Past phenomena that defined design.
Looking to the past for inspiration is always a great way to jumpstart creativity. During this three-part blog series, we’re traveling down the rabbit hole of popular culture to explore the fads and events that defined the design world. Whether our society craves luxury or experimentation, typography has always reacted to what’s in fashion. Let’s pick up where we left off from our previous post.
1950s: Optimism and the American Dream
By 1950 the globe had recovered from World War II and a new sense of optimism was budding around America. With more cars hitting the asphalt of the newly formed Interstate Highway System, suburban sprawl was on. The American Dream now meant a pastel Ford Thunderbird parked in the driveway of a ranch-style abode on a quiet cul-del-sac. Elvis shook his hips on Ed Sullivan, while the first drive through McDonald’s opened its windows. With the rise of the middle class, teenagers had more money and freedom, giving popular culture a youthful glow, from gelled-up hair to rock-and-roll.
This sense of overwhelming positivity and prosperity was reflected in design. Art was more realistic, with bright and cheerful colors. Hand-drawn signage continued to inspire type, but became more refined. Although it was designed back in 1942, Brush Script gained its popularity through the 1950s alongside it’s sister font Mistral. New script typefaces such as Dom Casual adorned signage and advertisements. Courier is born in 1955, mimicking the output of the strike-on typewriter. These amiable type trends capitalize on the coziness of the times.
More experimentation was happening abroad. In Europe the International Style, also known as the Swiss Style, focused on readability and objectivity. This school of typographers created forms based on asymmetrical Romans and the cleanliness of Akzidenz Grotesk. Hermann Zapf created Optima, which blurred the lines between serif and sans-serif, while Adrian Frutiger created the sturdy Univers. Helvetica was introduced in 1957, forever changing the industry of type.
1960s: Civil Rights and Psychedelia
This decade was marked by highs and lows—politically and socially. John F. Kennedy brought his handsome ambitions to the White House, promising to eliminate poverty and civil rights inequalities. Sit-ins and segregation across the South led up to the March on Washington, D.C. With a rise in feminist thinking and the introduction of birth control, the role of women was dramatically shifting. Troops landed in Vietnam, while the tragedies of war were televised for the first time.
The changing tides swept over the art and culture scenes as well. The polished and precise Pop Art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein gave way to a free-flowing psychedelic aesthetic. Fashion swayed from the slick beatnik lines of Edie Sedgwick and Audrey Hepburn to hippie dreads of Janis Joplin. The British Invasion hit, with The Beatles arriving in 1964 and progressing until their Let It Be rooftop concert during 1969. All these fluctuating styles would climax with the notorious Summer of Love in San Francisco, Woodstock in upstate New York, and Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon.
Experiments in type during the 1960s reflected the shifting perspectives of the decade. In 1962, Italian designer Aldo Novarese created Eurostile, a futuristic typeface with a technological aura. The notorious Adrian Frutiger introduced Serifa, a highly legible slab serif that displayed well in headlines, captions, and even logos. Yet as the decade progressed and counter culture movements emerged, geometric forms and asymmetry lost their appeal. Custom lettering and ornamental type found its way into the mainstream in concert posters and t-shirt designs. Herbert Lubalin introduced ITC Avant Garde along with his art-deco style.
1970s: Skepticism, Individualism, and Disco
The seemingly wild trends and ideas of the 1960s became mainstream in the following decade. The civil rights movement progressed while women’s involvement in the professional world increased. Even with more war, social realignment, and political turmoil, there were huge advances in technology and entertainment.
In 1971 Intel introduced the microprocessor, Atari produced TV games, and the VCR changed home entertainment. Hippie fashion was watered down into bellbottoms and shoulder-length hair. Lava lamps, mood rings, and smiley faces prevailed with the changing times. The Carpenters and James Taylor introduced soft rock while Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5 mustered up some Motown. Then The Bee Gees, ABBA, and Donna Summer brought the birth of disco with sequence and feathered boas in tow. Star Wars, The Godfather, and Saturday Night Fever hit the big screen while The Brady Bunch and The Mary Tyler Moore Show entertained folks at home.
The harmonies and hairspray gave way to hard rock at the end of the decade. We saw art bands such as Pink Floyd lead to Led Zeppelin and Queen. Later Black Sabbath and AC/DC took over before Kiss introduced hair metal. Musical greats such as Bob Marley, Kenny Rodgers, and Willie Nelson also shared their talents.
Just like the music and fashion, typography became more extravagant. Michael Neugebouer kicked off the 1970s with Cirkulus, an experimental display font, extremely circular in nature. Early computers and photocompositions allowed designers to create typefaces more quickly and revive old fashion fonts. American Typewriter was introduced in 1974 with its exaggerated serifs. Benguiat harkened to the Art Nouveau period with its lofty x-height and bulbous curves. Wolf Weingart began to dissect the fonts of Swiss Style, creating the New Wave movement in typography.
Type Trends & Pop Culture: Part 2
What are your favorite typefaces and design inspiration from these decades? What were some landmark events that swayed popular design aesthetics? Post your comments and thoughts below. Stay tuned for the next Type Trends and Popular Culture post for a review of the past thirty years. From Madonna to the Internet boom, we’ll be exploring the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.