This weekend’s Saturday Night Live featured a sketch that resonated with design fans around the world. Starring Ryan Gosling as Steven, a man tormented by the use of the Papyrus font on the Avatar logo, the three-minute sketch tears the design choice to shreds in brilliant satire. Now the film has gone viral, Chris Costello, the original designer of the font, has spoken to CBS News in reaction.
“I had no idea it would end up on every computer in the world,” says the graphic designer during the video interview, which you can watch here. “I designed it when I was 23, right out of college. I was studying the bible and looking for God and this font came to mind… thinking about Biblical times, Egypt and the Middle East. I just started scribbling this alphabet… and ended up developing the entire font set.”
In the sketch, Ryan Gosling describes Avatar’s typeface choice as a random selection, “like a thoughtless child just wandering by a garden, yanking leaves along the way”. “He just got away with it,” he continues. “This man, this… professional graphic designer. Is it laziness, was it cruelty?”
The CBS interviewer asks Chris why his design is considered one of the most hated fonts, and he says at the time he believed it was well thought out. “I was thinking very earthy, Middle Eastern, almost hieroglyphics,” he explains. “I sold the rights and it ended up being with the font set on every computer in the world. With that broad range I began to see it everywhere, mortgage ads, construction logos, it got out of control.”
In the film, Gosling is haunted by sightings of the font on “hookah bars, Shakira merch and off-brand teas”. Chris says: “It was not my intent to have it used for everything. It’s way overused.”
He also reveals he sold the font for $750 and “very low” royalty payments. “I had no idea it would take off like this.”
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After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.
Jenny is currently on maternity leave.