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All Print, Typography, & Form

Week 2 – Representation in type & design

In type design, think of the most notable developments & releases in corporate typography in the last decade: Roboto & Product Sans from Google, San Francisco & family from Apple, the IBM Plex family, & even bespoke corporate fonts like Airbnb Cereal, Netflix Sans, & their peers. They’re exceedingly similar variations on a theme. These projects—though I respect their leadership & output deeply—were nearly all led by men, by & large white men. They’re all in a style descending from Helvetica, which descended from Swiss style & Bauhaus design. Homogenous groups tend to celebrate the same ideals & centralize work around those, & modern corporate type remains deeply entrenched in that legacy of exclusion.

Compared to the process of producing type for a printing press, drawing then spending a full year producing molds for casting metal pieces then painstakingly duplicating them hundreds of times, the idea one person can make a font on a laptop for <$100 is nothing short of ground-breaking. Designing great type remains as difficult as ever, but the processes of production & distribution are more accessible by orders of magnitude. The story of Inter & its incredibly widespread usage these days is a remarkable testament.

While this accessibility has not brought about any revolution in diversity, one of the most exciting developments of the type design world in the last few years to me is Future Fonts, a website acting as Kickstarter for typefaces. Anyone can back one early & receive in-progress versions as the creators build it out, lowering the cost of buying custom type & opening the door for creators to produce more diverse typographic projects. I’ve found many favorites there, including Phantom Sans which I used across Hack Club’s identity. While the group selling remains largely white & male, the community is inching closer to a sustainable financial model enabling a more diverse set of designers in the field.

Graphic design has been more diverse than type design for awhile. While the field used to all but require expensive software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, & InDesign, free web-based software like Figma has utterly changed the game. Coupled with Twitter/TikTok influencers offering short-form tutorials, in-depth content from companies like Figma & Google Fonts, graphic design fundamentals have become orders of magnitude more accessible over the last few decades. Like coding, the issue holding back more young, diverse designers is not accessibility of learning resources; it’s interest, ambition, & the sweat/time to become great with them. Graphic design’s far lower barrier to entry, easier tooling, & more widespread need make it far more popular, & therefore more diverse, than type design.

Graphic design trends used to move at the speed of decades or sometimes years; on Twitter, Dribble, & other online platforms for designers, they now move at months if not weeks. (Recent examples: long shadows were ~1 year in 2014, neumorphism & web3 iridescence were just a few months.) While the internet’s distribution is responsible for much of that speed, I’d argue the diversity of designs we can look at drives the trial & error that starts new trends at this accelerating pace.

We’re inarguably living in an era with the best, most accessible tools & most references for doing the most interesting graphic, print, & type design ever done. Increasing diversity helps us escape the rut of same-ness corporate type continues to embody, & open us to the rapidly-expanding world of the latest graphic design.