Q&A: Lars Harmsen

Computer Arts: How has the design and use of display type evolved over the last two decades, from your perspective?
Lars Harmsen: After the David Carson ‘everything goes wild’ era, display type looks a lot more sober. Often display typefaces will emerge from larger families, so that you will find regular cuts beside extra-bold cuts, often matching the body text typefaces.

In Europe, I perceive a clear trend towards legibility, as well as the rebirth of traditional, classical typefaces. It’s almost like rediscovering old values and traditions. Old, long-forgotten friends are now finding their way back into typography, sometimes more often than retro-copies or re-interpretations.

CA: How is the field likely to develop in future – what trends and developments do you see on the horizon?
LH: It’s as it’s always been: trends come in waves. Type in use reflects what’s happening around us. Just an example: at the peak of the techno music scene, a lot of display typefaces made their way into the market. Nobody would use them now. But a lot of designers rediscovered Avant Garde, and made use of it until it was overused. That was then followed by all kinds of me-too Avant Garde fonts.

CA: What place do you think display type should have in the wider spectrum of typography and design?
LH: It’s simple: display type is for display, not for copy. Otherwise copy becomes little more than illustration – just graphic wallpaper, rather than something to be read.

CA: What advice do you have for designers considering investing energy in developing bespoke display type?
LH: Allow plenty of time. It helps to create typefaces for use in your own projects first. And consult with expert type designers for guidance, but always bear in mind that very few people make money in this field. You either have to be a genius, very lucky or very hard working.

CA: Is there an argument that graphic designers who are experimenting with type design are devaluing the specialist skills involved with the discipline?
LH: Our world is all about evolution and democratisation. Now there are tools that mean anybody with talent can create a proper typeface, and I think that’s great. Let the young guys rock. Some of them might design something that years later will be considered a good old fellow.


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