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The hottest typography design trends of 2012

Typography trends 2012
(Image credit: Rankin/Future Owns)

Creative Bloq is now ten years old! To celebrate a decade of design, we're looking back at some past predictions. Read on to find out what we thought was going to be hot over a decade ago. What did we get right? And what did we get very wrong?

Type designers are, for the most part, some of the hardest working people in design. They show a true passion for their art form and are sticklers for detail – just think how many characters and revisions go into ten weights and you get the idea of the patience and skill required to build a typeface.

Over the last few months, we've seen type go back to basics, with legibility and elegance being two words that perhaps define the current state of type design. But there are other noteworthy trends too, from handmade object fonts to experiments with new features of OpenType. Some designers have embraced new technologies to bring new meaning to type design or illustrative letterforms, while others have embraced classic faces of the past and revived or reworked them.

Read on as we pick 20 type trends that should inspire you to think differently about your own type design or use of typography within your graphic design or illustration work...

01. Ligature discretion

Typography 2012 trends 1

Discretionary ligatures like Siruca enable you to create pictograms with type

OpenType has a feature called discretionary ligatures, making it possible to do some really interesting things when certain letters are typed in a certain order. Take Fabrizio Schiavi's Siruca (opens in new tab) for instance; a font which, when you type the word 'car', a car pictogram appears.

02. Simplicity and legibility redefined

Typography 2012 trends 2

Trio Grotesk by Florian Schick is simple, elegant and modern

If you've seen the excellent iA Writer app (opens in new tab) for both Mac and iPad, you'll no doubt have noticed its set-back, minimalist yet hugely legible monospaced typeface, Nitti. It's a font from the foundry Bold Monday (opens in new tab), a Dutch outfit that designs both commercial and custom fonts.

Bold Monday's faces are leading the trend of simple, elegant yet modern typefaces; from Panno Sign (opens in new tab), which was designed for the romanisation of street names in South Korea, to its newest release Trio Grotesk (opens in new tab) – Florian Schick’s personal interpretation of Kaart Antieke, an early 20th century sans serif used by Piet Zwart in his essay about modern typography, “Van oude tot nieuwe typografie”.

03. Slick stencils

Typography 2012 trends 3

Type Together created this slick, bespoke stencil font for Levi's

Stencils are back with a vengeance, and a fantastic example of a slick, contemporary stencil is Levi's (opens in new tab), a font designed by Type Together (opens in new tab) for the jeans brand, commissioned by Wieden and Kennedy (opens in new tab). Based on Paratype (opens in new tab)'s version of Bodoni (opens in new tab), you could arguably group it into trend 05, but we feel stencils deserve their own entry.

04. Didone is back

Typography 2012 trends 4

Rick Banks' F37 Bella is at the forefront of a revival in Didone typefaces

If there's one font that sums up the revival of Didone typefaces, it's Rick Banks (opens in new tab)' F37 Bella. A useful and stylish font, Banks has just released a Heavy version for those wanting to use it a bit smaller (at smaller point sizes the original's serifs could disappear).

These hyper-thin hairline serifs and strong contrasts between thick and thin lines, make it a modern classic in the Didot classification. It's a stunningly elegant font for headlines; online and especially in print. A bargain at £35 per weight.

Other nice examples include Neutura's Estrella (opens in new tab).

05. Classics revived

Typography 2012 trends 5

Garcon Grotesque is one of many classic fonts to be revived by modern designers

Type designers love reinterpreting classic fonts in new ways. There have been many examples over the past year, but one that stands out is the release of Garcon Grotesque.

A contemporary interpretation of Copperplate Gothic, Garcon Grotesque is a sophisticated typeface designed in a multitude of weights with extended Latin character set, small capitals and a working lowercase.

You can buy it at Myfonts (opens in new tab), starting at $50. An example of a face being revived by a modern foundry is Commercial Type (opens in new tab)'s revival of Max Miedinger's Neue Haas Grotesk (opens in new tab) (the font that became Helvetica).

06. Object fonts

Typography 2012 trends 6

HandMadeFonts is one of many companies creating imaginative, object-based typefaces

Often custom designed for a specific purpose, project or campaign, object fonts have seen a sharp rise over the last few years and will continue to be hugely popular throughout 2012 and beyond.

HandMadeFont (opens in new tab) is a foundry set up by brothers Vladimir Loginov and Maksim Loginov, specialising in these kind of typefaces. You can buy collections from the foundry but be aware that you'll need to hand set them in Illustrator (opens in new tab) and the like.

07. The Craig Ward effect

Typography: 2012 trends 7

Craig Ward is pushing back the boundaries of what's possible with typography

Craig Ward (opens in new tab) is somewhat of a genius. For many years he's been pushing type in directions never seen before, and his work has since spawned many imitations. From the Creative Review cover he grew in an immunology lab using pollen cells (!) to his chalkdust work for P&G's Olympic Campaign, his progressive work always has a narrative.

It's not type for the sake of type, it's type as art. We can't wait to see what he does next.

08. Complete type systems (super families)

Typography 2012 trends 8

Complete type system Greta Sans blurs the boundaries between display and text

Not so much a trend, more a comment on a foundry's dedication to its artform. Complete type systems are relatively rare nowadays, with many designers focusing on quick-win display faces or one or two weights (mainly because of time/budget constraints, we suspect). However, that's not the case for supreme type designer Peter Bil'ak, who runs successful foundry Typotheque (opens in new tab).

The foundry's latest release, Greta Sans (opens in new tab), is a hugely versatile typeface of 10 weights and three widths (Compressed, Condensed, Expanded) that blurs the boundaries between display and text. Check it out and marvel at just how detailed it is.

09. More usable scripts

Typography 2012 trends 9

Quintet Script is a masterful layered script face based on music

New trends for craftsmanship may well be behind the resurgence of calligraphic and script fonts. A great example is Kunihiko Okano (opens in new tab)'s Quintet Script (opens in new tab), which is a masterful layered script face based on music. The work of letterer Erik Marinovich (opens in new tab) shows how calligraphic forms can beat the stigma attached to them and be applied in a much more contemporary way.

10. Lighter slab serifs

Typography 2012 trends 10

Last year was all about fat slabs; this year's approach is more refined

Whereas 2011 was arguably about fat slabs, 2012 is more refined in its slab serifs, taking a lighter, more civilised approach in the work of graphic designers.

Want some examples? How about Sentinel by Hoefler & Frere-Jones (opens in new tab), or the geometric Motown by YWFT (opens in new tab); or even Dada Slab (opens in new tab) by the Polish Dada Studio (opens in new tab).

11. Retro

Typography 2012 trends 11

Retro typefaces continue to be popular - and they don't have to be kitsch!

Let's face it: the trend for retro typefaces will probably never go away. Sure, it's faded a little, with more minimalist, modern faces taking precedent on the web, in print and in app UI design, but it's always there, with designers seemingly not able to resist a bit of vintage typography. They don't all have to be kitsch either - check out Font Squirrel (opens in new tab)'s list of free retro fonts for commercial use.

12. Type threads

Typography 2012 trends 12

Type meets thread in a new trend for hand-stitched typography

Handmade typography is obviously not a new trend, with paper and set design in particular being popular amongst creatives working in all fields for the last few years. Few, however, have taken to stitching. One such illustrator who experiments with type and thread is Peter Crawley (opens in new tab).

Another illustrator experimenting with thread and craft is Australian Dominique Falla (opens in new tab). Her work for Wired where she illustrated the logo using nails and string being particularly cool.

13. Charismatic legibility

Typography: 2012 trends 13

Legibility doesn't mean type can't have character, as Fontsmith's work shows

Have you read trend 2, 'Simplicity and legibility redefined'? Good. But legibility doesn't mean that type can't have character, as proved by the work of Fontsmith (opens in new tab).

From the lovely rounded FS Albert to the considered design of FS Me, right through to the intriguing ligatures of FS Rufus and the lively FS Blake, this British foundry is all about fonts with character. And its 10 years in type has shown it setting new standards, and trends, in type design with every new release.

14. Painted/hand-scrawled/contrast

Typography 2012 trends 14

Thick, painted headers work well in fashion magazines, and elsewhere too

Just look at the pages of Rankin's Hunger (opens in new tab) and you'll see the impact a large, painted custom typeface can have. Secondly, take a look at Topshop magazine, designed by London-based studio Useful (opens in new tab).

Thick, painted headers aren't just the fare of fashion magazines, but they often work best juxtaposed against light body copy and slick photography. Of course, these kind of headlines are almost always custom type.

15. Geometric sans

Typography 2012 trends 15

Pablo Abad's Gara is a great example of a geometric sans serif

Pablo Abad (opens in new tab)'s custom typeface called Gara (opens in new tab) is a great example of a geometric sans serif with a modern twist. Other uses of geometric sans include Neo Sans (opens in new tab) by Seb Lester (opens in new tab), Bank Gothic (opens in new tab) by Morris Fuller Benton (opens in new tab)and the incredible Gotham (opens in new tab) by Tobias Frere-Jones (opens in new tab). Although ever-popular and omnipresent in contemporary design, custom geometric sans seem more widespread in graphics than ever before.

16. OpenType experimentation

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Loudline Condensed comes in two widths, each with a set of stylistic alternates

With the popularisation and sheer amount of options with OpenType (opens in new tab), typeface designers are experimenting and providing the designer with a raft of variations on a single font.

One such face is Loudline Condensed (opens in new tab) by Pintassilgo Prints (opens in new tab). It comes in two widths, each of them with a set of stylistic alternates: just turn on the feature in InDesign to see filled counters and slightly different letter shapes. Loudline is just one example of type designers using OpenType glyphs to the full.

17. Sharp lines

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Violent Elegance's own font is typical of the trend for sharper lines

Graphic designer and Violent Elegance (opens in new tab) founder Stefan Schuster (opens in new tab)designed a bespoke font for the apparel company. And it's typical of the trend for sharper lines and almost abstract minimalism.

"The font is inspired by the punk era of the 70s and 80s, and the whole associated culture," he told Computer Arts Collection (opens in new tab) earlier this year. "The sharp lines are reminiscent of retro band shirts and punk rock record covers."

18. The modular approach

Typography 2012 trends 18

Idler is a lovely example of the trend for modular fonts

The fascination with modular fonts could perhaps be summed up by Christian Schwartz in a 2005 interview with typeworkshop.com (opens in new tab): "I think they're appealing because they give a peek behind the curtain, letting people who are not type designers understand how letters are constructed," he told the site.

A lovely display face is Idler (opens in new tab) by Lamesville (opens in new tab). If you want to create your own modular fonts, try the excellent Fonstruct (opens in new tab) by FontShop.

19. Angular elegance

Typography 2012 trends 19

The typeface designed for A Practice for Everyday Life incorporates angular shapes

For a great example of what we mean by angular elegance, take a look at the typeface designed by A Practice for Everyday Life (opens in new tab) for The Hepworth Wakefield (opens in new tab). Strong and elegant, the typeface incorporates angular shapes taken from the local wharf building's roof and makes up part of the identity, signage and print materials the agency devised for the gallery.

20. Anything by Trochut

Typography 2012 trends 20

Anything Alex Trochut does inspires type designers the world over

Alex Trochut (opens in new tab) has become one of the most sought-after designers on the planet - and you can see why. His Neo Deco typeface designed for Hypefortype (opens in new tab) in 2009 (was it really that long ago?) has become somewhat of a benchmark for creative, bold display face. Its use on Stylist's 2011 fashion special was extremely powerful.

But his most recent bespoke font, Trojan for Wallpaper* (opens in new tab), is a true thing of beauty. Gothic, elegant, fragile and powerful; it's, for want of a better word, amazing.

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Rob is editorial, graphic design and publishing lead at Transport for London. He previously worked at Future Publishing over the course of several years, where he launched digital art magazine, ImagineFX; and edited graphic design magazine Computer Arts, as well as the Computer Arts Projects series, and was also editor of technology magazine, T3. 

With contributions from