You might not realize it, but we’re living in the midst of a type renaissance.
And, sure, maybe that feels a little hyperbolic, but the writing has literally been on the wall the past few years. Lucky for us, Monotype Studio just released their 2021 Type Trends Report, highlighting some of the biggest news and developments shaping the design and branding landscape. Identifying 11 trends, Monotype’s 40-plus team with over 600 years of experience walks designers through a typographic evolution that’s happening in an increasingly digitized world.
“For me, as a type designer, typographer, and a type aficionado, it’s super exciting to see people embrace a variety in typography,” says Charles Nix, Monotype creative type director.
“It almost feels like we’re at the doorstep of a typographic revolution, the likes of which come along not very often,” he adds. “We had one major revolution at the beginning of the 20th century with the introduction of Monotype and Linotype, and again at the end of the last century with the introduction of postscript typefaces. And now, the variable font format may have something to do with it, but it just seems the sort of sameness is giving way to real variety and typographic expression.”
The report digs deep into several critical areas. Most notably, variable speeds, paving a way for new dynamics in typography, which celebrates a lot of the latest technologies at a designer’s fingertips. What’s more, this revolution we’re witnessing has only been accelerated by the pandemic, particularly in the “Virtual Is Now Reality” chapter of the trend report. “We’re all stuck at our desks at home, staring at screens in some sort of simulation of life,” Charles says. “And that’s how brands are coming to us. If there’s a sameness, you don’t have distinction as a brand.” Following the same brand playbooks from years past and echoing the same statements no longer works. That’s why we’ll see more variable fonts in the coming years, as well as interactive experiences, with type becoming even more vibrant and larger than life.
“I find that really exciting, people waking up to the idea that repetition isn’t the totality of branding,” Charles adds. “The ethos of the brand can come through in a way that’s not completely consistent. It humanizes the brand.”
And if you think everyone’s become a futurist in the mold of Ray Kurzweil overnight, you wouldn’t be getting the whole story. Many designers are looking to the past for inspiration, as was the case with JKR’s redesign for Burger King this past year, taking bold, playful shapes and fine-tuning their retro-goodness for a more contemporary look. Brands and designers aren’t exactly running away from bread-and-butter geometric sans serifs. But they are opting for more calligraphic impressions and typography with a handmade feel. Even the Star Wars “R” is making a comeback (hello, Hello Fresh).
Again, this comes back to the pandemic and how consumers seek out comfort food, even with brands they consume. “I tend to think of nostalgia as a disease,” Charles says. “I mean something that’s in a psychology book, and we look at it as this longing for something that can’t get recaptured.” But in remarkable times like these, that goes out the window, Charles explains.
“I think it would be really cynical to lean on nostalgia in non-extraordinary times. But in a time of crisis, nostalgia is actually the appropriate response. In a way, it provides comfort at a time when we all feel a little bit unsettled or beaten down.”
“It’s almost showing us a way forward by understanding that there was a time before,” he adds.
Past becoming present aside, blockheads and sprawling, bold type that spills over billboards and packaging point to brands trying to impact consumers. But there’s also been a rise in non-design, with creatives embracing an almost punk rock, DIY aesthetic, similar to the grunge types of the 90s when folks were fooling around with PageMaker, showing everyone just how messy our favored tools and tricks could get. You didn’t have to be neat or committed to a particular style, and you could show people something entirely different. You can find it in everything from pizza shop logos to fashion houses, and it’s playing out as measured kind of austerity, with clashing colors and oversized type. “It’s so much fun to see a non-design, something that is embracing the ugly or embracing the area between what we accept as beautiful and creating this weird friction,” Charles says. “It’s super exciting to see.”
Type is never just words and numbers, though I’m sure you have an aunt or uncle in Florida that will vehemently disagree—it’s an avenue for innovation and exploration in the world of branding and design, and it offers creatives a real chance to experiment and innovate with form and function. But whether it’s exploring cutting-edge technologies with interactive design and variable fonts or leaning on the comforts of the past for something more connected and tangible, type is very much alive.
So, yeah. It’s a hell of a time for type. To read the trend report in full, go here. Additionally, you can check out a webinar from Monotype that digs deep into the trends and has plenty of fun visuals to boot.