You think you know a typeface: just when I thought I’d seen every possible use of Archer, from software to oatmeal logos, I find myself walking past the bookstore and I realize that it’s made an appearance on E L James’ S&M bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. While not exactly graphic design news, this was weird for me, and I think it’s weird for other designers. Archer is the typeface that we use for the fun projects, the ones that are meant to appeal to everybody. And now that typeface is brooding on a book cover with some kind of come-hither look. What happened?
I had been meaning to call Archer for awhile, just to compliment all the great work that he has been doing. But I now found myself with a lot of questions. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:
Archer: Hi! Just got back from walking the dogs! (muffled sound of a leash being unfastened). There you go, Lubalin. Am I on speaker phone?
Me: What kind of dog do you have?
Archer: Corgi mix—he hates this hot weather, so he just got a summer haircut. So what were you calling about?
Me: Oh, I was calling because I just saw you on a certain book cover. It has the British spelling of “gray” in the title, and something about the numerous variations of said color.
Archer: Oh . . . err, I think I know the book you’re talking about.
Me: I thought you might. So, here is what your foundry, Hoefler & Frere-Jones has said about you. Stop me if you disagree with this description: Sweet but not saccharine, earnest but not grave, Archer is designed to hit just the right notes of forthrightness, credibility, and charm. . .
Archer: (Laughter) I know, right?! Hardly the sultry type.
Me: Well, clearly someone feels differently about you.
Archer: It’s funny, when you start out you just figure, “I can do anything!” and you start doing different kinds of work, and for me, that was very exciting. I started at Martha Stewart Living, you know.
Me: And you’ve done a lot of work since then. Wachovia, Target, Wells Fargo—That’s what AIGA noticed, anyway.
Archer: And you do these assignments and you figure, “Well, I’m the typeface that has earnest but fun kind of look.” You know, kind of like an argyle sweater. But sometimes you want to take the sweater off.
Me: It totally works, though, in terms of style. I mean, I know zero about this book, other than what was on Studio 360—
Archer: Uh-huh. Right.
Me: That’s my story and I’m sticking by it. But what I mean is . . . if I understand this correctly . . . uh, this guy, Christian Grey, is an upstanding, successful fellow who just happens to have a very active private life.
Archer: I don’t think that makes for very exciting ad copy, but go on.
Me: Well, you’re a good stand-in for him. You’re a totally successful young typeface—you work as well for headlines as you do paragraphs. It’s nice to see you in a space where you’re not just all blown-up and kind of mugging to the camera. You’re at a smaller type size, which is something I haven’t seen so much of. I guess “restraint” is not the word I want to use in association with this book . . . but it is a restrained use of type, and I think that’s cool. It’s like you’re a big actor who’s taken a different kind of role.
Archer: Lubalin—off the sofa! The sofa is for humans and typefaces! Sorry, dog again. Hmm. I’m not sure if typefaces really act. We’re more like models.
Me: You get more dialogue than any model I can think of. But yeah, actor-font analogies are pretty ridiculous. But part of what’s interesting about the use of you on this book cover is that like the title, it gives absolutely no clue to the story. I don’t think anybody who hears the title or sees you would associate it with the kind of black leather sexiness—
Archer: (Nervous laughter)
Me: Yeah, I actually can’t finish that sentence. But what I really love about this is that now that one designer has made a very cool decision, now you’re the new standard of, uh, sexiness.
Archer: I’m actually on the cover of another sexy book that was published before 50 Shades of Grey. Smut, by Alan Bennet.
Me: I did not know that. But I think way more people read 50 Shades on the subway.
Archer: Eww! That’s a public space.
Me: And now because of your notoriety, there are people who now know to keep this cover under wraps. And the funny thing is that you’re on that fake book cover as well! Who would have thought that you would be such a typeface about town?
Archer: Well, I have taken to wearing sunglasses most of the time.
Archer: Yes, but mostly because they go with my leather pants.