What is typography?
Creatives, do you feel like you have reached a point where you can guess the typography everywhere you look? By the way, this is written in , which we chose to represent the boldness, passion, and desire to share knowledge of creativity. Libre Franklin is round, open, and easy to read. Typographies are much more important than most people suspect; there is a utilitarian aspect to it, while it, also through its visual aspects. Instinctively we know that something serious and official will be written in Times New Roman, while a fast-food restaurant will go for a sans-serif, round text because that's what we've all been used to. In this sense, typography holds a whole world in it. It is attached to the long history of writing and the context in which each typo has been created and used. A typo has the power to alter how we perceive a written word by establishing a visually recognizable tone. It's time to take a deep look at how typographies reflect culture and society.
The Evolution of Typography.
Writing and typography go way back to Upper Palaeolithic times when cave paintings communicated through symbols. Fast forward to around 3,500 B.C., and the Sumerians took a step ahead. As civilizations evolved, so did our need to communicate. Think Egyptian hieroglyphics, Ancient Greek alphabets, and the Romans designing the Uppercase Alphabet that we still use. Then, in the Middle Ages, calligraphy, illumination, and gothic stylized typography emerged. But the real game-changer was Johannes Gutenberg's moveable printing press in the 15th century. Suddenly, we were mass-producing books, spreading education, reading news, and so on. Along with it came not only the possibility to design official, consistent typos but also a demand for it. Since then, we've played a lot with them, adding or removing serifs and developing categories of typos. Some were created to enhance legibility for newspapers and books, but there also arose the need for brands, political movements, and art styles to distinguish themselves with unique fonts and convey specific messages clearly through their visual characteristics.
Just like our fashion have changed, so does the trends of typography. When looking back, fonts will take you back on a visual journey through history and culture. Every era has its recognizable font and a reason for it to come to be.
A great episode about graphic design but encompasses
typography is The Art of Design on Netflix.
Typography in Mainstream Culture.
There are two important sides that have developed typographies in the modern world: the needs of the masses, which conform to norms and institutions. These fonts were developed to communicate such as those used in newspapers, TV shows, movies, and the fonts adopted by brands in the capitalist world. Then, there are fonts created by subcultures to assert their separation from traditional society. Paradoxically, these two sides are intertwined, as subcultural movements often become mainstream, entering popular culture and influencing trends. Brands frequently adopt these movements to mimic the style and profit from them. Conversely, subcultures and countercultural movements use elements of pop culture to critique the socio-economic climate (just think about the pop art movement!).
Fonts developed to communicate with the masses can be subtle. They are structured, legible, and designed to capture attention. Brands, however, often aim to stand out, adopting subcultural trends to target specific audiences or opting for distinctive and playful aesthetics to reflect their personality and differentiate themselves from competitors. Take, for instance, the iconic Coca-Cola ribbon font created in the 1880s, which remains virtually unchanged and serves as the brand's signature. There are numerous fonts embedded in pop culture that you'd instantly recognize, especially those from movies like "Toy Story" and "Harry Potter." While these unique fonts were specifically created for these films, there are two fonts with interesting histories or important impact on the mainstream that you might not have realized.
A coke ad from 1970 featuring Helvetica typo.
One of the most iconic and widely used fonts, was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. The font was designed to be neutral, clear, and highly readable. Its clean and simple lines aimed to provide a modern and timeless appearance. Helvetica quickly gained popularity due to its versatility and elegance, in contrast to the trends of typography in the 1950s, which were more oriented towards industrial and homemade fonts, there was a clear need for it when it was created. It became a staple in graphic design, corporate branding, advertising, signage, and more. Its use expanded rapidly across various industries and applications. It quickly became associated with corporations and conformism, becoming the face of capitalism. For example, Harley-Davidson, Panasonic, and American Apparel all use this font in their logos.
« I feel like Pablo » Merch for Kanye West tour.
You might know Blackletter from its resurgence in popularity. This is a Gothic font that was first used in the Bible in 1455 and more prominently, as a font for Hitler's propaganda. It's fascinating to consider that Hitler had to make a design choice and think about which typeface would serve his purposes. This illustrates how a choice of typeface is never random; someone had to make a decision behind it. Blackletter is associated with darkness, gloominess, and depression. It was set aside for a while but regained popularity through punk and other subcultures. More recently, Kanye West brought it back on his merchandise, followed by Rihanna and Justin Bieber, leading Blackletter to become associated with streetwear and eventually becoming mainstream with clothing items featuring it in stores like Forever 21.
Typography in Subculture.
Subculture played a major role in creating new types of fonts. Wanting to reject anything related to society's norms and lifestyle to forge their own path, crafting typography that reflected their philosophy. It varied wildly from one subculture to another, but they all shared a common focus: aesthetic rather than readability in their letters. Structured, easy-to-read fonts represents norms, society, and capitalism—all things they broke away from. Whether a conscious choice or not, this marginality and self-expression are felt.
One of the earliest major subcultures emerged in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.
The hippies, emblematic of the post-Second World War era, sought to reject consumerism and materialism norms, embracing ideals of pacifism, creativity, and communal living. Their fonts mirrored their free-spiritedness, showcasing thick, round shapes inspired by Art Nouveau, Victorian, and Wild West lettering. Vibrant colors, swirling patterns, and often illegible designs reflected the psychedelic experiences induced by mind-expanding drugs like LSD. This typographic rebellion aimed not just for aesthetic appeal but advocated radical social change. Wes Wilson, a prominent designer of psychedelic posters during this era, revolutionized typography around 1966, crafting a font characterized by dynamic, melting-like letters. Typography became a canvas to spread ideas, embracing ongoing social transformations and peace movements.
The Punk Movement Began.
Punk and Hippies basically share two sides of the same coin. At their core, both desire to challenge institutions. The main difference is in expressing these ideas: while hippies strive for change through peace, punks use violence and anger. Their typography embodies this spirit—raw, DIY aesthetic using black, white, or aggressive colors like red and yellow. Often irregular, angular, and disjointed, punk fonts aim to evoke the chaos and angst of their movement. These designs—letters cut from various sources resembling ransom notes or hurried typewritten letters—were intentional acts of subversion, defying authority and established design norms.
Pop art, protest typography (from signs), and graffiti are further examples of typography challenging and denouncing the status quo. These fonts were developed with precise goals. We all subconsciously understand the role that visual aesthetic plays on our emotions and psyche. With evolving ideas came the need for aesthetic representation. As mentioned earlier, subcultures often become mainstream as they gain popularity, often through music. For instance, stencil fonts used in a Linkin Park album were inspired by and derived from graffiti culture.
Typography in Globalization.
With the rise of technology and digital media, we have also seen globalization. With technology came easy tools for anyone to create their own fonts and more choice than we have ever seen, and along with that, globalization also came! The internet gave us the power to connect across the globe. All the fonts we talked about were developed in the Western world. The legacy and colonialist impact are felt through the domination of Latin letters (just think about keyboards). It is not that simple for Arabic or Chinese people, for example, to use technologies as the model was based on the Latin language. But now, through this new necessity to develop fonts and systems of communication for other cultures, a new chapter is opening in the history of typography. We have already seen some advancements through the introduction of OpenType, which accommodates numerous letters, diacritics, and scripts within one font, fostering a more inclusive typographic landscape for other languages. In 2013, Croatian designers Nikola Djurek and Marija Juza came up with Balkan Sans, a unique fusion of Eastern and Western styles, which shows how cultures can be unified. This font bridges the gap between Latin and Cyrillic alphabets by employing identical glyphs to symbolize equivalent letters. According to its creators, it aims to unite and promote learning, openness, and, most importantly, effective communication. As globalization intensifies the need for us all to communicate, we are sure to see more innovations in the landscape of typography, and we are here for it!
Each font has its own story, whether it's about its creation or its use. They play a part in telling a story, along with the words written in them. Through fonts, we catch a glimpse of history and the context in which they emerged. Typography covers a broad spectrum, and there's much more to explore on the impact it holds but we’ll let you go and have fun with it on your own or we will still be here tomorrow!