Category Archives: Typographic Trends

Type Trends Wrap

FF Flightcase

First, some light housekeeping: This is the final scheduled post in the Type Trends series. I’m sad to see it go, but glad for what’s taking its spot. Type Trends won’t go away forever; It’s liable to show up here and there, especially by popular demand. The major trends I feel are covered for now. (The pieces at the bottom of my list that didn’t materialize into posts included type designed and marketed with a very specific use in mind, and type that plays with extreme contrast.) If you were holding out with a better idea I’d love to hear it.

The new series is called Using Type, and it’s a return to the basics. How to use grids and figures and hyphenation and titles and so forth will be the topic at hand, and what I hope to accomplish with it is the creation of a space where all of us can learn something, and contribute something. The new content is presently in production and will drop here Thursdays. Here’s a taste.
Stencil faces

Whether for their forthrightness, ephemeral nature, or some connotation held of speed or strength, stencil faces have plenty to offer the creative typographer. When using stencil faces, select something with an adequate bridge, or gap between positive strokes. The leap of the eye to connect the unjoined parts, and the implied rules of the structure of the stencil is what makes the face fun to look at. Try incorporating a physical process, as that’s what stencils are for. Line bridges up with a the document grid. Experiment with graphic elements of a similar width as one of bridges or islands.

Type Trends: Stencil

Stencils aren’t new. They’ve been around nearly as long as crates and people with not quite enough time to mark them. But what I’m seeing happen with stencils, to my delight, is that the genre is coming into its own. Marking the progress is the rise of stencil faces released as collections, and the development of stencil families independent of any non-stencil counterparts.

Stephan Müller's FF Backstage

The above example, part of the FF Backstage collection demonstrates stencils at work in their native habitat. Stephan Müller’s FF Container, and Cornel Windlin’s FF Water Tower.

Fred Smeijers's PunchoFred Smeijers’s Puncho, part of the Orly Stencil, Puncho, Standing Type pack. I love to see the robust bridges taking a more definitive role in breaking the letterforms and causing the eye to connect what’s left undone.

Great Pairs

Fakt & Typonine Stencil

Encountering Nikola Djurek’s Typonine Stencil was for me, and many others I can only assume, an awakening at what stencil type was capable of conveying; shown here with Thomas Thiemich’s Fakt as part of the Great Pairs series. Its fine details seem antithetical to the normal purposes of the stencil genre. Also note how substantial the bridges are that hold the islands in place.

Pedro Leal's User Stencil

Also a monospace, Pedro Leal’s User Stencil comes in both positive, and reversed Cameo weights.

Paul Barnes's Dala Floda

Paul Barnes's Dala Floda

To finish out, here are a couple we don’t carry; Paul Barnes’s Dala Floda, above, and Nikola Djurek’s Plan Grotesque Stencil below.

Nikola Djurek's Plan Grotesque Stencil

Nikola Djurek's Plan Grotesque Stencil

That’s it for this week; just something to whet the appetite for more stencils in use, here on Thursday.

Favorite Type Trends

The Type Trends series has had a good long run, and it’s not finished yet. Picking a few of my favorites, here are the best so far:

Typographic Trends: Physical Type

Signage letters in ARS Maquette

Type Trends: Hipster Design

Dahl-Beck Electric Co. signage

Type Trends: Hand-lettered


Type Trends: Erbar ‘a’

Telefon, from Monokrom Type Foundry

Type Trends: Polychromatic Type

Grandes Vacancies

Yep. Just a list. Enjoy. An all new Type Trends will be here Thursday.

Type Trends: Polychromatic Wrapup

FF Primary

Another recent release that fits in the polychromatic category is the Bold Monday’s Macula, designed by Jacques Le Bailly. Macula will be available here at FontShop before year end. And now for type trends. Today’s post was already published Tuesday night to coincide with the Wednesday morning newsletter drop. Read it here, and keep putting good recommendations for polychromatic types in the comments.

Polychromatic Type: Dressing in Layers

Polychromatic Type: Dressing in Layers

The how-to portion of Thursday’s Type Trends comes a little early this week to accommodate its mention in the FontShop newsletter. By the way, if you’ve arrived here by following the links from the newsletter, great. Let’s get busy layering polychromatic type. Just to reiterate, the kind of type I’m referring to is any set of fonts that’s designed to stack one font on top of the next so that it can be set in multiple colors.

FF Primary's layers

Above is an illustration of FF Primary’s layers coming together. Shown in exploded view are FF Primary Stone Top, Right, Left, and Bottom in red (listed in descending value). The blue shadow below the integrated example is FF Primary Stone All. The offset of the shadow is my own placement. Chances are, if you’re a designer you can at very least figure out how it’s done on your own. but I’d like to give just a little more insight into the process. This will be brief, since I’m presupposing a basic understanding of working with layers in a composition program such as InDesign, and some color theory.

First, do it all wrong.

This is how everybody does it starting out. Paste-in-place text frames on top of each other in the same layer, setting the font and color with each step. Voilà. Not bad perhaps, but likely not very good.

Use layers.

Instead of piling up the text frames in a single layer, paste them into different layers. This allows you to select a given layer more easily, and reorder layers as needed.

Color palette

Assign new color swatches to each layer.

When ‘pasting-in-place’ the next text frame to the next layer, set the font, and then hit the New Swatch button in the Swatch Palette. This allows you to control the color of that layer’s type, even when it’s locked / not selected. (Control it by selecting and changing the swatch you create for each layer.)

Search and replace to change the phrase set in polychromatic type.

Since there are five copies of the same text all set in different fonts, should you need to change what it says, one easy way is to use Search and Replace to change all five instances at once. Be careful though that you don’t accidentally change something somewhere else.

Use a text variable to change all layers at once.

Smarter yet, use a text variable.

Since InDesign CS3 I believe, the ‘Type > Text Variables…’ functionality has allowed designers to arbitrarily assign a variable capable of holding a given string of text. So if you know you’ll be changing your mind a bit, define a variable and insert it into each of the layers. If pasting it in, remember to paste without formatting (Shift+Command+V or Shift+Control+V) otherwise your font and color for all the layers will all be the same, and you’ll ask yourself “what happened?”

color detail

Play with color a while.

Don’t limit yourself to only tints and shades. In the example above you’ll see that not only do I shift value, but I also play with warm and cool across the different three-dimensional surfaces of the type. I also base the shadow layer’s color on the background, but warm it slightly, rather than just multiplying a black tint overtop it. Lastly, if taking a job like this to print, do yourself a favor and expect failure at the first press check. Getting color right is tough. Getting color right when the whole concept is based on the subtle interplay of near-matching colors is quite tough. Be realistic with your printer and design to process.

Considerations for web/screen

Tim Brown at Typekit has some good examples of HWT American Chromatic Web in action, using the layered fonts with semantically smart markup and CSS. Until now I’ve left designing for the web out of this discussion, since while the technology differs, the basic principles apply across all media. Keep trying until it’s right.

Type Trends: Polychromatic Type

The popularity of multi-colored, or polychromatic type is on the rise. Not a sharp upturn necessarily, but I’m seeing it more and more. The concept I’m referring to is the bundling of a set of fonts with identical metrics, designed to layer on top of one another, so that a single character or letterform can be set in more than a single color. And since I love these, I’ve prepared an accompanying how-to portion called Polychromatic Type: Dress in layers, with all the “mechanical” details. For now though, I just wanted to point out a few features and general considerations, leaving most of the education to one’s own eyes.

Jump to part 2 – Polychromatic type: Dress in layers

FF Primary

Martin Wenzel’s FF Primary, 1995. Four fonts stack on top of one another here, each covering a top, right, bottom, or left side only. Playing with FF Primary tests one’s ability to understand and manage color relationships, which is 95% of getting these to work. The other 5% is knowing when to stop.


Michael Doret’s PowerStation, 2006.

Dusty CircusNathan Williams’s  Dusty Circus, 2011.


Anne-Katrin Koch’s PTL Mia, 2010.

Hopeless Diamond

Jonathan Barnbrook, Marcus Leis Allion’s Hopeless Diamond, 2009. Especially in faces that imitate a 3-dimensional quality, it’s important to use a background color with a low enough value that it allows sufficient range for differentiating between highlight and shadow.

FF Primary

FF Primary again. While it may appear that gradient fills are at work above, what you’re seeing (or rather not seeing) is the harnessing of an optical phenomenon called simultaneous contrast. The eye sees that the blue shadow above grows darker as it’s cast farther from the red letters.

Grandes Vacances

Ryoichi Tsunekawa’s Grandes Vacances, 2007. Note how naturally topheavy the design is when both parts are presented in the same color. This is counteracted above by setting the bottom portion in a much lighter value, causing it to appear more or less of equal weight.


Andreas Seidel, Carl A. Fahrenwaldt’s Ademo, 2011.

HWT American

Richard Kegler, Terry Wudenbachs’s HWT American Chromatic, 2012, presented out of register.

There are quite a few of these popping up that we don’t carry as well, notably, Juri Zaech’s Frontage, 2012, and Alex Sheldon’s Detroit, 2011. What other good ones have you noticed?

(Update: I found Dave Foster’s tweet a bit alarming—“No mention of Photolettering?” Though I’m sure this came with the truest intentions, and certainly no umbrage was taken by me, I felt the arm of the question mark reach out and give the back of my head a smack. How could I have left out Photolettering? While not marketed and sold as fonts per se, (well, some are, elsewhere) House Industries’s Photo-Lettering Inc. website, up since April 2011, has an impressive selection of polychromatic alphabets, and a great, easy to use interface. And not all of the faces are from the original Photo-Lettering Inc. catalog. See Erik van Blokland’s Federal, Jeremy Mickel’s Sobriquet. After setting the word or phrase, final output is PDF. Also, two good examples so far in the comments. Keep them coming.)

Follow to the continuation how-to below:

Polychromatic type: Dress in layers

Type Trends: The Monospaced Aesthetic

When we left off last time I was right in the middle of monospace as a tacked-on nice-to-have variant for well developed superfamilies. Something changed though around the turn of the last century as designers in growing numbers seemed to turn back and look at the loose monospace aesthetic, appreciating it for what it was on its own. In contrast to what I call ‘documentary’ types—single face revivals mainly, entire families were begun to exist solely in monospace, or with monospace as a starting point. It’s this last point that I’m keen on identifying. What faces have you seen that aren’t monospaced, but come from the same, loosely spaced tradition?

FF Magda Clean Mono

Critzla, Cornel Windlin, & Henning Krause’s FF Magda Clean / Mono, 1998.


In 2002, Process Type’s first release was a monospace, Kettler, named after Howard Kettler, the designer of Courier and several other typewriter type designs.

MVB Fantabular

Akemi Aoki’s MVB Fantabular, 2002. Nitti Pieter van Rosmalen’s Nitti, 2007, now with italic, as of a couple weeks ago. Nitti feels to me to have taken its lessons from Helvetica Monospaced and similar Monospaced 821. It’s one of the most even-colored monospaced faces, even in its heavier weights.

Alix FBMatthew Butterick’s Alix FB, 2011. FF Suhmo  Alex Rütten’s FF Suhmo, 2010. Not monospaced, but still exhibiting some of its effects.


Benjamin Gomez’s Treza, 2010.


Miles Newlyn’s Rubrik, 2011. Miles cites the monospace aesthetic of the typewriter when starting on Rubrik.

Type Trends: Monospace

If you’ll allow me to get a little meta for a moment; There’s been a popular call for this series to go into a bit more depth, so I’m splitting the next few editions or so into two parts—just to see how it goes. Each half will concentrate on the theory, and then practice of a given topic. I’m realizing that such a move may spell the end of type trends as a regular gig, but I’m okay with that. It’s better that a series be pointed and great and come to a controlled stop, rather than uninspiredly droning on, or publicly running out of gas. Anyway, I thought I’d warn you. I could cover phenomena I call ‘trends’ forever, but at some point the content would start to feel a bit forced. Little chance of that happening though, I’ve got at least four more good ideas and I know how to stop when it’s time.

Now on to monospaced fonts. The keyboard you sit up to at work has a layout taken directly from the typewriter, whose letters, out of practical necessity were hammered into the page at a fixed interval. Each character therefore was designed to function within the same space as any other character. Under these constraints, M and W appeared too narrow; I took up too much space, etc.. Type foundries were soon to jump on board, offering typefaces that could be hand set to mimic typewriter output. (I happen to have a small type case of this at home.)

The above images are from ATF’s 1912 catalog, perusable online at I can imagine these types were useful for setting keyboarding textbooks, or, as the above pitch explains, for personalized impersonal correspondence. FontShop has a pile of typewriter faces to choose from, Frederic Goudy’s Remington Typewriter being a favorite.

Just a quick note—though complete monospaced typefaces didn’t come about until after the invention of the typewriter, the concept of monospaced type or lettering did exist. For example, tabular figures were fit to a common width. Such was also the case with many interchangeable numbering and labeling systems. I was surprised to learn in my research that the Greeks sometimes composed their inscriptions in a gridded fashion not unlike monospaced type.

Obviously character-based languages often exhibit fixed spacing. (All Korean fonts are monospaced.)

Moving ahead to early computers, engineers—this time to conserve precious memory and computing power—kept similar constraints, resulting in all the first typefaces for screen, and computer line printers being monospaced. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced proportionally-spaced bitmap fonts, on screen and in print, though it kept Monaco around for tasks where monospaced fonts were best suited. Since that time, it seems like monospaced fonts have either been created primarily for use on screen, or for reproducing type used for the same purpose, in print. The exceptions are expansions of popular type families, (Univers Typewriter, Helvetica Monospaced, etc.), faces drawn to demonstrate some novel concept, (FF Trixie) or what I call documentary types, one-off faithful revivals of individual out-of-production faces.

Univers Typewriter

Helvetica Monospaced

Erik van Blokland’s FF Trixie

After some time, new typefaces began to expand their families to include monospaced variants, like Luc de Groot’s TheSans Mono, above. It’s at this point where things begin to change for monospaced type. Pick it up here next week.

Type Trends: Superelliptical Type

Happy Thanksgiving. Of all the holidays we celebrate in America, I’ve got to hand it to Thanksgiving for staying true to itself. Try as they might, the stores haven’t managed to over-commercialize it. It’s a feast day that spans nearly every ethnicity and religion, where we can take time from our regular schedules, sit up to our tables with our families, eat from our best plates and drink from our best cups, and be thankful.

Not to pull you away from spending time with your family, but I just had a few thoughts this morning I needed to write down. Last week’s look into faces exhibiting the Erbar a sent me on a quick tangent through the work of Aldo Novarese and Alessandro Butti. And while it’s true that Microgramma and Eurostile make use of a similar construction for the lowercase a, I had been saving these for their own spot in the type trends series, under what I call superelliptical type. Unlike slightly squared designs, for example Heldustry, or those exhibiting rectangles with rounded corners, types that make use of the superellipse exhibit outward-bowing curves on all sides of their bowls and otherwise round forms. Superellipses entered the world of type in the early 1950s with the release of Microgramma by the Nebiolo Type Foundry in 1952, and Eurostile, its revised sibling in 1962. Other notable employments of the shape can be seen in Hermann Zapf’s Melior, 1952 (see o), in early sketches of Adrian Frutiger’s Univers, 1957, and Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive, 1962. Use of the shape, with its geometric precision and yet softened tight curves, lent a sense of otherness to faces like Microgramma, tied to scientific and technological advancement. I seem to recall some promotional material where Eurostile is touted as the ‘typeface of the future’ and that its forms, though odd, were ubiquitous given the common shape of television screens. (Thanks Jeff Kellem for this reference: Eurostile, A Synthetic Expression of Our Times.) And that holds true, so long as we continue to look daily to our cathode-ray-tube-based tv sets—though we likely haven’t done that for a dozen years or more. It’s perhaps due to the withdrawl of this form from daily life that we’ve seen a trending return to in type design. One place Eurostile’s presence doesn’t seem to have dipped through the years is automobile dashboards.

Aldo Novarese & Alessandro Butti’s Microgramma, 1952.

Aldo Novarese’s Eurostile, 1962.

Hermann Zapf’s Melior, 1952.

Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive, 1962.

Silas Dilworth’s Breuer Text, 2007.

Cyrus Highsmith’s Ibis, 2008, a synthesis of the work of Walbaum and the above Melior.

Jean-François Porchez’s Allumi, 2009.

Also a few we don’t carry from H&FJ: Vitesse (pictured above), Forza, and Idlewild.

Kevin Thrasher’s EXT Unicase, 2012. Talking with Kevin recently he told me that this didn’t come from studying any of the above types, but just from looking around visual culture generally. Maybe there’s something to this. Where else have you seen superelliptical typefaces?

(Update: These are apparently more common than I thought, though I still think I’m seeing an uptick in their popularity. Thanks Richard Taylor for mentioning the following: David Farey’s Cachet, 1997; Ole Schäfer’s FF Fago, 2000; Chester Jenkins’s Apex, 2003; Cyrus Highsmith’s Antenna, 2003; David Quay’s Foundry Monoline, 2003; Joshua Darden’s Freight Micro, 2005; Seb Lester’s Neo Sans, 2005, and Soho Gothic, 2008. Also thanks Nick Sherman for saying the word I was afraid to say: Squircle.)

Type Trends: Erbar ‘a’

This series is where I point out prominent trends and undercurrents in type and the lettering arts, typography, and graphic design. Up until now I’ve more or less stuck to my own narrative that design is taking a more relatable, personable approach to creating relationships between design clients and their customers. Turning the page now to cover trends I see in type design, I’ll focus more on pointing out the trends, and perhaps do my worst to come up with some sort of cogent explanation or rationale for why designers make the decisions they do, but I would invite the reader to exercise skepticism over any conclusions I put forward. This isn’t design history canon, just me calling it like I see it.

The a above I’m calling the Erbar a. Though it predates Jakob Erbar, he seems to show the most commitment to it. Rudolf Koch’s Kabel includes it. Paul Renner’s early drawings of Futura have it too, as an alternate. I’m referring to the geometric double-story a with a near-round or elliptical bowl. The above illustrates left to right a progression toward a rationalized geometric sans, each keeping its own elliptical bowl. And while this could perhaps fit into a meatier edition of Type Trends called “Faces with Jarring Character Constructions,” I’m happy to merely raise the point that these ‘Erbar as are something I’m seeing more and more of lately.

Just a little history: Jacob Erbar’s 1927 self-titled work, published by Ludwig and Mayer constitutes what we consider today the first geometric sans typeface. There’s evidence to suggest that at the time, the construction of his a wasn’t so out of the ordinary given its prevalence in signage, etc., but now I think it’s safe to say it’s uncommon.

Latching on to the newness of the uncommon are a number of type designers, many of whom distribute their faces exclusively or don’t offer them as retail products, who incorporate this character construction as a way of setting their faces apart, or merely because they find it fits.

Verena Gerlach & Ole Schäfer’s FF City Street series, 2000, is a faithful digitization of street signage alphabets from 1930s Berlin. As Jack Mohr notes in the comments below, ‘West Berlin’ would not have the same meaning to Berliners then as it has now, therefore the fonts are named after the place their source material survived, West Berlin.

Aldo Novarese’s Recta, 1958. (2011 revival by Patrick Griffin)

Mark Simonson’s Proxima Sans, 1994, & Proxima Nova, 2005.

Berton Hasebe’s Platform, 2010.

Kris Sowersby’s Metric & Calibre, 2012.

Sindre Bremnes’s Telefon, unreleased, Monokrom Type Foundry. Photo by Frode Bo Helland, 2012. Telefon began from the lettering of architect Georg Fredrik Fasting. (Update: FontShop now carries Monokrom’s library, including the above Telefon.)

Eric Olson’s Colfax, 2012, Bryant, 2005.

Seeing them all I find the Erbar a construction to be a nice quirk, that when used in conjunction with a strict adherence to geometric ideals adds character and maybe even a bit of age to one’s face. Not age that tires, but that takes you back—like encountering the familiar face of an old friend. Let me know in the comments where else you’re seeing this. I’m interested.

(Update: A few I missed/Thanks for your comments: Jason Castle’s Sonrisa, 2011, is a contrasty (with the exception of its thinnest weight) condensed display face based on Erbar’s Koloss. Rudolf Koch’s Kabel, 1928—How on earth did I just skip over this? Allesandro Butti’s Semplicità, 1930, (2011 revivial by Patrick Griffin) features several spurless characters, including the a in question. Tomas Brousil’s NudistaKulturista, 2009 & Purista, 2007, each a stylistic/structural variation on a theme that employs the Erbar a. Lastly, Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s Verlag, 2006, just barely makes it onto this list given the counter shape of the bowl. Also, thanks Nick Sherman for pointing out that a more objective way of identifying the letter construction is by looking at the angle of the top join of the bowl. It’s for this reason mainly, and because they’re not geometric sanses, that I didn’t include faces like H&FJ’s Gotham, MVB’s Sweet Sans, or Hendrik Weber’s Edward. Also thanks Joe Clark for pointing out our publishing platform’s knack for turning quotes upside down.)

Type Trends: Taking from Uncommon Sources

In addition to graphic designers putting their typographic compositions through specialty processes, type designers are in growing numbers pulling from sources generally considered outside the norm of graphic design. Prior to digital design, engraving alphabets long existed in parallel to printing types, one occasionally borrowing from another but mostly each keeping to itself. Engraving is marked by its high contrast, solid fine lines, and often slightly raised surface. Below is an engraved flier for Nancy Sharon Collins’s The Complete Engraver, set in engraving-inspired faces by Terrance Weinzierl.

It was in designing his attorney’s letterhead that Mark van Bronkhorst noticed how few fonts existed that were based on engravers’ alphabets, the Sackers collection being one exception. What’s more, none had been developed into type families with an extensive range of weights. Sourcing original engraver masterplates, he did the work of adapting these styles to the constraints of digital type.

The Sweet Collection by Mark van Bronkhorst, is drawn from 20th Century engraving alphabets. Above: Sweet Gothic, Sweet Sans, Sweet Titling No. 22, Sweet Square.

Another rising trend comes from the range of routed letters used in signs and labels, like in the sign above I recently spotted outside the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba. Routed lettering is done with a fixed bit, often reducing letters to a single path with a monolinear stroke.

While some older examples of routed lettering translated to type exist, more or less as documentary types (I’m thinking of DIN 17 and Normalise DIN), some new examples of families that pull from this aesthetic include NeubauLaden’s NB Grotesk-R.

Ariel Di Lisio’s Uma, from Sudtipos

And one we don’t carry but love all the same, Jeremy Mickel’s Router.

That’s it for this post, but I’m curious; What new type from uncommon sources are you seeing?

Type Trends: Specialty Processes

When appropriate to the piece or series, introducing specialty processes into a job is one way to differentiate one’s work, and remind the audience that they’re worth the trouble. When I say specialty processes I refer to lesser-used production methods in print, such as media that makes use of die cutting, foil stamping, thermography, engraving, specialized inks, stochastic rasterization, embossing, debossing, spot finishes, as well as the use of any number of uncommon substrates, such as hand-made paper, plastic, wood, foil, parchment, leather, etc. or superstrates, such as lenticular media. Below, Manchester-based Creative Lynx uses a few of these to create the identity for a local restaurant, Australasia.

The menu is heavily debossed with a generously letterspaced Bulmer and Monospace 821, or Helvetica Monospace. The texture is further enriched with adhesive labels reminiscent of a luggage tag (Update: It’s UNDA.) and custom hand stamps, the kind used to cancel postage, with type not unlike FF Confidential. Notice how the various colors of carton and craft paper are allowed to each contribute to the color palette, rather than specifying a single standard media.

Likewise, Underware’s promotional Read naked, promotes Sauna making use of heat-sensitive ink. One must participate in order to enjoy the only barely visible text above. Sample photo taken at roughly 23° C. More info is in Font Magazine 004. And that’s it. I see a rising trend toward more specialty processes as a means of creating a more inviting, personable experience for one’s audience. Enough from me. What have you seen like this? Would you agree that it’s a growing trend?

Type Trends: Hand-lettered

The increasing call for letters to do what type can’t has resulted in newly forming presence of custom lettering in graphic design. This comes in answer with the design undercurrent I’ve noted here in our series toward a more substantive, personable, and relatable tone across the medium. Having started my career in type doing lettering projects for design studios, I see the industry’s renewed emphasis as most welcome. Find below a few examples of hand lettering at work.

Above, my own lettering explores a few styles generally: inscriptional, blackletter, grotesque, inline, brush script, and formal script, making use of the ball-point pen, pointed brush, and broad-nibbed fountain pen.

Here, letterer and illustrator Laura Serra’s work demonstrates how an image’s text can be personalized through a distinctive line quality and texture. It shows how lettering can solve some of the fit problems associated with type, such as with a similar-looking Scotch face. And one may also note that lettering’s role seems to have shifted lately to incorporate larger bits of copy than merely a short name or phrase.

Type and graphic designer Tânia Raposo shows some of her process in a vernacular lettering job for a Lisbon magazine.

And finally illustrator and letterer Alex Trochut delivers a slick piece of digital lettering, no doubt after working out a lot of the details on paper.

Type Trends: Hand-painted

Another method of letter making worth its own look, as we discuss the rise of manual processes in design, is sign painting. Though sign painting fits into the catch-all category of lettering, it remains independent largely due to the requirements of the job. In lettering, one can work on a small scale, recompose with tissue paper, or work partially or entirely digitally with endless back and forth in one’s workflow. Sign painters practice months and years in some cases developing the required eye and muscle memory before touching client work unsupervised. Though touch-ups are sometimes necessary, the process is understood to be permanent, and the workflow linear, so there’s an appropriate emphasis on getting it right the first time. Thus, where there’s a need for hand-made letters done at a large scale, sign painters will be the ones to answer the call.

In its traditional role, John Downer’s poster advertises to young designers the chance to have their faces critiqued by masters of the type and design industry. The casual but tight brushwork suggests a relaxed, yet accurate critique.

More and more, sign painting is turning into art and being presented as such. The work above is Heather Diane Hardison’s, a sign painter in San Francisco. Her carefully reversed window painting in monolinear script and gothic caps contrasts the speed letters of her above meat cut labels.

Emphasizing the art of the sign painting trade, the above piece from Robert Curry separates the form from its content by overlaying several recognizable logotypes in transparent colors. Both this and the below shot of master sign painter “Doc” Guthrie are production stills from Faythe Levine & Sam Macon’s forthcoming book and documentary film on the sign painting trade.

All this talk about sign painting makes me itch for a chance to pick up a brush and mahl stick and get busy painting letters. Our series continues next Thursday with a closer look into hand lettering and its growing role within graphic design.

Type Trends: Hipster Design

Hipster design seeks to predate itself, reintroducing elements from simpler times and arranging them into marks and compositions that have a certain matter-of-factness about them. The application of hipster design to a brand favors the function of general design elements applied generally, rather than specific marks applied consistently. The information presented is pithy, often set at intersecting right angles about a central mark. To give some visual evidence right off – here’s an example of the kind of work I see inspiring this particular design movement.

This well-restored sign hangs on Howard Street in San Francisco. It’s clear. Hand-rendered in a strong all-caps sans serif alphabet (to borrow a sign painter’s term) with complementing commercial script, the piece has generous margins, and a well defined visual hierarchy. The proportions of its letterforms, and their spacing, isn’t perfect, but its imperfection is also one of its greatest assets. What I see in the larger hipster (for lack of a better term) design and branding movement is a call to appreciate the flexibility and even inconsistency of our graphic design past.

When in 1952 The Dahl-Beck Electric Company needed a sign for their new location, they didn’t approach a graphic design firm. They went to a sign shop. When they needed letterhead or business cards printed, they went to a printer. Did the marks match? No. Was that a problem? Good question. I think practitioners of hipster design would argue no. When a company’s design consistency is a lesser priority, it’s sometimes a sign that other things take higher priority, like showing up to the job site on time, performing reliable service, creating a great product, etc..  There was likely little discussion of “visual concept” with any of these pieces. The execution was the concept.

So in an attempt to appear established, perhaps winking at the irony created by the freshness of their look, small businesses today sign off on the work of graphic designers whose aim is to present them as having existed before design as we now know it. To point out someone who does it well, I turn to New York’s Best Made Company, a manufacturer and retailer of camping supplies best known for their handmade axes.

The typefaces used range from Christopher Rogers’s custom Indicator to Monaco, Rockwell and Didot, with cameos from stamped machinist letters and what appears to be custom inline router work. To those capable of perceiving it, this kind of ‘I don’t care’ attitude toward branding can be quite appealing. The idea that a brand is strong enough to carry diverse products devoid of consistent marking helps get us thinking differently about how brands are built.

That is more or less the story behind hipster branding as I see it. But of course no movement exists without leaving a trail of pieces created in the image of the popular look. Out here one sees work of a decidedly linear quality, lots of type reversed out of solid geometric shapes, physical process-related texture, an inordinate amount of generously letterspaced Futura BoldAlternate Gothic, Univers Compressed & Ultra Condensed, Depression-era constructed caps, faces linear in nature like ATF’s Hellenic Wide, a variety of script faces, and lettering – mostly digital, mostly mediocre, some decent.

If I could make a few recommendations for type I’d like to see used within the genre, check out these squares: Sweet Square, Stratum, the 60′s era Filmotype’s “G” Series, the Depression-era caps of Solano Gothic, Refrigerator (experimenting with its stylistic sets), and Amboy, and Commercial scripts like Dynascript, Filmotype scripts Kitten, La Salle & Lucky, and of course, Hipster Script.

The above ad is Sudtipos’s play on the theme, set in their own Hipster Script and Grover. I suppose I could mention here that Instagram fits perfectly into the discussion, using modern means to give physical characteristics to digital photography. And lastly, I leave without comment a few additional beautifully conceived pieces that inspire the genre, from Christian Annyas’s collection of rail line logos. The Type Trends series continues here next Thursday.


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