By your font shall you be judged (I'm Pistilli Roman)

Choosing a poor font is the modern substitute for cringe-worthy handwriting

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I was flicking through a magazine last week when I came across an intriguing advert. It was for Swissair and the tagline was “Think of us as a nice Helvetica in a world of Comic Sans”. It's the first time I've seen an airline likening itself to a font, but it's far from the first time that I've seen certain fonts being given a good kicking or being put on a pedestal.

Helvetica is the cool kid, loved by many, designed in Switzerland in 1957 and still going strong. Comic Sans is a bit of a joke. Created in the mid-1990s by a typographer working at Microsoft, its friendly, rounded letters have made it the font of choice for school newsletters and coffee-morning flyers – but also the target of an online hate campaign, bancomicsans.com.

As a journalist, I probably think about fonts more than the average person ("Is that caption meant to be in Tiempos?" "I can't believe someone sent me an email in multi-coloured Comic Sans – must be a psycho") – though not as much as the designers I work with, nor the vast on- and offline community of font fans and fanatics who create new typefaces and argue about old ones.

But making snap judgements about what type your type is isn't the preserve of professionals – I went into a shop recently and saw mugs with different font styles on the front, just the thing for the Arial or the Times New Roman in your life. Although imagine the font faux pas if you bought a Calibri cup for a Verdana man.

If you want to know the font that best suits your personality, there are a number of online quizzes that can tell you – the slickest of which can be found at pentagram.com/what-type-are-you/, where, via four questions, it will give you a surprisingly in-depth answer. (I'm Pistilli Roman, it transpires).

I've been thinking about fonts a lot since spotting that ad, not least because just afterwards I read Philip Hensher's excellent new book, The Missing Ink in which he laments the lost art of handwriting.

Once, children were all taught a certain hand – or font, if you will – to write in. Now it's a free-style free for all. He writes of his loathing for certain sorts of handwriting (particularly a schoolgirlish hand which features dots above each "i").

The irony is that while we increasingly type, rather than handwrite, our documents, we're still judged on how we write (Comic Sans, the font version of the dot above the "i", anyone?) as well as what we write.

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