Saturday Night Live’s hilarious roast of the guy behind the Papyrus typeface

Papyrus is distinctive as typefaces go, and as a result, highly recognizable. For typeface designers, that seems like the ultimate accomplishment. Unless, as in the case of Papyrus and Comic Sans before it, the typeface becomes so prevalent that it loses its luster.

I will go one step farther, and state for the record, that I believe Helvetica has suffered the same fate. It is a great font, but it is too common. 

The season opener for Saturday Night Live this past weekend included a skit that made me laugh so hard I was nearly in tears. Here is the skit from SNL:

CBS News interviewed the creator of the Papyrus typeface, Chris Costello, who reportedly sold the font to Microsoft for just $750. His reaction to the SNL skit:

“I designed the font when I was 23 years old. I was right out of college. I was kind of just struggling with some different life issues, I was studying the Bible, looking for God and this font came to mind, this idea of, thinking about the biblical times and Egypt and the Middle East. I just started scribbling this alphabet while I was at work and it kind of looked pretty cool,” Costello said.

He added, “I had no idea it would be on every computer in the world and used for probably every conceivable design idea. This is a big surprise to me as well.”

[…]

“So that’s when I began to see it turn up everywhere: mortgage ads, construction logos. It was kind of out of control. It was not my intent to be used for everything — it’s way overused.”

Here on the West Coast, Papyrus became the default font for many residential developments’ signage starting in the early 2000s. Now it has simply become a cliche. The result: every one of those developments appears outdated based on the signage alone.

What’s the Point?

Avoid peer pressure. Just because everyone else is using a particular device to define their brand (certain shapes, color palettes, fonts, etc.), doesn’t mean you should.

Branding, like beauty and quality, are in the eyes of the beholder, in that it is defined entirely based on its perception by others.


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Image courtesy font-designer Ben Harman, who created a hilarious mashup of both Comic Sans, and Papyrus. Originally called Comic Papyrus, a cease and desist resulted in a name change to Comic “Parchment”.