Trends in typography.


What do Topshop, Louis CK, Ziggy Stardust and The Doors have in common? They’re all ambassadors of Cooper Black, one of the world’s most recognisable, and enduring, fonts. The iconic typeface was designed by a guy called Oswald “Oz” Cooper back in 1922. Today, you can spot the curvy serifs and thick lettering on everything from t-shirts, to billboards, to opening credits. But while some fonts stand the test of time, many typefaces enjoy only a short period of popularity. That’s because typography is as fickle as fashion – and follows trends in much the same way.

Introducing Mr Gutenberg.

If you were paying attention in third form history, you’ll know that modern typography started with the invention of the Printing Press in the 15th Century. Right from the get-go, people started experimenting with practical and pretty typefaces, serif and sans serif designs and even little pictures to go along with the words. Gradually, as print became a way to talk to the masses, typefaces became bigger, bolder, and more attention-grabbing.

Since then, we’ve lived through the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, two world wars, a cold one, and now the digital revolution. And as you’d expect, the context and culture of each of these has had a profound influence over the font du jour.

The influencers of type.

Many have contributed to the text book over the years, but these are some of the pioneers who shaped modern typography:

Claude Garamond was the man behind Garamond (1540), the first font to own the characteristically ‘blocky’ look of modern text. Before Claude, all typography was modelled on handwriting.

Next came John Baskerville, the businessman and designer of Baskerville (1750s), a font with super sharp serifs and both thick and thin strokes.

Then William Caslon IV (1816) came onto the scene, creating the very first – and very unpopular – sans serif typeface. With a name like “2 Line English Egyptian”, it’s no wonder it didn’t catch on.

Fast-forward to the 20th century and we have Max Miedinger to thank for Helvetica (1957), a modern and simple typeface that is arguably the most famous on the planet.

What about the type of today?

Today, trends in type are less like single-lane highways and more like spaghetti junction. We’re talking serif and sans serif, but also slab serif, organic script, web-safe fonts, hand-drawn fonts, custom fonts, icon fonts, mixed type, responsive type, and the list goes on… It seems slightly overwhelming, but really, typography has always been changing. The only difference is that in today’s world, the change is super-charged.

Rules? What rules?

Our old friend, the Internet, has had a massive part to play in that. Now that the digital age offers the art of online typography, the scope for experimentation has never been wider and the rules are much easier to break. For example, not too long ago the ‘handwritten’ look was sneered at; it was seen as passé, childish and busy. Now, hand-drawn fonts are being celebrated. Just think Pinterest and warm, fluffy quotes about finding yourself.

Another no-no that’s done a 180° in the past decade is mixing typefaces. Experts in brand and design would once shy away from using too many fonts in one piece, but now it’s par for the course. That doesn’t mean using every font under the sun – balance in everything – but a carefully chosen collection of fonts that play well together can create a striking visual effect.

Don’t like it? Do it yourself.

Another trend that has emerged in recent years is the custom font. Gone are the days when Times New Roman was your only option. Now, tools like Adobe Illustrator have put the license to create in the hands of everyday people. And if that still feels too hard, just pop online and take your pick from dafonts or google fonts, huge banks of typefaces that are not only accessible, but also affordable.

More and more, people are realising just how powerful typefaces can be. The right one can send a message, create an emotional connection, and help you stand out from the crowd. Just take a look at Hilary Clinton. It may not have helped her win, but one of the first things Ms. Clinton did in her election campaign was to create her own custom typeface – sharp sans with upward curvatures to create a feeling of hope and happiness.

With the world of typography evolving and expanding faster than ever, you can choose to follow the trends or buck them – just like high street fashion – but you probably want to keep an eye on them. Just like the right images make your designs stand out and the right words make your message sing, the right typeface will grab people’s attention. And help you keep it.


Sarah Stevens