The History of Typography Design – An Evolving Art
/ Jan 24th, 2012
Thanks to the internet, web typography is the primary way that people read things. Whether it’s sales copy on a website, inner-most thoughts on a blog, or a menu for a restaurant, the fonts that you choose are very important.
However, typography design means more than just picking out a font. It also means choosing a font that’s easy to read, in a color that complements your logo and overall design, that gives off the right vibe. After all, there is a big difference between Comic Sans and Times New Roman. With all of the choices today, if your web typography isn’t right, it will leave your target audience with the wrong impression.
So, how did web typography become so important?
To understand that, you have to understand the history of typography design.
Typography is the study of type. But we’re not just talking about letters. The history of typography starts with the chisels and cave drawings of ancient man.
Typography design was pretty primitive for more than a thousand years. Then, it got a big boost with the invention of the printing press.
In the mid 1400′s a man named Johannes Gutenberg created a printing press that could create letters that looked like they had been written by scribes. The goal was to produce a bunch of Bibles all at once – so Gutenberg needed more than just his own handwriting to do it. Thanks to his machine, he created 200 Bibles. He also created the “Gothic” fonts that you see today.
The only problem with the “Gothic” fonts? They’re not very easy to read.
So, by 1470, the French came up with a more basic font that soon became the preferred choice for printing presses all over Europe. Their inspiration for the font was the writing they saw on the buildings in Ancient Rome, so, naturally, the font was called “Roman”. If you use Times New Roman today, you’re using a variation of this font!
By the end of the 1400′s – when the Renaissance was in full swing – people wanted letters that looked fancier. Their idea? To slant the letters. The result? Italics.
As the 1500′s went on, Italic typography design lost a bit of its popularity, and people started using it only in certain situations – like to abbreviate things or to show emphasis. We use some of those same guidelines today!
For the next 400 years, printers spent their days tweaking the Gothic, Roman, and Italic fonts.
However, by the 1800′s, typography design became a full-fledged industry. As printing presses became more advanced, their users could do more with them – and they certainly did!
By the end of the 1800′s, the trend in typography design was letters that were curved and “artsy”, thanks to Impressionism – a style of French art that was wildly popular all over the world.
During the early 1900′s – the age of Industrialization – typography became very basic. The reason? A new invention called the newspaper was very popular. People wanted an easy way to read their newspapers, and the flowery type of the 1800′s wasn’t cutting it.
By the mid 1900′s, typography design trends started mimicking current events and popular music. For example, the fonts created during the war-torn 1960′s were different than the ones created in the “totally tubular” 1980′s.
Today – thanks to the internet – new advances in typography design spread quickly throughout the world. We may still call them “Roman” or “Italic”, but today’s fonts are not country-specific. The fonts you see in America are the same as the fonts you see in Europe or the Middle East… It just goes to show you that it really is a “world wide web” after all!