How would you characterize today's typographic trend?

I mean artistically. I'm not so interested about the technological aspect, which is pretty clear. More appealing would be the repercussion of technological values in the artistic development of type. And with today I'm actually considering the last eight years. Books worth naming that handle this topic are also welcome.

No worries, no paper researching here. Just curious :-)


  • I'd say
    1.mega families
    2.sans serifs with a calligraphic touch
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    edited February 2013
    With the introduction of FontLab for Mac, I started making OpenType fonts. I've always thought that the only really new thing there, artistically speaking, is contextual alternates. Embellishment of script fonts with fancy ligatures and flourishes, and pseudo-randomization are the two related genres that have emerged.

    Here is a piece I recently wrote on contextuality:

    An older piece on script fonts:

    I would refer you to my review of Karloff for Typographica’s 2012 “Best of” (yet to be published) that addresses another technologically driven issue: parametrics, which has certainly become integrated into the font production workflow.

    Speaking of Karloff, Peter Biľak’s essays at Typotheque are always very smart.

    OpenType technology has created a trend towards multilingual and multi-script typeface design.

    Sorry, nothing in print.

  • Anything-but-Helvetica fonts: typefaces that are similar to very popular typefaces that clients request, but designers are sick of using or don’t want to pay for. People are cranking out well designed neogrotesques to replace Linotype’s sloppy Helvetica digitizations. And the type market is flooded with big x-height/low cost sans faces (ON SALE NOW TEN FONTS FOR $9!) to replace Gotham, Proxima Nova, and Alright Sans.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 996
    edited February 2013
    Cannot ignore the massive effect of digital publishing on type design, including:
    • the advent of typefaces designed specifically for screen display (though there are still very few of these other than the Reading Edge series)
    • the increase in popularity of typefaces that are well suited for the screen (e.g. Proxima Nova)
    • the increase in popularity of typefaces that are easily licensed for web use, regardless of quality
  • I think the technology does affect trends to a certain extent, and to separate the two does not give a full picture. Also, are you talking about trends in new designs, or in what people are actually licensing and using?
  • agree with James : high x-height and lowering prices.
    And probably a much wider potential market (=more overall sales worldwide)?
  • Basically, the ideas gathered so far tell me today's typography is defined mostly by the functionality it bears, more than by its aesthetic quality: contextual alternates that provide fonts with variance, triggered within one of many stylistic sets; optimized screen rendering; suitability for web usage. Above that there is the inherent strive for profitability, which ends up in a tendency towards very large families, some of which offer a vast language support.

    Functionality and profitability have been recurrent topics since I got engaged in typography. No doubt they'll stay in the foreground.

    That leaves us with what? A bunch of humanist sans-serifs, another bunch of Helvetica parasites, and a bigger bunch of brushy ornamental script fonts?

    Is it just me or are we being too unenthusiastic over here? (Yes, perhaps it's just me.) I was hoping you'd give me proves of great artistic diversity in recent years. It is a naive idea... Do trends always restrict artistic diversity, or do they actually promote diversity but in a focalized branch?

    My next (naive) question: Have trends really changed in the past twenty years? How fast do trends in typography change/are changing?

    I just see cans of worms everywhere waiting to be opened.
    Also, are you talking about trends in new designs, or in what people are actually licensing and using?
    My idea of trend was the former, but design trends have always been influenced by the market demand, it's a feedback system, so I guess it is not much of a difference to talk about one or the other. For a trend to change you need both a change in the current designs and a change in demand tendencies. Its a necessarily slow evolution.
  • Do trends always restrict artistic diversity, or do they actually promote diversity but in a focalized branch?
    Any movement big enough to be a trend isn’t going to show much diversity. If everyone involved was doing something different it wouldn’t be a trend. There are high-profile designers doing original work like Verena Gerlach, Cyrus Highsmith, Jonathan David Ross, and Christian Schwartz. But those designers are standouts.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    I gave you an example of a trend associated with a technical advance, and at least one essay about it. It's something I've observed in the work of others, and pursued myself. That it's conceptual rather than a style may disguise the fact that there's great variety in it, which I categorized in the piece I wrote for "I love typography". What more do you want?!
  • That it's conceptual rather than a style may disguise the fact that there's great variety in it
    I agree with you. It seems contextuality helps to surpass the lucrative imperative and allow more original designs to flow into the market.
    What more do you want?!
    Peter Biľak’s essays are great. James' mention of artistically productive high-profile designers calmed my worry about a type hegemony. Now I want a cup of coffee.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    edited February 2013
    Certainly, optical sizes lead to large families, but so does interpolating weights.
    And the way that digital media can handle hairline weights with ease.

    Multi-weight families are particularly evident today, with so many sans and slab faces.
    Eight weights are not unusual in sans faces, but serif styles (other than slab) rarely go beyond three or four.

    However, cramming all the “expert” styles into one OpenType font has cut down on family size, as measured in fonts — just look at Adobe Garamond 20 years ago.

    Similarly, cross-platform capability has reduced font family size, although adding webfonts has pushed it up again.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 996
    edited February 2013
    internationalization of the democratization of type design
    Good point, and the topic of my TDC talk last month. The number of type designers worldwide (and the countries with multitudes of active type designers) has risen exponentially in the last decade or so. The output of this new breed shows a wide range of quality and originality (poopy to grand) but the mere volume of work, combined with more accessible tools, ease of distribution, and new graduate-level type design education, has resulted in a much larger quantity of excellent releases than in any other period.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,973
    What David said re. the international democratisation of type making, which is not only the most significant trend but also tends to relatively diminish other trends, which are expressed in localised or regional ways.

    The other major current trend is what I would call anticipatory typography, i.e. typographic design that occurs without knowledge of the particular content to be typeset and that is implemented far from the direct control of the typographer. There are historical precedences for this, in the specification of house styles or series styles for publications, in newspaper design, but in those cases there was still direct involvement of, if not a typographer, then a typesetter at the point of implementation. Today, content is served to devices that need to display the text in adaptive ways without direct involvement of any human, of any person other than the reader who is able to say whether the results are good. This means that more of the knowledge of the experienced typographer and typesetter needs to be captured in the font and in the software.
  • An excellent point John, we call it responsive typography, but it's otherwise the same. Sadly I would hesitate to call it a trend, as both the platform and the font format lack the needs you mention above.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    However, OpenType fonts that respond to the text via contextual alternates, and applications that do the same kind of thing via “smart quotes” and ordinals, do assume some of the discretionary functions of typographers. Kerning too, whether font metrics or Adobe’s “Optical”.
  • Okay, if you want to say replacing the typographers
  • a trend started in the 1970s, and continuing... Forever, that's good.
  • I think the new trend now is distressing the type. Not use if that is the right word for it. But I am seeing it everywhere now.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    Charles, that is so Veer-y 2003! Not to mention Bleeding Cowboys (2007).
    What time scale are we measuring typographic trends in?
    But you are right if you refine the distress to a fine detail.
    So are things repeating themselves online, that happened a few years ago in print?
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  • Jay LanglyJay Langly Posts: 33
    edited May 2014
    Always forever and ever 'neutral' and not so 'neutral' early 20th century grotesques/grotesks…

    I agree with David on the superfamilies (big ones lately: Trivia and Breve come to mind. — who needs so many different fonts? Newspapers? How many Latin newspapers will there continue to be?)

    And Parametric / Automated type design seem to be having a moment (again?).
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    Why must there be a trend to follow? Trends are things to be looked at after the fact.
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