On the Typography of "Mad Men"

Image credit: 

Mad Men is a fantastic drama currently running its second season on AMC. It has racked up a bunch of awards, and rightfully so -- all aspects of the production are excellent, and the show also appeals to a broad cross-section of ages (all the way from grownups to old people...sorry kids). The show is set in the very first years of the 1960s, and the production is carefully designed to use period-appropriate sets, clothes, cars, everything. The attention to detail is stunning, and is often cited as a mark of the show's quality. So imagine the fans' shock when a typeface expert (er, font nerd) noticed that the closing credits were using the Arial typeface which wasn't invented until 1982 -- over twenty years after the show's period. This particular issue infuriates the fontinista because Arial is considered a "tawdry, inferior knock-off of Helvetica," which would have been the period-appropriate choice for Mad Men. (Read more on why Arial is a shameless imposter.) The Font Nerd World was abuzz over this discrepancy. But now things have gotten worse.

Designer Mark Simonson has reviewed the series for anachronistic type usage, and has found some problems (as well as much to praise). For example:

Mad Men opening shotThe show starts out with stylish opening titles featuring glimpses of real ads from the period -- and a clinker: What's Lucida Handwriting (1992) doing here? I usually consider the titles to be outside the world of the story, but considering all the period cues in these titles, this typeface, which was designed specifically for computer screens, is out of place. ...

Then there are the ad layouts, supposedly produced by the art department at Sterling Cooper. ... These lipstick ads feature Fenice (1980) with Balmoral (1978) for the script caps. Amazone (1958) for the script lowercase is fine here, but the outline looks too much like a modern computer graphics effect (which is what it is).

Read the rest for a nice discussion of what's right and wrong with regard to type (and some props) used in the series. Frankly, I think most people don't really care (I certainly don't) about these minor missteps -- but isn't it fun to see people who really, really know their stuff dissecting such things? If you haven't seen the series, the first season is currently out on DVD, and the second is airing (in the US) Sunday nights on AMC.

More from mental_floss...

October 8, 2008 - 9:15am
submit to reddit