Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3

Wednesday August 27th, 2014 by Extensis

How popular culture swings the pendulum of design.

We’re rounding out our series on type trends of the past century. It’s been quite the journey exploring the days of letter setting and hand-drawn fonts of the early twentieth century. We wandered through the eccentric assortment of mid century type. For this post we’re focusing on the triumphs of the past thirty years. Let’s stir up some inspiration with a look at everything from Adobe Garamond to grunge type!


1980s: Digital Revolution and Materialism 

Technology began its reign during this decade. From personal computers and video games to VCRs and Walkman, the digital revolution was on the rise. This brought wealth in many forms. The middle class began to grow all over the world, giving the average person more money to burn.

The number of televisions in the world doubled during the 80’s, meaning more advertisements than ever. Bigger was better and fashion became more bold. The modern women began to wear power suits with shoulder pads and extra hairspray. Michael Jackson and Madonna redefined the music industry and MTV was there to document. NASA continued to explore space, while AIDS shocked the planet back home.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3—Apple Adobe Garamond
Apple’s Think Different advertisement using Adobe Garamond.

As computers and laser printers became smaller and more affordable, graphic design became more accessible. Adobe software is released in 1982, followed by Macintosh Computers and screen fonts in 1984. Type reflected our society’s obsession with digital progress. While the decade started out with thin serifs such as Novaese and Versailles, unique san serifs like Rotis, Citizen and Tektura began to take over.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3—Apple and Reebok used Motter Tektura
Apple and Reebok used the same “futuristic” typeface in the early days, Motter Tektura.

1990s: Alternative Media and Grunge

The materialism of the 1980s became lost on the new youth. As Generation X gave way to Generation Y, individualism was valued over popular-thinking. Many different counter-cultures emerged during this time. Grunge, rave culture, and hip hop began to diversify the music scene. Tattoos, body piercing, and over-sized clothing were suddenly in style. Television still played a major role, showcasing many slackers as heroes in shows such as The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead, and even Friends. Alternative thinking was empowered by alternative media. It was a time of emotion and disconnect.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3—Nirvana on the cover of Rolling Stone

The pendulum of type trends swung back to experimental and handcrafted once again. This decade was messy and sporadic, and so was the design. Street art and graffiti influenced splattered and sprayed textures. Graphic designers such as David Carson began to break the rules by manipulating type. Lettering artist Stefan Sagmeister made his mark with hand-drawn type and photography experiments. Type became part of the art.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3—Gettin' grungy with David Carson & Sagmeister
Grunge type by Stefan Sagmeister and David Carson.


A few typefaces mimicked this experimental phase such as Harriet Gonren’s Morire. Others such as Trixie and Officina harkened back to old typewriter technology. This deconstructive phase was a backlash against the uniformity and restrictiveness of design in early digital platforms. With the introduction and progression of technology and the Internet, graphic design became even more accessible and important in daily life.

2000s: Multimedia and Pluralism

Technology continued to trudge full speed ahead. Youngsters, who would come to be known as Millennials, began to quickly consume the gamut of digital gadgets. From the Jukebox to the iPod, hand-held technology got smaller and design, smarter. Access to information on these tiny devices meant that ideas spread faster and culture spread faster. During a span of ten years, we saw the revival of just about every fad from the previous decade. 1980s sportswear, hippie dreads, and chic vintage clothing all became popular.

The design community began to adopt many different styles and viewpoints at the same time. Internet created a need for legible type, giving birth to web fonts. Clean san serifs such as Gotham were introduced and favored. However as the 2000s progressed, type hot-shots such as Hoefler and Frere-Jones began to draw inspiration from their typographic forefathers. San serifs such as Magma and retro scripts like Burgues Script were in style, showing that the pendulum was swaying back into the past.

Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3—2000s typography
Top type of the 2000s


Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 3

We hope you enjoyed the journey through the past century of typography! What are your favorite typefaces from the past thirty years? What were some landmark trends and events that swayed popular design aesthetics? We’d love to continue this typographical musing. Make sure to post your comments and thoughts below.