Master this year's top type techniques

Bold is best, pure is perfect – these are the messages we’re hearing from leading designers when asked about this year’s key type trends. “It’s bad times for sensitive minds,” warns Kirsten Dietz, founder of German design agency Strichpunkt. “Cursives are out. Ultra Thins are out. Complex structures are out. Typography is getting clear, puristic, bold.”

Thankfully it’s not just bold in weight, or faking the appearance of boldness like Wolff Olins’ roundly criticised London Olympics logo and associated typeface, 2012 bold. We’re glad this clunky teenage reinterpretation of 1980s hair metal band logos hasn’t led to a trend for similar attempts at ‘yoof’ approaches to typography – but instead it’s the need for type to work in digital displays from standard desktop/tablet/phone environments to more unusual usage.

For department store Macy’s, Craig Ward created light writing typography to publicise its annual 4th of July fireworks celebrations in New York. The work was inspired by the classic geometry of 1920s Broadway-style fonts. He used an array of LED bulbs, magnets, strip lights, strobe lights and LED tapes to allow for a greater width and intensity 

“Designers will barely find the possibility to work solely for use in print,” says Kirsten, “so every typographic approach has to work on some more or less coarse pixels.”

Daniel Rhatigan, the UK type director at Monotype Imaging, believes that “the use of type will almost certainly increase as more and more devices and objects embrace the use of screens. Just think of the displays you can find in car dashboard and refrigerators now. The more interesting possibility, though, lies in how much these new uses affect the typefaces people prefer to see.”

Estonian graphic designer Evelin Kasikov’s work is “all about combining craft and graphic design”. Woven Text was commissioned for the Threads That Bind Us exhibition, which opened during the Milan furniture fair at the city’s Plusdesign gallery. Her stitched posters are based on selection of small phrases taken from computer-screen lingo  

Not only is there a growing need for fonts that work both in print and digital, typography itself is being influenced by the emergence of digital platforms, believes Simon Dixon, co-founder of creative agency DixonBaxi. “The way people navigate digital spaces radically affects font choice,” he explains, “and in particular its size and positioning. It’s driven by clarity of understanding how to access content and information, share it or experience it across multiple platforms.”

Growing role of technology

DixonBaxi’s Renew project is an innovative digital information channel that combines street-based screens with other digital platforms. The consultancy tested a number of fonts and settled on Battersea by A2. “It needed the visual punch when used on a PDA that you get from the larger on-street experience,” explains Simon Dixon


Technology is also increasingly integral to typographic execution. Even the most analogue of typographers uses digital tools, and often digital techniques inform a finished style itself. Illustrator Chris Labrooy, for example, has noticed an increasing demand from clients for his style of typographic illustrations, which create an almost photo?realistic effect through digital illustration.

Design consultancy Why Not Associates last year combined the refined hand lettering and knowledge of eighteenth century script of in-house designer Gustavo Fernandes, with state-of-the-art 3D work from Chris Cousins for its campaign for Audi.

Dominique Falla’s 1% inspiration is for a second book inspired by Stefan Sagmeister’s Things I Have Learned in My Life project

Typographer and graphic designer Steven Bonner, meanwhile, cites his work for William Hill, created with animation studio Art & Graft, as a good example of how technology is informing typographic trends. The project combined Steven’s lettering with Art & Graft’s motion graphics, conjuring a rollercoaster ride through a neon slot machine. “They allow us to add amazing textures and light effects, and have our work move and grow organically in fantastic worlds,” says Steven.

Messing things up

Chris Labrooy creates his hyper-real illustrations through a combination of Cinema 4D, ZBrush and Adobe suite of tools 

However, it is the drive against sleek, overtly digital perfection that is arguably spawning the most evident and enduring recent trend in typography. Either deliberately flawed and rough or intricately illustrated, hand-drawn type is ever popular, in typographic art as well as commercially. “The trend is clear, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries there is lots of hand lettering or ‘pseudo-hand-lettering’,” explains type and graphic designer Erik Spiekermann. “A lot of that lettering is locked up in shape, and hand-lettering often imitates real type, like printing type painted onto a wall or wooden box.”

Examples of hand lettering include bespoke custom chalk lettering by Dana Tanamachi (, decorative lettering from Jessica Hische (, hand-drawn flourishes of Si Scott’s ink and pen work ( or super-sized live calligraphy from Dutch illustrator Job Wouters ( and artist Gijs Frieling (

Dominic Le Hair used magnets and iron filings to create this typeface for a personal project. It’s based upon the idea of attraction and fate, and was inspired by a lyric in a Bonnie Prince Billy song called Even if Love 

The growing availability of free fonts means that now “a trained monkey can select Helvetica Neue Bold, and set it large and centred on the page,” explains Australian typographic designer and artist Dominique Falla. Hand-drawing skills are therefore a way for a designer to stand out. The continuing proliferation of the hand-drawn coincides with a general weariness of design that is too “slick or finished looking”, she believes. “Showing evidence of the hand-made gets people engaged with it again.”

On the other hand, the persistent return to vintage type treatments, or what designer Craig Ward, of Words are Pictures labels the “Martha Stewart Aesthetic”, exasperates many. “Illustrated ribbons, calligraphic, swashy typefaces and pastel colours – it all just feels very backward facing to me,” he laments.

Israeli typographer Oded Ezer has been experimenting with 3D type for decades. However, his recent work is moving away from the 3D towards a more curatorial notion of typography. For Skype-Type, Ezer invited Skype users to contribute their own-drawn letters, to be used in a poster for the Kraków Jewish Festival in Poland

However, the hand-made extends beyond lettering, as many designers experiment with different type through tangible, 3D processes, often mixing the digital with craft. Dominic Le Hair, for example, uses materials such as magnets and iron filings in his lettering, Dominique Falla uses laborious craft methods in all her tactile typography, while Evelin Kasikov creates her fonts by experimenting with stitching and weaving. Synoptic Office’s work, meanwhile, includes Alphabet Topography, a 3D monotype typeface, where the height of the letterforms, carved from layers of architectural butter board, is determined by how often a letter is used.

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