This is a question I’ve been asking recently. Thank you for all your great answers, keep them coming.
Maybe it’s “I want to use more trending fonts” or “I want to know what font rules I can break, so I can have fun with fonts” or even “My teacher wants a simple design that is typeset in Arial. Is there any way I could secretly drop in another font without them noticing?”.
I recognise many as problems I had earlier in my career, when I also shared your feelings of anxiety and frustration.
By sharing your problems you’re joining me in my mission to change the way we think and talk about typography by making it exciting for everybody. Let’s all go from “overwhelmed” to “empowered”.
I’ll pick one a week to answer. You’ll also be helping me to make sure my books and workshops are really useful for you.
These are some of the problems you’ve written to me about, how many of them resonate with you?
“Finding the right fonts for client’s websites” • “I want to use more trending fonts” • “My teacher wants a simple design that is typeset in Arial. Is there any way I could secretly drop in another better font without them noticing?” • “How to choose the best font” • “I love fonts, but never know when to use serif or non-serif ones—what should guide this decision?” • “I’m struggling to find a consistent font theme for my sector” • “I can’t decide” • “I want to know what font rules I can break, so I can have fun with fonts”.
How these make you feel
“Screaming” • “Disoriented” • “Old fashioned and stuck” • “Overwhelmed about how to start” • “Frustrated” • “Unsure” • “Frustrated, apprehensive (did I get it right?) & unconfident” • “Anxious that the font we select may not resonate” • “Frustrated” • “Curious”.
How you would like to feel about choosing typefaces?
“Happy” • “Relaxed” • “Free” • “Successful and able to more clearly communicate” • “Really happy” • “Empowered & confident (& thus relaxed!)” • “A lot more confident” • “Empowered” • “Joyous”.
I’m a sucker for typographic ephemera and you’ve glimpsed the objects I collect in the background at my online events. Maybe you spotted Phrenny the phrenology head, the black lobster, jars of stale Helvetica, bottles for font sniffing, rescued shop sign letters, a zoetrope, or packaged childhood memories. I’m asked about them all the time and each curious object has a story to tell.
Would you like to become an official curiosity sponsor?
Take a look through the collection—which is your favourite curiosity? You can now be its proud sponsor. You’ll receive an official certificate of sponsorship and you’ll be credited here as the sponsor. You’re also amazing because you’ll be supporting my research and writing.
More objects will be added to the virtual collection so if a curiosity catches your eye that isn’t listed yet, just drop me a message and call first dibs on it.
Curiosities shown: C/13 Phrenny, C/1 Black Lobster, H/5 Jar of Brilliant Ideas, D/14 The H that Ran Away from the Circus, H/11 Caustic Sarcastic Scathing Bitter, G/4 Zoetrope the Analogue Animation Machine, A/18 Matchmaking of Ampersands, F/0 1777 Not-by-Baskerville Prayer Book, H/16 Preserved Scent of Childhood. .
Looking at typeface trends might seem super-geeky, but it’s a way to unlock the secret visual codes that reveal so much about today’s social attitudes and the things you care about. Typefaces don’t just spell out words, they’re also visual codes for ideas. You interact with typefaces almost constantly in your everyday life. They’re the interface between you and your day-to-day experiences that not only inform, but shape, influence and narrate the choices you make.
The typographic landscape around you changes constantly, even if you might not notice at the time. It happens just like tastes in fashion and music change. Sometimes typeface silhouettes mirror the clothes of the day, think of those fat-bottomed fonts in the 1970s when everybody was wearing flares and big platform boots. Typefaces also reflect the cultural attitudes of the moment—ransom note type embodied the rebellious voice of Punk and Stephen Coles of the Letterform Archive observes that the popularity of minimalist typefaces happens in cycles coupled with new technology and waves of modernisation.
Do you want to know what type trends reveal about social attitudes today?
I’m excited to be launching two brand new experimental publications on Patreon. These are inspired by the conversations I’ve had with you at online events over the last few months. One of the most popular topics with everybody, not just designers, has been about type trends. Do they matter and what they mean?
As a result I’m creating two digital publications, which you can get hold of on Patreon. De-code looks at trends and cultural messages. En-code is for designers who use type.
The first trend you’ll explore is ink trap type. I was a judge for the D&AD Awards recently and I noticed that lots of the entries featured ink trap style typefaces. I wondered why, so this became the topic for the first issue.
Sign up to the tasting type curiosity club on Patreon. You’ll be supporting my research and writing, and you’ll get access to the publications:
What stories are these curious-looking letters telling you?
In this experimental pdf zine you’ll decode the cultural attitudes that a trend reveals and explore how creates meaning.
Discerning or gimmicky? How to use this typeface trend
I’ll do the legwork for you and curate a directory of fonts for a current type trend each month to inspire you. You’ll also discover when to (and not to) use them in this experimental pdf companion to De-code.
Are you a culturally curious lover of letters, do you scroll through a font menu as part of your work? What typography problem can I solve for you?
It doesn’t matter whether it feels silly (I promise it won’t be). Maybe it’s “I want to know how to use those new trippy type trends, but I don’t want to get it wrong” or “I want to choose more adventurous fonts, but I don’t know where to start” or “I want to understand how type links to culture”.
Tell me what your problem is so I can work out how to solve it. Click on the link that best describes you and answer three quick questions:
Thank you! You’re shaping the future of Type Tasting. Your name will be credited in the sequel to Why Fonts Matter, I’ll also share my suggested solutions with you (the typography problems will be kept anonymous).
This is a question I’ve been asked a few times recently because the discussion is currently bouncing around social media. Typography is language visualised. It documents cultural attitudes and narrates social change, so it’s no surprise when it becomes a part of the conversation.
The terms we use in this conversation even originate with printing—the word stereotype comes from making identical solid pieces of metal type for printing from a mould, and the word cliché is a French term for this process.
We live in a global and nuanced world in which naive cultural tropes from the past feel lazy or out of sync with our values today. But it’s not the typefaces that are at fault—it’s the context they’re used in and the associations that are forged through repetition.
Why does context matter? Because what might have been quick visual short-hand for something that seemed exotic and new in the 1950s becomes an outdated or offensive cliché when used today. Or a typeface that suggests ‘gravitas’ on a newspaper masthead, ‘authentic German recipe’ on a beer, conjures up much darker associations when combined with words like ‘White Boy Summer’.
Can a name create fake provenance?
Since writing my first book I’ve tried to find out why decorative Antique Tuscan letters, hugely popular in the Victorian era, have become shorthand for ‘Mexico’. Maybe the silhouette could be a little reminiscent of traditional hacienda architecture, or the letters are spiky like a cactus, or Hollywood has taught us to think of these ornamental wood display types as being ‘wild west’ or ‘western’? But these aren’t genuine or authentic historical links to Mexico, it’s more like a fancy dress font. When I asked a Mexican friend she said ‘only tourists would expect to find that in Mexico’ and the type experts I’ve asked have been unable to shed any light on the mystery.
My theory is that it began when a digitised version of a C19th Antique Tuscan wood display typeface was released in 1990. All the typefaces in this collection were named after kinds of wood to reflect their wood type origins. This particular one was randomly named Mesquite, a plant found in Mexico. Could the name have led graphic designers to assume that the typeface has Mexican provenance? Over the last 30 years this typeface has become a signifier for all things Mexican: Desperados beer (launched in the 1990s), tequila, movie posters, Mexican restaurants etc. Now the cliché has been repeated so many times that it’s hard to unsee.
Here are some really interesting articles…
Karate, Wonton, Chow Fun: The end of ‘chop suey’ fonts
By Anne Quito, CNN, 2021
Here’s a thought experiment: Close your eyes and imagine the font you’d use to depict the word ‘Chinese.’
There’s a good chance you pictured letters made from the swingy, wedge-shaped strokes you’ve seen on restaurant signs, menus, take-away boxes and kung-fu movie posters. These ‘chop suey fonts,’ as American historian Paul Shaw calls them, have been a typographical shortcut for “Asianness” for decades.
‘Neither the food nor the fonts bear any real relation to true Chinese cuisine or calligraphy. But this has not prevented the proliferation of chop suey lettering and its close identification with Chinese culture outside of China.’
White Boy Summer is a bad idea — but are its shirts racist?
By PJ Grisar, 2021
Despite Hanks’ protestations that the white boys in question were white hip-hop artists like himself, the phrase certainly seems like it might appeal to the Charlottesville and Capitol Siege crowd, and the clothing isn’t helping. Internet observers were quick to opine that, while not quite a Camp Auschwitz hoodie, the text on the clothing, in Gothic font, appeared to be a bit… well, Nazi-ish if not just flat-out racist. The Guardian noted that it resembled Fraktur, a style of script used on Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and early Nazi letterhead. But what if a font is just a font?
Steven Heller, an art director and graphic design historian who’s written extensively on fascist aesthetics, said that White Boy Summer’s merch ‘speaks more to tone-deafness than racism.’
He argued in an email that using blackletter should not be ‘a priori, considered White Supremacist. But the mash-up of word and letter equals a mental picture that is hard to irradicate.’
New Black Face: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography
By Letterspace (Journal of the Type Directors Club), 2004
The typeface Neuland was designed by Rudolf Koch in Germany in the early 1920s as a modern version of the German blackletter style. By the time it reached the United States it was simply promoted an advertising typeface, a ‘type that attracts attention’. Koch’s intentions for the font to modernise an ancient form of writing had been entirely lost.
Neuland has come instead to be used as a signifier of the ‘exotic’ or ‘primitive’ and often ‘Africa’, all far removed from the purpose for which its creator originally intended it. You’ll see it on Jurassic Park films, Trader Vic’s, Natural American Spirit cigarettes and The Lion King.
Type designer Jonathan Hoefler says ‘I suspect that designers who use Neuland or Lithos as an approximation of the Africanesque are being unimaginative at best, and jingoistic at worst.’
Would you like to know more about typography and culture?
Join me, Sarah Hyndman, for a Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass. Learn how typography reflects wider cultural trends and future-proof your communications. Ideal for those in the communications industries, designers and students.
Availability is limited so give me a shout now if you’d like to arrange a 10-minute call to find out whether this session is right for you.
Typography is changing. Two decades dominated by sans serif typefaces are coming to an end, which type designer Charles Nix describes as “the waning end of a supertrend”. Are you (and your team) ready for this new and exciting typographic landscape?
It’s an exciting time to explore how type reflects culture right now. I was delighted to run online workshops recently with the inspiring type designers at international type foundry Monotype. This was such a brilliant opportunity for all of us to compare notes as we explored the themes and trends we’ve been seeing and chatted about what we think is coming next.
“I loved the event. I know we are trying to make do with the pandemic situation, but I truly feel like this event was even more impactful and inspirational with this format than being with a bunch of people in an auditorium. Sarah was amazing.”
I think that looking at what’s changing typographically reveals the wider cultural themes of what people care about today. After a year when so much has changed, what things really matter to you today? What do you really value and/or what no longer seems important?
Are you and your team ready for the new typographic landscape and the fast-paced changes that are happening?
How to spot and decode typography trends
You can spot the trends and themes for yourself by keeping a visual diary and by following the people who are talking about what’s happening. This is a great way to future proof your typographic skills in a time of fast-paced change that trends, foresight and strategy company The Future Laboratory call “the great acceleration”.
Think about what’s important to you, how might this have changed over the last year?
When you look at what’s happening in the world, how are cultural attitudes changing?
Take a look at the typographic landscape of the products and services you interact with today—can you see any styles or themes becoming prominent that you might not have seen a few years ago?
When you think about these in context of changing cultural attitudes, do you think there are any links?
Are there any companies or products that you think are doing this really well (or really badly)?
How can you incorporated what you’ve observed into your own design process?
Want to find out faster?
You can book a highly interactive online workshop wherever you are in the world. Your team will be prepared for this exciting new typographic landscape with the tools they need to make effective typography choices.
Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass
From £800 (education discounts are available). This is a live online workshop, which can be delivered anywhere in the world. Availability is limited.
Discover how to decode the typography of everyday products. What does it reveal about changing moods and attitudes? How does it motivate your decisions? How can you future-proof your typographic choices? With a formula for making typographic choices that you can use today and into the future.
Ideal for designers, communications and marketing teams, students.
THIS IS NOT A DATE—everybody’s welcome. This is an antidote to all the gooey cuteness of Valentine’s Day.
This is a typographically fun and rebelliously creative workshop where you can vent some frustration using fonts. Learn about rebellious typography through history. Explore the sounds that make swear words so satisfying. Subvert lettering to create your own typographic profanities. Suitable for all, no experience needed and you can join this virtual session from anywhere in the world.
Professional development typography masterclasses—not just for designers!
Invest in the professional development of your company with effective Zoom workshops that are engaging and fun with plenty of “aha!” moments.
Typography is the voice of your brand and it’s important for everybody in a company to understand some basics, not just graphic designers.
This is a series of Zoom masterclasses hosted by author, researcher and Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman. Sarah’s an expert in making learning fun and is on a mission to make typography exciting for everybody. Each masterclass focuses on an experiential area of typography with enlightening activities, engaging demonstrations and useful how-to guides. These are currently available as live Zoom sessions, which means you can join a masterclass from anywhere in the world.
Ideal for departments across the whole company, not just designers
These are interesting, inspiring and fun workshops with clear and empowering takeaways for people from all roles in a company. They’re ideal as a team-building session or to reinforce the importance of coherent use of language and fonts for your brand.
You can arrange a private session for your group or organisation, or come along as an individual to a public event. Private sessions are modified to suit the participants.
“Such a fun, interesting and inspiring workshop with clear and empowering takeaways. It reinforced the importance of coherent presentation of our brand for colleagues from all parts of our company, in all types of roles.” Nicky Borowiec, Springer Nature
My 13-year-old nephew Eddie loves fonts. Those of you joining me for the Sunday Painting with fonts Zoom sessions know him because he joins us most weeks. If you’ve been to my other Zoom events you will know his voice from the Typography Karaoke game.
Last Christmas Eddie had the brilliant idea to make the faces of animals like cat, dog, cow, pig and T-Rex out of the letters of their name.