the Type for our Age

Hello Everybody,

Short: would you think a Sans-Serif, Futura, Bifur Type describes our time today?

I have a question which I would be very grateful if you could give me an answer to, a tip, your point of view. I am about to do my Bachelor this semester and I would like to do a Font Specimen 'in/with' pictures i.e involving human faces/models. It should be something like bringing fashion photography and typography together, on both booklet and poster.

I wanted to do something for the age, like portraying a feeling of today, like contemporary people.
For me - and of course for all of us I can guess - Types are more than just Fonts, forms and words put together, there is a soul, a character behind and there is only one accurate or the right one for a topic.

I was guessing that, seeing as the world is today, we were going back to some sort of Bauhaus when it comes to graphics and architecture - design in general. I see more and more a going-back-to-simple-shapes aesthetic, geometric forms are everywhere. I see it more often in combination with a Black and White theme, and although i feel like 2012 is more about colors and having 'fun' (when it comes to fashion, too) you can never go wrong with black and white and some sort of mystery/dark look to attract attention or sell (think also drama/exagerated poses in fashion, Hollywood, raw european films, books about burn out - thinking also that everything is part of a cycle and everything infuences one another in society...)

So would you think a Sans-Serif, Futura, Bifur Type describes our time today?

Much appreciation if someone takes the time to read and share thoughts.

Kind regards!

oldnick's picture

An “accurate assessment” depends on your outlook: yours appears to be far rosier than mine, so if it works for you…

bySaebraut's picture

hi thanks for the comment.
i dont feel that if i say that we are some sort of futura or bauhaus type now, we are on a better position than maybe 10 years ago. Those are also rather synthetic types from my point of view...but they are also clear and i feel there IS some more clarity now than 50 years ago, not only in design but in general..

Nick Shinn's picture

Is there something wrong with today’s type designers, that you don’t think our work is capable of representing our age?

Futura was designed as “the typeface of our time” in the 1920s, as an antidote to the historicism then prevalent in the graphic arts.

Presently, too, we have a lot of historicism, namely a nostalgia for “mid century modern”.

However, if you judge the tenor of the times by the work of contemporary type designers, rather than the types that are popular with graphic designers (which includes many old faces such as Helvetica and Futura), I think you will find that some of us are creating work that addresses today’s issues, rather than those faced by Paul Renner, and such work is more likely to be “Type for our Age”.

Here is a pioneering recognition by a cultural institution of contemporary (with a slight lag for respectability) type design within the canon of art and design in general:

hrant's picture

There's certainly a dearth of ideology in type design these days. Maybe it has to do with the economy, since trying to affect cultural change is not good for the wallet.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture


quadibloc's picture

I think the typeface of the age we are currently living in is obviously Times Roman.

It is certainly true that Stone Sans, for example, is a typeface of the present moment. But I don't think we've yet caught up with Futura, let alone Optima - these are still typefaces that, although "dated" in the sense that we can point to the past time when they were designed, still look out of place - and futuristic! - when used for ordinary typographic purposes.

So the original poster has a legitimate question as to whether or not now is yet the time for Bifur or Futura - but the answer, I think, is no!

The ages of typography move slowly; we have gone from the Age of Caslon to the Age of Scotch Roman (and Phemister's Oldstyle) to the Age of Century Expanded (and Linotype's Number Eleven, and Caledonia, and Baskerville) to the Age of Times Roman.

JamesM's picture

If you're looking for a sans serif, perhaps Gotham would be a more appropriate choice than Futura. It's a relatively new font that was inspired by fonts like Futura, and was heavily used by the Obama campaign. I also see a lot of corporate use.

You also might try checking lists of the best-selling fonts from 2011, although the fonts that actually receive the most use are often the old standbys rather than what's hot at the moment.

> i feel like 2012 is more about colors and having 'fun'

Design trends are partially influenced by the technology available to graphic designers. I see far less black-and-white because 1) on the internet color doesn't cost more than b&w, and 2) the increased use of digital printing. Also you see color transparency effects everywhere because InDesign makes it easy. In the old days of QuarkXPress (and the early days of InDesign) creating transparency effects was more iffy. You also see more 3D effects with type because it's easier to produce these days, more motion graphics, etc.

DrDoc's picture

The real type of this age is Verdana and Georgia. They were among the first typefaces specifically designed for the computer screen, and they are the vernacular of the Internet.

Nick Shinn's picture

Yes, that’s the kind of thing I had in mind when I said “address today’s issues”.

Speaking of Futura, it is considered iconic of its era, yet during the most famous years of the Modernist movement, Modernism was a cultural sideshow. During the 1920s, the dominant style of design was historicist, and the most used types were such as Kennerley, and, still, the plain early 19th century Roman we now call Scotch. (I’m not quite sure where the Art & Crafts/proto-modernist Cheltenham fits in.)

There are at least three ways a type can represent its age:

  1. Address contemporary issues
  2. Popular in the dominant style: revival/older design
  3. Popular in the dominant style: contemporary interpretation
  4. For today:

    1. Verdana
    2. Helvetica
    3. Gotham
    4. Of course, one has to decide how long an age is…

bySaebraut's picture

Better late than never – thank you for all your amazing input. For a reason I can not recall at the moment, I didn't come back to this post to see if anyone had answered (and there were only three days apart? .. something went wrong).
Its really good information here, thank you, i am keeping this.

Kind regards.

(btw, I went for Gotham.. this came out of the idea: )

Martin Silvertant's picture

They're beautiful pictures, but I don't really get it. Would the pictures have turned out any different if you had chosen Futura?

By the way, you misspelled 'ordinary'.

bySaebraut's picture

Hey there,
yes, i suppose so. The idea was to give "the font a face". Fonts have their own character, and just like with us people, we tend to express our character through clothing, or body language. So i was thinking, how would Gotham pose in front of a camera, what would it wear..what kind of "face" would it have..petite, round, long..etc. Gotham is rather "normal" i kept the pictures with less drama (although i was inspired by fashion photography). I would love to make a serie one day. Maybe I should go with Futura the next, it was my fav. font for a long time. Thanks for your comment!

Martin Silvertant's picture

I would be curious to see a whole series indeed. Right now I think the choice of typeface serves as a nice basis for photography, but it's not like without a doubt these photos say Gotham. It's perhaps representative of a certain time and culture, but I don't think you could represent all typefaces this way. The photos of Futura would probably look more German and perhaps Bauhaus-inspired, but the time is about the same. When you've done Gotham and Futura, what would a third typeface that draws inspiration from the same sources look like? What about typefaces like Erbar, Nobel and Tempo? What about Verlag and Neutraface? Would it suffice to make a visual story out of its sources or should the time and requirements it was actually designed in/for be part of it as well?

Some typefaces look subtly different so it may be a lot more challenging to translate that to photography. On the other hand, with photography you can visualize a back story which is a lot harder to do with just a typeface. Because the typeface is hard to translate into a visual story, I'm curious what the restrictions are exactly. What would/could a type catalog without type look like?

bySaebraut's picture

Aah, i love feedback.
You are right, this is just the basis of something that CAN grow larger, having the sufficient time and sources. In photography it is often said, that the tools you need to make something possible, are the ones that you already have. Its a nice sentiment, but you can't work on natural light all the time, a blunt model and an empty room. You can't tell a whole story with only a white background. Then again, that might be the challenge.

"Would it suffice to make a visual story out of its sources or should the time and requirements it was actually designed in/for be part of it as well?" -- I had only 3 days to get in the studio, get into studio lighting and 1-2 hours with each model. I had objects around as a plan B with which I wanted to portray the time Gotham was build for.. but you can't do it any justice in a rush. Again, I second your "this is only a basis" comment.

"I'm curious what the restrictions are exactly. What would/could a type catalog without type look like?" -- I might just dig into this more carefully and with a clearer view (and not thinking about university deadlines). I think it is important to make such a thing because we can understand something better when we are able to relate to it meaning, as graphic designers we could find the right type for something if it would be a lot more tangible to our nature.

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