I've been thinking lately about the huge increase in type being produced in the last decade and the fact that it is likely to continue to increase (as hinted at by Thomas in this ILT article
) and the question that comes to mind is, will there be 'classics' in the future?
In the this context I am using 'classics' as an umbrella for type designs that have dominated the last 50-100+ years. Types like Helvetica, Gill, Garamond et al. As I understand it, one reason for certain typefaces becoming popular is that historically there were not a lot to choose from, so the 'best' were used widely and often.
But in this day and age where type design tools are accessible, and digital storefronts are easy to set up, we are seeing fonts come and go quite quickly. And type designers are needing to release often in order to have a chance of getting any marketshare.
I ask myself, will Gotham - a currently very popular typeface - still be seen much in 10 years? And the same can be asked of all digital type. Where I live in Melbourne, FF Meta is still around, but used no where near as often as even 5 or so years ago (well, it seems that way to me).
Has the democratisation of type design lead to a situation where contemporary designs will never reach the level of 'classic'?
The issue of design texts, however, might sort itself out. Until 2012 most typography textbooks have been formulaic almost to the point of plagiarism, differing only in each authors’ particular academic baggage and evolving with technology. So they never get beyond the classics. But the new textbooks by Coles, Middendorp, and Highsmith have dramatically raised the bar. That could have a great impact on the quality of design education and help move thinking beyond lists of classic typefaces.
There will be plenty of trendy stuff that peaks and then becomes much less common. Perhaps even more so than 20 years ago.
But at the same time, certain typefaces will become enduring “classics.” It would not surprise me if Gotham were still fairly common 30 years from now.
So I don't think the sheer number of faces released is going to have a decisive effect on whether certain faces, new or old, can stay popular. The other question is: is the market getting more trend-driven, more fickle? Well, again, look at the bestseller lists: Meta may not be as popular as it was, but it still puts up huge numbers. So do Proxima Nova, Scala, Minion, DIN. They're all about 20 or 25 years old, and typographic fashions have changed a lot in that time, but these faces still have dominant positions on the bestseller lists. Even Gotham, at 13 years old, is no ingenue, and its ubiquity is practically a punchline. So it doesn't look as if the flood of new releases is washing all of the old ones away.
Now, will Brandon, Museo, Alright, Klavika still be popular in 30 years? I dunno. But if they don't, I don't think it'll be because typographic fashion's more fickle than it was, or because there are so many new typefaces out there that no single typeface can stay popular for long. I think it'll be because, in type design as in any field of creative endeavor, you never can tell what people will like and go on liking. And that's been true for a long, long time.
We have a narrow window right now, in which the take up of webfonts tends to favour newer designs, since early adopters of new media technologies tend also to be interested in contemporary designs. But it is only a matter of time before all the companies that use the boring old shit -- sorry, classics -- in print decide that they want it for their web presence too.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that quality doesn't matter in this process. But at any given moment, there are many new faces that are working up to a comparably high standard. So the question of which ones pull away from this pack ends up being fairly arbitrary. Likewise the question of which sink without a trace.
There's a book waiting to be written that showcases the forgotten faces of great type designers. Those faces are just as good — and often better — than the faces those designers are most remembered for.
My vision of this future is that graphic designers will less and less seek to imitate 'the greats' and use the type they use, but instead find similar, but different fonts. The lists of 'alternatives to Helvetica' etc will get greater and people will feel less of a need to jump on the bandwagon.
Of course access is key in this and so bundled and free fonts will continue to enjoy a certain mass-usage that retail ones will not.
I am not against this future, I believe it has a lot of possibilities, but one potential downside from a type makers point of view is less overall sales of individual typefaces, but this too is incentive to keep creating!
I suspect that people will keep getting more serious about type and its expressive potential in the same way that they have more serious about coffee, beer, bread and so on. This seriousness has led to diversity and a loss of the "rockstar" at the center. I suspect that the character of type use will be one of increasing plurality and stratification in the market. It may be that in the midst of this that the notion of the "classic" will be harder to argue for because the standard by which it had been conferred will have changed so much. In some ways I think that people talking about a vogue for "geometrics" or a vogue for egyptians or slabs reflects this.
It's true that some distinctive and popular faces, like Palatino, do go out of fashion, but that doesn't mean they stop being classics. After her death, Austen's work fell into obscurity for nearly a century, only getting popular again in the 1920s. I don't think her place in the literary canon's in question.
I think it is more interesting to think about what is useful or functional in type and typography than what is classic.