Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1

Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 by Extensis

Historical happenings that defined design.

One of my favorite ways to jumpstart creativity is to look into the past for inspiration. Whether I’m starting a new design or experimenting with a color palette, popular trends are a great place to explore. From Coco Chanel in trousers to the days of disco to the Brat Pack, it’s entertaining to see how our collective consciousness influences what we view as aesthetically pleasing. During this three-part blog series, let’s peer into the colorful kaleidoscope of popular culture to explore the fads and events that defined the design world.


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1, Coco Chanel, The Wright Brothers

1900s: Urban Boom

At the turn of the century, America was coming of age in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. With the Wright Brother’s first flight and Henry Ford’s first affordable car, our culture began to move at monumental speeds. In America we were leaving the farms for the city, and urban business began to boom. With more free time and extra cash, the average person could afford more luxuries. Now there was time for art and entertainment. With haute couture, fashion became more tailored and sleek. Silhouetted starlets graced the big screen with the exciting birth of film.


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1, Le Voyage Dans La Lune
A Trip to the Moon is a 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès, regarded as the first movie in the sci-fi genre.


From street corner newsstands to big billboards, printed media was everywhere. People wanted quick and consumable information. Designers began to streamline their type, leaving the strokes of their font clean of serifs. In 1896 Akzidenz-Grotesk came on the scene, becoming the first widely used sans serif typeface. Created as an all-purpose font for printed media, this font was a game-changer. The uppercase “G” dropped it’s spur, the capital “R” kicked it’s leg straight, and the “Q” shortened it’s tail. In 1902 Franklin Gothic became a main player in advertisements and newspaper headlines. Named after one of our founding fathers, this typeface held tradition with its double-story “g” and “a” but was so versatile it was ideal at any size—from 6-point text to billboard-sized letters.

1920s: Experimental Time

This decade was defined by exciting social and cultural changes. A youthful generation rebelled against traditional taboos through jazz music, controversial literature, and flirtation fashion. Flappers kicked up their heels and tasseled skirts to the Charleston, while bootleggers filled their bathtubs with gin. Whether you define the “Roaring 20s” by jazz music, women’s rights, or the lost generation, it was the decade that broke away from tradition.


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1, Jan Tschichold
Jan Tschichold and New Typography
Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1, Futura on the cover of Vanity Fair
Futura on the cover of Vanity Fair

This excitement and energy was magnified in the design world. Mimicking the bold change in lifestyle choice, type and layout became extremely experimental. While chubby serif fonts such as Souvenir were still widely used, skinny sans were becoming more mainstream. Modern typographers adored Futura and Gill Sans for easy readability. These fonts were balanced and practical, but a definite departure from traditional type. Other designers such as Herbert Bayer set out to create pure typographical forms such as Bayer Universal and Bayer Fonetik. The Erbar typeface was created to be free of all individual characteristics, pure and circular.

1930s: Hand-drawn, Hard Work 

Don’t just define this decade by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. While the Great Depression caused devastation worldwide, the Dirty Thirties offers some inspirational lessons. Radio filled the migrant camps with Swing music. Joe Louis boxed his way to fame while Joe DiMaggio fielded for the Yankees. Amelia Earhart soared through the skies while the Clark Gable captivated hearts on the big screen.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1, Warner Bros. 1930s movie poster type
1930s Warner Bros. movie poster typography


The New Deal employed muralists and artists to create works around the country. Script type came into fashion. Decorative typefaces such as Kaufmann stood out in a sea of sans-serifs. Type also became more efficient and practical at the end of the decade. Times New Roman surfaced as the first type designed as a house type for newspapers. Bell Gothic was intentionally created as a space-saving font.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 1

What are your favorite typefaces and design inspiration from this time period? Post your comments and consideration below. Popular culture and historical events influence design—so get exploring! Whether our society craves practicality or experimentation, typography has always reacted to what’s in fashion.

Stay tuned for the next Type Trends and Popular Culture post for a look into the second half of the twentieth century. From the Swiss type designers to the Summer of Love, we’ll be exploring the eclectic times of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.