There’s a prevailing sense that font trends are looking back in time in 2023. Keeping an eye firmly on the past, nostalgia reigns supreme throughout the dominant typographic trends identified by our creative community. But how this manifests varies significantly in different trends - from channelling reassurance and comfort, to pushing boundaries in response to overarching social anxiety.
It’s not just sentimentality fueling this nostalgia. Post-pandemic, people are spending more time online than ever before. The attention economy is booming, and as such, competition for capturing - and keeping - consumer focus is fierce. Our social feeds are filled with videos designed to endlessly loop, and the notion of channelling past eras through font design creates a visual cue for people to seek refuge and pause amid the noise.
Many of us, subconsciously or otherwise, are seeking sanctuary from the past year where the Russo-Ukrainian war and a rapidly approaching recession have dominated headlines. Whilst the immediate past may be a little fraught, designers are taking inspiration from moments of optimism further back in history: Art Deco and serifs that reflect the refined elegance of classic fashion magazines both make an appearance, contrasting with louder, more youthful cultural trends.
Ultimately, 2023’s typography trends are heavy on nostalgia but all have subtle modern twists, telling us that whilst these fonts may be looking back, they’re only doing so to ensure we keep moving forward (if you're looking for more options for your designs? See our pick of the best free fonts).
01. Art Deco revival
Whether or not the twenty-first century’s take on the Roaring Twenties can be compared to the twentieth century’s is still up for debate, but what is clear is the fact that creatives are looking back a hundred years to one of the most visually iconic decades in human history. We’re seeing a continued revival of design trends from the 1920s, with Art Deco leading the charge.
These fonts are traditionally tall and sans serif, imbued with a certain elegance. Aerodynamic curves and oversized loops lend a sense of refinement to the lettering, which at the time reflected the opulence, newfound optimism and pervasive sense of modernity you might expect to find at one of Gatsby’s parties.
But fonts in 2023 aren’t direct replicas of their twentieth century predecessors; they have distinct, contemporary elements. In some instances, glitched letters and digital warping take Art Deco right to the cutting-edge of the twenty-first century, whilst elsewhere modern minimalism gives these fonts a very current sense of class and restraint.
02. Vintage narrow serifs
2022 might have held more bubbly, rounded fonts, but in 2023 things are looking a little more sophisticated. We’re seeing this particularly in styles that hark back to the kinds of fonts first printed in eighties high fashion magazines: serifed, tall, and elegant. The timelessness of this trend lends itself to publications that have become digital first, being able to recreate a sense of familiarity with audiences through different mediums.
Brands getting in on the action of this trend include Burberry who, in a move that sparked joy in the hearts of designers world-wide, has moved away from the bland sans serif wordmarks and gone back to its serif-loving roots. These fonts are delicate and aesthetically pleasing, often with small flourishes - a swirling loop on a ‘g’, or a reaching foot on a capital ‘R’. Expect decorative ears and terminals, italicised letters - and always, always a sense of class and composure.
03. Iconographic mashups
Combine a rebellious irreverence with a taste for the eclectic, and you have the iconographic mashup trend that we’re seeing so much of in 2023. By integrating icons and illustrative details directly into letter forms themselves, designers are creating some truly weird and wonderful fonts that are both playful and attention-grabbing.
There’s a clear link here to the noughties, with distinct nods to adjacent visual trends like liquid chrome, and all of the distortion has a distinctive turn-of-the-millenium feel. The combination of different shapes gives these fonts a DIY look, harnessing a youthful energy that feels exciting and boisterous without taking itself too seriously. There’s also a sense that the abstract, scrappy lack of conformity of this style represents the current world of 2023 in a particularly unique way: diverse, unpredictable, and never the same twice.
04. Mall goth
Think Hot Topic, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park: the Nu Metal era at its peak. ‘Mall Goth’ is a throwback to a post-goth subculture that first emerged in the late nineties and continued through the early noughties. After a viral resurgence on TikTok, where users embraced the irony of a commercialised subculture, designers are drawing inspiration from this style when it comes to typography. Smoky forms, sharp edges and often all-black compositions create fonts that are expressive and youthful.
Closely linked to the punk revival happening more broadly across the design world, this style has a subtle edge, leaning into the slightly tongue-in-cheek barbed wire, chains, and skull motifs that represent this trend. But while this particularly knowing kind of Gen Z attitude is a more light-hearted reflection of the anti-establishment sentiment rising to the surface of society, it’s certainly not letting the establishment off the hook for a second, either.
05. Bright red
Traditionally, fonts are either black or white, but in 2023 we’re seeing an increasing trend towards red as the first colour of choice. Often with a retro undertone (but that still feels modern), these bright red fonts are typically accompanied by minimalist doodles or cartoons that recreate a classic look that doesn’t feel dated.
The light-hearted energy of this trend communicates vitality, youthfulness and a sense of playful optimism: offering welcome relief for brands and consumers seeking comfort from the past while staying firmly rooted in today. Combine this with fun, hand-drawn mascots and you have yourself a winning combination.
We can see a whole host of cultural moments and touchpoints resurfacing in 2023’s font trends: a collection of diverse styles reflecting a rich visual history, from the decorative optimism of the twenties to the post-punk attitudes of the late 1990s.
All of these trends share a common thread of nostalgia, updated for contemporary tastes and modern sensibilities. As such, it appears that 2023 is a year of taking stock of the past, and creatives and brands working to figure out how to use this to make the future brighter.
For more on font trends, see 99designs by Vista’s full list of 2023 trends.