Monday, January 16, 2012

Type Observed: Hobo

I see the typeface “Hobo” in a lot of different places — labels, signs, posters, logos – the list goes on. I once thought that this was one of the ugliest type designs out there, but I now realize that it’s not the design itself, or even the terrible name — it’s mostly because of how it’s used and misused. Of all the type crimes out there (thank you Ellen Lupton:, you’ll often find Hobo as a nearby accomplice. And I’ve certainly made my jokes about this “awful” typeface over the years, but once I studied the origin and the history of this design, I’ve become much less critical.
Stylistically, Hobo looks like something crafted from 1970′s, but was actually designed in 1910 towards the end of the Art Noveau Movement. It was designed by Morris Fuller Benton, one of America’s most prolific typeface designers. After closer examination, the letters are actually well-proportioned (when typeset properly) — every part of each letter is curved, which gives it a decorative effect, but with a modern twist. It’s lowercase letters are unique — descenders that do not drop below the baseline. Yeah, it’s weird — but it’s designed to be a display type. Fairly progressive for 1910, considering that most typography from that period was very decorative and ornate.

So I’m no longer a Hobo-hater. I just hate seeing it being misused.

Note: If you’ve seen examples of Hobo type out there (good or bad), please send  some pics my way – I’m starting a collection of images and would love to include yours! Thanks.