Tastes change, trends come and go, but one thing, or actually two things always seem to be happening in the typeface development world, in my opinion.
One: We as a society (and creatives in the marketing world), seem to love nostalgia. By this, I mean type forms seem to convey that they come from a human hand. Scripts – imperfect at initial glance, but “virtually” true to a hand-written look and feel. We try to perfect the randomness of the imperfect. The letters differ slightly from line to line, attempting to convince the reader/viewer that such a letterform conveys something warm, trust-worthy, approachable and honest. Maybe even a bit experienced and established, or even well-known and famous. The New York Times recently published an article on this desire to bring more humanity (and history) into the font landscape.
You needn’t look further than your neighborhood hipster coffee shop or bike repair store to find hand made type and script lettering. Aesthetically, it seems to reference back to a time when all signs where made this way, with great craft and care. A true trade that took a lifetime to perfect. A simpler time, before computers, when it was just a hand, a brush, some paint and a surface. Search “hand-lettering” on Pinterest and you will be inundated with pages upon pages of this revitalized movement and approach. Here’s one to get you started. There is a certain familiarity in these hand made forms; it’s also a bit of a facade – a kind of a surface layer veil that only hints at this reference to the past in an attempt to be unique. I can certainly appreciate the talent it takes for someone to do this type work; but in this mass attempt to be “one-of-a-kind” and/or “artisan”, don’t we all look the same without any of the history? There are, of course, well-respected type foundries that have been focused on such hand made approaches for years. One of which has branched out to design textiles, home goods, clothing, and even tiles. If you haven’t heard of House Industries, you should acquaint yourself with them, as they are as much into making uniquely designed products as they are into mastering the skill set required to produce fonts that reference a bygone era.
Two: We as a society (and creatives in the marketing world), also seem to love technology. We are enamored with computers, interfaces, apps, and screens. We like responsive websites and their content to scale and adjust to any and all size screens, while the text information retains a crisp, legible, and clean look. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, DIY typeface designers and foundries such as Emigre, T-26, amongst others, were experimenting with and embracing all things that looked computer generated. They cranked out pixely bitmaps in all their boxy glory by the hundreds. Using such typefaces in print made magazines appear techie and future forward. They seemed to scream – THE FUTURE IS NOW! Some noteworthy typefaces of this era can be viewed here, and here. After awhile, many of these fonts started to look alike – like little robots that where being produced by letter factories. After all, there are only so many different ways to make letters based on a grid, aren’t there? While this digital trend was slowing, there were a few foundries returning to “basics”; text-based fonts. This meant a focus on legibility at difficult and reduced point sizes, as well as restricted use parameters (such as newspapers and narrow columns, and screens). Typeface production software allowed better control and customization of such designs. One foundry particularly well known for using this new type science to solve such challenges is Hoefler & Company. Examples of their type design direction is any number of typefaces they engineered for newsprint use. Their collection includes text faces specifically engineered for newsprint; serifs and sans serifs that perform expertly at small sizes; and fonts well-suited to editorial roles. A real marvel of digital typeface engineering. See them here. Although they look vaguely (to the layman) like Garamond and or Helvetica, they have been engineered to fit in tighter spaces and areas of print better than other fonts, resulting in more efficient layouts – which, in turn, create better reading experiences by ultimately getting the information across easier. Another example of the “re-engineering” of typefaces for ease-of-use in our present and future technological needs would be the case of Apple abandoning Helvetica and creating its own sans serif font named “San Francisco”. Click here for the complete story on this.
So, as we move forward in life, our careers, advertising, marketing, technology, etc., keep an eye on the smallest components that make up the most important part of your messaging: the words. Words, of course, say something, but so does the typography that makes them up. I think of it on a micro level, as a marketing communications palm read. What’s in our future? Just look to the past for the answers.
– Sean Fermoyle