make really beautiful typefaces, and it is an easy solution to a lot of designers who might rely on a solid typeface rather than a solid design.


Marc says:

April 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I think a lot of design studios drop the cash to license the typeface and as such try to use it as much as possible to recoup the cost. HF&J fonts aren’t the cheapest,but they’re also some of the best. I know I use it frequently because it’s one of the fonts Ive purchased and I can’t get enough of the light version.


fr says:

April 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I’ve never used this font but I’m totally going to find a way to shoehorn it into some “inappropriate” situation now just to piss off the purists. Papyrus has never ever looked good by the way.


Rudolph Pokorny says:

April 15, 2010 at 8:19 am

Archer has been around a lot lately. In fact, without even realizing it, it entered one of my ads I was designing under a different name: Berthold City. Now I know these two are not exactly the same, but my point is: I have seen Archer around so much that it burned into my subconscious and I fit a similar font into a design without even realizing it.
Is it the next papyrus? No. Papyrus is dreadful. Papyrus is the font for massage shops and bakeries that are to cheap to hire good design help. Papyrus is the microsoft Publisher users font of choice on their masterworks. Papyrus looks like it took about 10 minutes to shit out on paper, scan in, vectorize sell.
Archer is no Papyrus.


C. Michael Cooper says:

April 15, 2010 at 8:41 am

Until I see a secretary using Archer as her default font in Microsoft Outlook, Archer is not the new Papyrus.

Furthermore, the discussion “X is popular, therefore it’s used inappropriately” will never get us anywhere, because that is the story with everything that becomes popular.


Fonter says:

April 15, 2010 at 8:44 am

Archer and Papyrus have nothing in common.

Papyrus fall into the same category as Comic Sans and other fonts that are “popular and dont look good”.

Posts like this and blogs like archer alert will be the demise of Archer. Untrained designers and potential clients will now want to use Archer through its fashion.

Lets all keep Archer as quiet as possible and let the fad die out on its own.


Marisa says:

April 15, 2010 at 11:09 am

I think Archer is more like Helvetica was in its hayday. Helvetica is a great typeface, very versatile and quickly rose to stardom to the point where it saturated the market. Archer is a nice typeface too and it seems to be going the way of Helvetica. Eventually, it will die down and come back a little less overused.


Kyle says:

April 15, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I don’t even like Archer. And I don’t necessarily buy the argument that it’s a great typeface that’s just being used inappropriately. It feels super girly to me – which makes sense, since it was created for Martha Stewart Living (which I didn’t know before today) – so, yeah: for skin products and cook books it’s probably fine. But when Newsweek uses it to print the news, I feel like they may as well be dotting the “i’s” in ’10 Killed in Car Bomb’ with hearts.


Frank says:

April 16, 2010 at 9:27 am

I think Neil pointed it out best. Archer can be linked better to Avant Garde then papyrus. 2 years ago all you would see were slanted A’s everywhere. I guess Archer is starting to appear in the same fashion. More popular among designers then the masses.


Ben Dunne says:

April 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

This argument is like saying that you are not into a band as much as you used to be because everyone likes them now, including people who don’t listen to them in the way that you feel like they should be listened to. It’s like when I got all bent out of shape in high school because they started playing Depeche Mode on the radio and then the jocks started listening and I believed that DM was only for cool kids with modern hair!

It’s just a font. We take this stuff way too seriously. It really does not matter. People are free to use fonts how they’d like. What constitutes “misuse” anyway? Are there guidelines that come with the fonts? “Congratulations on purchasing Archer. Please use these fonts only for work fitting these specific criteria!”

If you want to have a font that you can control and keep from being “misused” maybe you should make one that is bespoke to your needs and that you do not share with others.

Regardless, I understand where you are coming from Alex. I do. We gotta let it go!


james says:

April 17, 2010 at 4:22 pm

@Ben, the band argument is kind of off… It’s more like when you love a song and then it gets played on the radio all the time and you hear it so many times that you become really sick of it.


Alex N says:

April 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm

How can so many people make taste-less design choices? Should there
be ARCHER ALERT for every bad design phenomenon ?

Design people use typefaces; hobbyists, in-house designers, students,
and pro’s. So it must be this demographic that is the problem or the
solution to these design trends. This is a problem that cannot be blamed
on Archer, or the design community, or even bitTorrent. It is a mentality shared by the myriad of designers that thought to use something over
and over again.


Ew... says:

April 30, 2010 at 9:16 am

This post is mostly bunk due to the vague parallels being drawn.

Archer is a well-designed, and I’d argue, a somewhat ambiguous face.

Papyrus and Comic Sans… not well-designed and easily niched.

My advice would be to shut up or get over it, and perhaps advocate by teaching someone how to “properly” use Archer.