You don’t need to be a kerning king or an x-height twitcher to recognize the value of type, not just to design, but to how we navigate—or read—the world. This year we noticed a few things in the world of type design: First off, that brands are increasingly looking to custom typefaces in order to stand out in a world where touchpoints are ever smaller (think phone screens) and their logotypes and branding have to speak louder than ever.
Here’s what else 2018 told us about typography, and crucially, what we can expect more of in font-land for the year to come.
Type Design Needs to Get Smarter When it Comes to Dyslexia + Neuro-differences
At the beginning of the year, an exhibition at Cooper Hewitt titled Access + Ability reminded us that all design is fundamentally assistive. With its focus on designing for accessibility, it presented books that visualize what it’s like to be dyslexic, but there was still a dearth of solutions when it came to letterforms that might help those with the condition to read more easily.
While it’s been suggested that Comic Sans might just be the best font for people with dyslexia, that offers little comfort (and indeed truth) for most with dyslexia, as our very own dyslexic writer and editor Maddy Morley explored in a piece looking at a slew of recently released “dyslexic friendly” fonts that claim to aid those with the learning disability.
These include Christian Boer’s Dyslexie font, which garnered numerous positive reviews, but proved unhelpful for Morley. Dyslexie is similar to other dyslexic-friendly fonts like the open-source OpenDyslexic and Lexie Readable, which also claim to address the problems of mirroring, turning, swapping, and crowding. With these fonts, key differences in characters are emphasized to mitigate confusion.
They are predicated on the belief that dyslexia is characterized by letter reversals, despite the decades of scientific research that suggest otherwise. Dyslexia is not a visual impairment; a dyslexic child experiences a neurological processing problem that makes it harder to decode a word into separate sounds. The fact that letters are muddled and mirrored is an effect of dyslexia, not what’s causing the reading difficulty. We need far more research into font design that claims to help dyslexia, beyond simple testimonials and admissions of the notion of a placebo effect.
“Maybe these fonts, which are so agile and playful to look at, communicate an atmosphere of ease and kindness to a struggling reader, making the activity feel less severe and frightening,” Morley wrote.
“The fonts might not be actively helping someone read quicker or with greater ease, but they could help lessen feelings of fear and stress associated with the activity. They are a “preference,” but a preference with emotional and psychological implications.”
Shapeshifting Fonts are Evolving, and Are Here to Stay
With a lot of chatter about parametric and variable fonts, we went where few would dare: actually figuring out what these oft-used words really mean. Although the idea of parametric and variable fonts has been around since the late 1970s, it hasn’t been until fairly recently that the morphing, shape-shifting type—and the technology to create them—have become available. Both of these categories of type move away from the notion of a typeface delivered as a final, static, unchanging product. Rather, their flexible formats allow a degree of randomness and user input to arrive at the final result.
The future likely holds more typefaces with generative, responsive, and reactive qualities driven by clear and practical intent. Imagine, for example, a font that can react to the viewport of the web browser. Perhaps the greatest use for variable fonts will be in the virtual, dimensional worlds of AR/VR, where the rules for how type is designed and behaves don’t even really exist yet.
Fonts Get Feminist
In October, we covered The Strange Lab, an idea dreamed up by Type and Typography course at Burg University of Art and Design professor and type designer Andrea Tinnes as a typographic exercise to readdress design history’s gender imbalance. Students were asked to design a speaker poster for an imaginary conference that was all-woman, and the results included graphics celebrating contemporary designers such as Anja Groten, Félicité Landrivon, and Offshore Studio’s Isabel Seiffert as well as greats from the past such as Margaret Calvert, Sheila de Bretteville, Zuzana Licko, Muriel Cooper, April Greiman, Johanna Drucker, and the team behind Spare Rib magazine.
The class not only researched their speaker’s biography and viewpoints, but translated their outlook into visual and typographic metaphors. “It was important to me that the posters weren’t just about purely biographical dates, but the students’ own assessments of each women’s specific approach, method, and contributions to her field,” said Tinnes. “The exercise also triggered a lot of vital discussion about the power structures responsible for gender disparity.”
Another female type designer championing her peers this year was Charlotte Rohde, a type designer promoting student fonts and female practitioners. “Design doesn’t necessarily have to have a feminist concept to do feminist actions,” she pointed out. The recent Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences graduate wanted to create a network for her fellow students “where we could reach out to other classmates for the fonts that we’ve all created.” Rohde set up Type Club as a platform to showcase work by her cohort, presenting various designs and interviews with up-and-coming people in the field, and many of her own fonts are infused with feminist thinking.
“It cannot be said enough until the industry changes: there are loads of women making amazing typefaces, it’s just they’re not the ones we see at conferences or read about online,” says Rohde. “People see an Instagram account filled with expressive typefaces and a lot of black and white design, and they immediately assume I’m a man. They’re then surprised to learn that I’m a woman. Type is not an all-boys club, and so we have got to change the way it’s represented and talked about.”
The Popular Type Tuesdays of 2018
Turns out that more than half of the Type Tuesday fonts you guys were most into were those for brands, with a bunch of sports fonts and a bird of paradise thrown in for good measure.
Back in June, Klim designed Geograph to live across the media company’s magazine, TV channel, and website.
Adineue Chop, a collaboration between Los Angeles-based type foundry, MCKL, and Leon Imas, Adidas’ senior director of identity is an octagonal typeface that the company started rolling out across retail, online, and events in September.
The cheap liqueur everyone remembers (or doesn’t) from their youth got a high-brow facelift in April thanks to Noel Pretorius and María Ramos.
IBM’s custom modified Grotesque type family, Plex, was created by a team led by Mike Abbink. It’s open-source, currently supporting 100 languages.
Schick Toikka’s Saol Text is a crisp, contemporary interpretation of the typefaces they drew inspiration from, with all the idiosyncrasies of the genre intact.
It’s an athletic feat to twist England’s St. George’s cross into dynamic letterforms. Craig Ward makes it happen for the English Football Association.
Informed by machine learning and given their own mini-site: Google Fonts’ Korean collection was worth the wait when it was released in May.
Exotic, beautiful, extreme, strange—Salvaje, designed by Cristian Vargas from the foundry Typozon is a rare bird of a font.
More than five years in the making, Synoptic Office’s modern typeface introduced characters from the Ming dynasty to the ideas behind software production back in February.
TwoPoints.Net was commissioned to design a custom 2018 Winter Olympics typeface for ESPN’s The Magazine.