Having Trouble (Typographically) With the 90s?

I hear you. My teenage years ended abruptly at the turn of the century. This means I was born the year MTV went on the air and my entire teenage years were spent in the 1990s.

It’s no wonder that upon leaving college as an official graphic designer, I was at odds with the decades I was reared in. I hated all of the styles I’d known. I hated the 80s. I hated memphis. I hated April Greiman posters. I hated Neville Brody. I hated the 90s. I hated Raygun. I hated Emigre.

Styles always return. It’s a boring subject but its true. Just check out Rookie Mag and watch todays teenagers fall in love with Blossom. Or see Beavis and Butthead returning to MTV. Or, like me, after 7 years of not owning a TV, watch Seinfeld again. It is amazing and it is really, really ancient.

A resurgence is always hardest for the people who were young during the time the styles were created. I had a rough time with the return of hints of these two decades in design and typography, but I let go of the nostalgia (or I embraced it?) and it feels great.

If you are having a hard time, try now to look into the forms and what they mean. And while I can’t put my finger on what makes a lot of today’s work feel like those two decades I have decided there are two ideas that feel lifted from the past and returned with an excitement: primitivism and customized type. If you are like me, and you’ve ignored it all these years, go look at The Graphic Language of Neville Brody, it’s splendid and the most contemporary-feeling book on my shelf.

Here are some pieces from the amazing (and contemporary) David Rudnick that made me feel particularly excited about what I thought I used to hate, turns out it’s totally fucking* fun!


* I used to love swear words as a teen


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About August Heffner

August Heffner is a graphic designer, art director, educator and illustrator. He was born in an antique store in St. Louis, MO and moved to New York City to work for his design heroes Matteo Bologna and Stephen Doyle. For awhile he worked for a really, really big branding firm. He is now a design manager at The Museum of Modern Art, the art director of Diner Journal as well as an illustrator and educator.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I think most of the comments here are pretty foolish. While you all are saying oh, the 90′s style was ugly and such some designer is going to bite you in the ass and leave you asking yourself why didn’t I think of this. Because you were too busy saying it was ugly. I was a teenager in the 90′s and you know I think hey, why not? But yeah some of it is ugly, so let the ugly fly.

  2. I was born in the early 60s. I grew up in the 70s, the decade of some of the most horrifying fashion trends ever, some of which made a resurgence in the 2000s and still haven’t gone away. Flared jeans, anyone?
    I too loved the 80s in the 80s but now when I see the cover of Duran Duran’s Rio (which I still own … on vinyl) I get a little queasy.
    I didn’t get into graphic design until the early 90s but could never figure out the grungy look and weird typography of some of the music posters and publications that were popular then. I think now there’s a trend toward “cleaner” design. Whitespace is back in style and I see design with just typography and very graphic image treatments everywhere. I still really like letterpress design, particularly for business cards and other stationery.

  3. I was born in the 70′s, grew up in the 80′s, and lived a LOT of life in the 90′s. I’ve seen the 70′s re-emerge and fought it at first, but then grew to love the styles, colors and textures. Even though I loved the 80′s IN the 80′s, it is a little difficult to see bright and geometric everything again. That said, I’m excited at the same time, because now I actually get to design using those elements. I feel the same about the 90′s – I was just starting out as a designer, and I’m excited about how much better I can make things this time around. And that, I think, is what should be exciting to all designers… getting to do BETTER this time around. There’s always something to learn from past design, and always new ways to embellish and improve. So even if those decades were not the time of your life, look forward to how YOU can make it better than it was the first time around!