Disclosure: I’m not a graphic designer.

I’m re-watching The Love Boat on both a tablet and large screen TV.

In the opening sequence, people have identified that they use a version of Futura Black font. According to the wikipedia page, the Futura Black font family is popular because of its ability to be read quickly from a distance (source).

Back to the Love Boat. On both devices, the tablet and large TV, it takes me a while to figure out the guest stars name. Often I’m still parsing it out when the next name comes up. I wondered why is this happening with a font that’s known for its readability.

I took a screenshot of The Love Boat’s use and compared it to what I found in the Never Use Futura book.

Love Boat font

enter image description here

Futura Black font

enter image description here

Comparing the “S”’s - to me, it appears as if The Love Boat font was vertically squished down, making the sections of the “S” stockier and therefore more difficult to read.

My question is whether or not there are font characteristics that make it more or less resilient to squishing or distortions that would impact the readability and legibility of the font?

  • "Are there font characteristics that make it more resilient to squishing or distortion and still be legible?" obviously the answer to that question is yes given fonts are more and less readable than each other. Is your real question what are those characteristics? I'm not quite sure how the bit about the font used in The Love Boat relates to the core question. Jul 22 '21 at 14:08
  • The S probably looks squished down because there's no overshoot. This is an interesting question and I think it might benefit from being framed differently but I'm not sure this is what you're looking for... Possibly, "Which features must be preserved to be able to recognize a letter?" Or the question could specifically target a style of distortion, eg. if you want to make a 70s psychedelic posters, there are definitely types of characters that will be better suited.
    – curious
    Jul 22 '21 at 15:15
  • Starting with something that is just downright unattractive... makes it very difficult to make it less attractive. :)
    – Scott
    Jul 22 '21 at 18:26
  • Might it be stretched horizontally from 4:3 to 16:9?
    – pbasdf
    Jul 22 '21 at 19:09

Futura has many forms, iterations, and knock-offs. Futura Black is a stencil version and I'd argue it does not promote quick-reading. It should be used as a display font, meaning large and short formats like titles. Quick reading implies it works well for body copy--paragraphs of text. I think the wiki article you linked to is referring to Futura in general for the easy legibility comment. Traditional Futura is a geometric sans that is pretty easy to read, but that's not its main goal either. There are other fonts that prioritize readability.

Fonts/type should not be distorted (for conventional use). By this I refer to someone taking a font and transforming it or squishing it to alter its width or height proportions. Don't do that. If you need a narrower font, use a font with a condensed option, because the type designer meticulously designed each curve and corner of the letterforms for that purpose. Distorting a font "ruins" curves, angles, and weights of a letterform.

See my example below using Gotham as reference. Bold is the standard version of the font for comparison. Then there is the official condensed bold version. Notice how the weight (thinness) of the R stays the same throughout the bowl and legs. Then look how narrow the "distorted" version's legs are compared to the top stroke of the bowl. Notice how the curve of the bowl is affected from the other two. The overlay shows the two on top of each other. Different fonts may look more drastic, a serif font would probably reveal more jank. It may seem subtle, but a whole project with this tomfoolery would add up.

enter image description here

The two images you shared look like different versions of Futura Black. It's pretty common to alter a display font too. Sometimes it's just a letter or fusing two together to make a ligature to make a title or word mark more unique. Or it can be to make it wider or narrower, but that would be more detail-oriented than just squishing it.

TLDR; Curves and stroke weights can get ruined if you casually distort a font and I don't recommend a designer do it 99% of the time. But that's a purist perspective, the opposite of a David Carson-like designer.

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