Typography is an ever-evolving amalgam of artistry and science, business and technology.
The past year saw many exciting developments in the design world. But what’s next?
Here are three select dimensions of typography from 2015 to reflect upon, facets that may inform design trends in the year to come.
While sans serif designs continually dominate the lists of top-selling typefaces in popular font marketplaces, designers need to remind themselves not to forget the heralded, dignified place serif designs hold within the pantheon of typographic history.
From old-style, to transitional, to slab designs, the finer typographic points of serif typefaces were often obliterated by the low-resolution limitations of available hardware; nowadays that’s becoming much less of a liability.
With higher resolution screens becoming more prevalent and plentiful — whether in high pixel density notebooks, tablets or phones — digital devices can increasingly handle the often more delicate, refined nuances of serif typefaces and smaller sizes… nuances that give serif designs their distinct personalities.
Will 2016 be the year of the serif comeback?
Specially tuned versions of popular serif typefaces have previously been released to elegantly compensate for the limitations of the hardware that supports them — for example, in long-form reading applications in web and e-reader arenas, where serif designs have traditionally held an edge in terms of perceived legibility.
Because it’s not feasible for a great swath of digital devices (in addition to your everyday consumer electronics), to easily incorporate bleeding-edge display advancements, these kinds of technologies will continue to be a vital component to typographic legibility.
However, we may soon reach a point where serif designs can more readily hold their own as-is in many mediums. As the number of high definition displays making their way into consumers’ hands increases, so too does the opportunity for designers to confidently employ serif typefaces in their digital projects.
With the fear of degraded performance allayed (especially compared with their serif-less counterparts), these classic staples of visual communication may enjoy an overdue renaissance.
Does that mean that screens will soon offer up a pound-for-pound equivalency to the perceived warmth and beauty of printed type?
That’s an ideological point up for debate, but we can agree that a world in which the gap in visual performance between type classifications is lessened is a good world for both designers and readers alike.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, everybody knows digital type is everywhere — it’s on your smartphone, your television, your coffee maker. Type even meanders into pop culture, through BuzzFeed typographic quizzes (from the mildly academic to absurd), and even TV references. Type, as it turns out, continues to play a more overt and more discussed topic in our everyday lives.
Apple introduced the San Francisco typeface for the Apple Watch and later other devices
The San Francisco typeface, a design that debuted first for the Apple Watch, and subsequently rolled out for iOS and OS X El Capitan, continues the trend of the public becoming more aware of the importance (and, indeed, fashionability) of type.
Changing the typographic landscape of one of the most valuable and recognisable brands in the world is a change even the most typographically unaware will, in some capacity, begin to notice.
Other examples of more type entering the public’s consciousness include Amazon Kindle’s new Bookerly typeface, and Google’s branding update in September of 2015.
Amazon Kindle’s Bookerly typeface
Not only was John Q. Non-Designer opining on their like or dislike of the new Google wordmark, but also Product Sans, the company’s corresponding custom typeface.
Stories that one would expect to be circumscribed to the type community — such as the reappearance and revivals of the Unica type family — became big stories in popular media as well.
One can hope that continued exposure to mainstream typography news will, in some fashion, translate to a heightened typographic awareness, sensitivity towards, and demand for well-executed type.
Type design is a trade that requires a very specific set of skills and sensibilities: rank-and-file graphic designers are acutely aware of this, and (let’s be honest) often jealous.
There’s a great deal of visual power that comes with the talent to successfully create brand new type out of thin air. Over the last few years, tools such as the Glyphs app have provided more affordable production tools for first-time type designers to create professional, technically sound fonts for commercial release.
It needs to be said that easier access to software does not a type designer make. There’s both an irreplaceable artistry as well as a command of the tedious technical production process in the skillset of type designers. These singular skills allow type designers to see a typeface through, from genesis to final form, in a way that software alone cannot.
However, an additional crop of new tools aims to give an even larger share of designers the ability to superficially dabble in type customisation.
New type creation tools won’t do away with pro type designers, but they will provide extra customisation in how we use our type
Prototypo, Adobe’s Project Faces, and FontArk now put the promise of custom type more readily in the hand of designers by allowing them to tweak and personalise fonts derived from a basic starting skeleton.
User-friendly interfaces featuring sliders and toggles allow designers to easily make radical adjustments to default designs — everything from stroke thickness and contrast, character width, to serif style is customisable with just a few clicks.
Again, professional type designers need not shutter their shops any time soon — their skills are very much in demand and have an esteemed place in the world, along with a clientele that demands an expertise unmatched by an application.
However, for designers who need just a touch of typographic personalisation for their projects, these tools open up a whole new world of possibilities of which their impact in the marketplace is yet to be seen.
Words: Ryan Arruda
Ryan Arruda is a web content specialist for the Fonts.com team at Monotype.