Typography Goes Digital

Throughout history, type design has evolved to suit its context, progressing and changing with new printing technologies, political movements, and advertising techniques. As modern life shifts into the digital realm, we consider how typography will be asked to flex and change with the ever-changing nature of mobile technology.

As a Creative Lead at Studio216 I have had the pleasure of attending several classes and workshops to explore areas of design that I’m particularly interested in.  I recently completed a ten-week course in Typography to dive more into the history of type design and think about ways we can creatively incorporate type into everything from apps to animations.

While type is a ubiquitous form of design, found on everything from documents to packaging to signage, it is an oft-overlooked component of design that has a huge impact on the way a message is communicated. It is a designers job to create and utilize typefaces that best communicate the intent of a message, keeping mind everything from legibility to mood.

A Short History

Western typefaces were first created for Johannes Gutenberg’s groundbreaking printing press, where reusable metal punches were molded with letterforms based on traditional Gothic scripts. Printing techniques remained relatively the same until the 19th century, continuing the tradition of arranging individual letters on a press.

Typefaces primarily evolved for technical reasons; as the designers optimized their typefaces for new printing press technologies, the letterforms shifted in weight and style to accommodate for common printing problems such as ink pooling.

Typefaces Go Digital

An entire new sector of typography was born when typefaces went digital in the late 20th century. The last twenty years have seen digital type design evolve from a handful of crude pixel typefaces into a vast library of varied styles numbering in the tens of thousands.

The birth of digital typography has forced designers to consider new constraints as they design and use typefaces, as digital files can be scaled and stretched in many ways that physical documents were never capable of. For example, a general rule of thumb for a projected presentation is to use type no smaller than 18pt.

Fonts and the Future

The world of webfonts continues to evolve, but designers are now being asked to consider an even newer realm of digital typography- designing for mobile devices. The small size of mobile screens tends to make type look large and horsey, prompting interactive designers to create responsive apps and websites that automatically scale text to proportionally fit a given screen size.

Most recently Apple has even developed its own typeface for its forthcoming Apple Watch: San Francisco. This typeface was designed exclusively with legibility in mind, needing the 3.8cm display to clearly showcase text messages and notifications.

Looking to the future you can only expect typefaces to continue adapting quickly in order to keep pace with mobile technology and virtual reality. Below are five fonts we recommend for design on mobile devices, chosen for their legibility at a small scale, clean aesthetic, and widespread availability:

1. Avenir Next

2. Bebas Neue

3. Helvetica Neue

4. Lato

5. Open Sans