Typographic Trends: Physical Type

The idea that type exists in physical form is another visible trend in typography, and within the larger discipline of graphic design. It’s worth noting here that type since its beginning has existed in physical form; Only within the last fifty years or so has type (as a product) existed as anything but a physical product. But as printing techniques matured, efforts were taken that de-emphasized the physical nature of type. Whether born of practical consideration, or style or both, printers’ handbooks described the process of printing as lightly touching the page’s surface with inked type, leaving the most subtle and even impression possible.

With the rise of digital type, desktop publishing, digital prepress, direct-to-plate, etc., it’s no wonder after a few years of slick, overly-perfect glossies, a corresponding interest in traditional letterpress printing on uncoated paper developed. The mark of this second letterpress movement, diverging from prior conventional practice, allowed the positive image to strike a deep bonk, or kiss, a relief that unmistakeably marked the presence and weight of the type in question. And given its tactile quality and the patterned texture of the ink, it somehow felt more real.

Print show flyer hand-set in Spartan by Jonathon Bellew and James Yencken of Something Splendid

So returning to trends, it would appear that in pursuit of this idea of genuineness, we continue to follow the course that got us this far, but ever conscious of how our efforts will be received. More people than ever spend their days interfacing with a screen. Boutique letterpress print shops now dot the landscape. And that once-desirable deep impression now appears to many as passé, or worse, insincere. We designers design on, guided by the idea of the physical, relatable, and approachable.

One way this concept of relatability consistently plays out in the world of design is through photographing work. This way one’s design is not merely a collection of assets, but rather a series of art objects to be beheld. Anyone can design something and reproduce it flawlessly on screen, but to take it to press, or render it in stone or steel or glass—that takes real commitment. And it’s this—the power of focused commitment to an idea—I feel is one of the principles that stays new, and never grows tired.

The above piece illustrates this principle beautifully. As part of an invitation made to Jessica Hische to speak to the Society of Design, its members successfully coordinated, initiated the production of, and assembled 27 official Pennsylvania license plates—the tags on their own vehicles, spelling out the invitation message. (The plates are set in a custom embossing face, not unlike Christian Swartz’s Pennsylvania.)

The last example of physical type is of our office signage here at FontShop San Francisco. We settled on something understated that fit the architecture, but that stood out just enough. Our process was to cut labels out of clear acrylic and adhere them to our glass walls. The signage is set in Fakt (with certain alternate forms enabled).

One Comment

  1. Carlos Diaz
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 5:06 PM | Permalink

    Very nice!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s