running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Spreading the Words in 2010

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Its almost the end of 2009, and there will inevitably be all sorts of top ten lists flying around the web for design trends, influential styles, and best ofs.

Based on what I've seen during the past twelve months, there are definitely signposts as to how things are going to change in various areas of design, most notably in typography.

Typography has been enjoying a real renaissance, and its been on a roll for the past two or three years. The improvements in browsers and web standards have allowed CSS to get really powerful for web-based typography, and there is a definite convergence with print. Above all, a much broader audience base has evolved out of the social networking phenomenon, which means that more and more people are starting to understand and appreciate typography.

This has sparked a renewed interest in early Modernism, and in fact, MoMA is just about to launch a new exhibition of works from the collection of Jan Tschichold, the originator of the New Typography movement in the 1920's and 30's.

Another result of this momentum can be seen in the new solutions for newsprint - Adobe's Air platform for the New York Times Reader 2.0, and Portugal's i-Paper - both of which use much more experimental ways of delivering traditional text-based information. As for the production of new typefaces, foundries seem to be doing really well, with an abundance of new fontfaces appearing regularly, and an explosion of licensed trading on the internet.

After the excesses of grunge, the flippancy of retro, and a brief return to the safe haven of Helvetica, many designers are trying to design their way out of those aforementioned trends by returning to the era before the Swiss Style took hold in the post-war period. Seeking to emulate the possibilities of early Modernism, this 'post-retro' sensibility was hinted at in Gary Hustwit's awesome documentary film 'Helvetica' (2007), and has come to fruition spectacularly. Here are a few great examples:

Firstly, an example of how print and web can converge into a new format. Although accessibility issues dog horizontal web layouts, they can still look amazing, and here is a real beauty - www.faub.org. It's powered by some clever jquery scripting, and features huge typography and lots of print-based ideas integrated into a series of horizontal web-spreads.

Secondly, one of the best CD covers of 2009, for Grizzly Bear's critically acclaimed third LP 'Veckatimest'.


This cover features a handmade sans font (by Amelia Bauer), with the words double-justified and broken up into syllables, giving it a retro feel but and connecting it directly to the layout ideas of the New Typography. The abstract background underpins the approach, and the result is a fresh feel, created from a set of previously exhausted visual styles.

Check out Grizzly Bear's website for more.

A third example comes from Neville Brody and his Research Studios. I posted back in the summer about his 'New Deal' font for the movie Public Enemies, and since then Brody has also come up with 'Popaganda', a retro sans font which has found its way into magazines in dramatic style. It is laid out to resemble a sort of precursor to the Swiss-style, but it also has a grunge aspect to it, with a ragged arrangement in bold weight and some very tight leading.

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Not only is this getting back to the heady days of the experimental layout, it can also be emulated online in CSS3, where we now have @fontface importing and better control over properties like line-height, thanks to an improved understanding of vertical rhythm and grid layouts for the web.

For me, 2010 should see a further merging of print-based layout ideas and web-based flexibility. In order to accommodate this, the web trend for big fonts will persist, and I also expect to see a lot more horizontal-scrolling websites, which can take advantage of wider screen resolutions in an attempt to emulate the flow of magazine layouts.

Helvetica - a film by Gary Hustwit
The Horizontal Way
Type Foundries listed on FontShop.com