Category Archives: Typographic Trends

Type Trends: Hand-cut

A surfacing trend I’m glad to see growing, and a subset of physical type, is the labored-over paper cut genre. Doing work in this vein appeals particularly to the able, young designer because of its cross-disciplinary nature. Designing harmonious typographic compositions to later cut into paper, depending on the scale and depth of the piece veers from the mostly two-dimensional world of traditional graphic design into the realm of three-dimensional set design and art direction. And what designer, after a string of single-color jobs doesn’t want to move on to the intricate, hands-on work of making, lighting, and photographing dioramas?

The effort shows. Here, Spanish design studio Versátil represents the kind of education offered at Antonio López Art School using graphic elements arranged to suggest a bursting forth of ideas. The script up top is Alejandro Paul’s Mr Stalwart.

Strictly speaking, the above sample isn’t type or typography (before anyone accuses me of muddying the waters here), It’s lettering. My point is still the same. When the beholder sees an accessible process applied to an accessible medium, here applying scissors to paper, and notes that it indeed took quite some doing, he is given pause—the familiarity of its elements being the key factor. That this autoinitiated piece from Miguel Dias doesn’t translate perfectly into English I find completely forgivable.

Lastly, an example of a more traditional paper cut. Michael Lomax’s work tells a Hans Christian Anderson tale with graphic illustrative elements and delicate Script and Fraktur lettering. This is no dabbling by the way, Michael’s papercut portfolio is immensely well developed.

Type Trends: Skeuomorphic Type

As a brief caveat to last week’s typographic trends post on physical type, there are times when one hopes to lend some of the relatability of physical objects via media incapable of their transmission (for example webpages or mobile apps). In these cases, some designers cheat using skeuomorphic elements such as illustrated switches, dials, finished wood backgrounds, etc. which at best give a sense of familiarity to virtual tools, and at worst confuse its user with needless or obstructive allusion.

Skeuomorphism, briefly put, is the vestigial imitation of objects or materials. The commonly referenced example is the stitched-leather bound calendar app familiar to mac owners, its ‘previously used pages’ leaving behind ‘torn’ edges. Real world examples include headlight decals on racecars and—one invisible to me until recently—the yellow band on cigarettes, a printed cork filter.

With skeumorphism comes the onslaught skeuomorphic type treatments, leaving your type looking fictionally debossed, embossed, chrome-plated, glazed, etched, routed, or any combination of the above.

Underware’s Liza and Adrian Frutiger’s Univers pressed into chipboard.

Angus R. Shamal’s ARS Maquette machine stamped into brushed aluminum.

And lastly, this proof that some faces work better than others. Here, Just van Rossum’s FF Dynamoe works great as designed, but an already overtly skeumorphic embossed tape labeler face reaches its limits when fake-debossed into leather.

Typographic Trends: Physical Type

The idea that type exists in physical form is another visible trend in typography, and within the larger discipline of graphic design. It’s worth noting here that type since its beginning has existed in physical form; Only within the last fifty years or so has type (as a product) existed as anything but a physical product. But as printing techniques matured, efforts were taken that de-emphasized the physical nature of type. Whether born of practical consideration, or style or both, printers’ handbooks described the process of printing as lightly touching the page’s surface with inked type, leaving the most subtle and even impression possible.

With the rise of digital type, desktop publishing, digital prepress, direct-to-plate, etc., it’s no wonder after a few years of slick, overly-perfect glossies, a corresponding interest in traditional letterpress printing on uncoated paper developed. The mark of this second letterpress movement, diverging from prior conventional practice, allowed the positive image to strike a deep bonk, or kiss, a relief that unmistakeably marked the presence and weight of the type in question. And given its tactile quality and the patterned texture of the ink, it somehow felt more real.

Print show flyer hand-set in Spartan by Jonathon Bellew and James Yencken of Something Splendid

So returning to trends, it would appear that in pursuit of this idea of genuineness, we continue to follow the course that got us this far, but ever conscious of how our efforts will be received. More people than ever spend their days interfacing with a screen. Boutique letterpress print shops now dot the landscape. And that once-desirable deep impression now appears to many as passé, or worse, insincere. We designers design on, guided by the idea of the physical, relatable, and approachable.

One way this concept of relatability consistently plays out in the world of design is through photographing work. This way one’s design is not merely a collection of assets, but rather a series of art objects to be beheld. Anyone can design something and reproduce it flawlessly on screen, but to take it to press, or render it in stone or steel or glass—that takes real commitment. And it’s this—the power of focused commitment to an idea—I feel is one of the principles that stays new, and never grows tired.

The above piece illustrates this principle beautifully. As part of an invitation made to Jessica Hische to speak to the Society of Design, its members successfully coordinated, initiated the production of, and assembled 27 official Pennsylvania license plates—the tags on their own vehicles, spelling out the invitation message. (The plates are set in a custom embossing face, not unlike Christian Swartz’s Pennsylvania.)

The last example of physical type is of our office signage here at FontShop San Francisco. We settled on something understated that fit the architecture, but that stood out just enough. Our process was to cut labels out of clear acrylic and adhere them to our glass walls. The signage is set in Fakt (with certain alternate forms enabled).

Typographic Trends: Handmade

This is the first in a series of trends I see affecting typographic design written by me, David Sudweeks, Type expert here at FontShop. One of the prominent undercurrents I’m noting in design generally is the move toward approachability and authenticity. The movement is fueled by a growing skepticism toward the overproduced, highly finished corporate brand image – or in fact anything that appears too easily reproduced – in favor of a more substantial, personable connection to one’s professional services, goods, etc.. When designing for such an audience, details that reflect thoughtfulness and humanness, such as a bit of playful script lettering or an aptly placed tooltip that gently offers assistance, aid in building a relationship between people and the things we designers make for them.

On using the word typography: Type purists like myself generally don’t appreciate seeing the term typography thrown about so carelessly as to include anything remotely related to letter art, such as graffiti, lettering, sign painting, or handwriting. Typography is the use of type, and type is writing using prefabricated letters (to be unguardedly concise). Lettering, calligraphy, handwriting and traditional engraving, while not type, share many design aspects with type and in fact overlap in their definitions. Rather than focus so narrowly that these disciplines fall outside the scope of the series, I’m including them; noting up front that they’re not all typography.

That said, today we’re only looking at type.

Madelinette carefully reproduces Crystal Kluge’s handwork leading to a nice, approachable result. Crystal’s hand to paper to type follows the traditional model, though also in vogue is type that takes one additional step.

P22 Stanyan, like many members of the Hand-made, Hand-drawn, Paper-cut genre, draw type by hand, and then turn it into type. The application of the hand-drawn style exists across many genres of type. Some are even named after specific faces, like Gert Wiescher’s Franklin Gothic Hand.

In other faces, the influence of the hand determines the construction of the letterforms, like the decision to close the loop of the lowercase g & y in Veronika Burian and José Scaglione’s Bree.

In the next part of the series, we’ll stay on the subject of hand-made type, with an emphasis on it having a presence in the physical world.

Typographic Trends and Undercurrents

Because we’re designers, we’re taught to recognize and make use of contrast in our compositions. We of course don’t stop there however; We see this visual phenomenon at work everywhere – in the way each part interacts with the whole, and on a larger scale, in the way our work interacts with the whole of graphic design. So when something looks particularly new to us, it’s no wonder we take and carry it with us. As new styles and graphic trends develop, we may consider the application of a particular style to our work as not a conscious choice, but only natural. Twenty years later however, we may note that our following the same popular processes and whims led us to unsurprisingly similar results. More concisely, no sooner have we borrowed from something that contrasts the rest, than have we lowered its contrast.

So in thinking about current typographic trends, and how and why they develop, I’ve come up with a few I’ll be hatching serially over the course of the next few weeks, here on Thursdays. While my reluctance to compile a list of things that would most certainly be out of fashion in six months time should be noted, one can also note that – while I’ll be including some of that for reference – this won’t be that.