From post-pandemic nostalgia to double serifs to kinetic type, there's new creative energy in typography and design as we move into 2021.
It's been said that at its core, design is simply a combination of typography and a grid. However, as more companies reach a functional level of design maturity, typography is an area that deserves more attention. Beyond simply communicating an idea, great type can evoke emotion and help define a brand online. Below are several examples of these top typography trends moving into 2021 and beyond. (Header image by Hrvoje Grubisic)
Brutalist, just less brutal
The original Brutalism was characterized by harsh strokes and an absence of unnecessary decorative elements. Brutalism today still has the postmodern aesthetic, but it is tempered by softer color palettes and more organic elements. Expect to see more of this "soft brutalism," a blending of utility and economy with softness and vulnerability.
Less is More
As we consume more and more information on digital devices, information density has been pushed to the forefront. This makes whitespace a luxury that only well-designed products can utilize. 2021 will continue to see increased use of whitespace and adding breathing room around type elements. All of this is leading to a general reduction of elements on the screen. In their latest iterations, Google and Apple's design systems utilize expansive open space and a focus on crucial type elements. This puts headlines front and center as the main focal point of the design to get the reader's attention.
Safe and Comforting Neo Retro
There continues to be a resurgence of friendly serif fonts, particularly typefaces inspired by 1970s nostalgia. These new typefaces are often more minimalist versions of bold and curvaceous vintage typefaces. The result is an evocation of fond memories of sitcoms and packaging of a bygone area.
Users continue to gain more control over how they consume design online. With new design frameworks like Google's Material You, the user's preference directly affect the design, adapting the size and color of typefaces without direct designer input. In the end, this means the designer must rely more on a set of typographic rules rather than a specific prescriptive output. As these technologies continue to evolve, we will see changes in how we think about design and updates to the design tools we use.
Layering type to create artwork has been around since early print magazines, but we continue to see creative ideas using type in exciting and compelling ways online. By mixing and cutting typefaces, dynamic tension can be created while still telling a story with type.
Gradients in type
Dreadful gradients have been in design since the early days of Paint Shop Pro. But today, the trend of filling type with gradients continues to grow as a way to bring life and depth into headlines. As a result, 2021 will see more subtle gradients and a more significant emphasis on color harmony across type and the remainder of the design elements.
Digital design moved away from serif fonts in the early days since screen resolutions were poor and the font's details were lost. Today, Serif headlines are gaining popularity as a counterpoint to the modern Sans styles that took over design for the last decade. With so many tech companies eliminating serif fonts from their UI over the years, there's become a feeling of pervasive sameness. In 2021, Designers will look to Seif Fonts to bring more personality, energy, and readability to digital design.
"I think more people are recognizing a sameness and wanting something different."
- Carl Crossgrove, Senior Typeface Designer at the Monotype Studio
Outline fonts had their moment in 2020, but the trend is not over yet. Using negative space in headlines to blend with visuals results in an outcome that is both airy and bold. Designers are mixing letterforms, images, and shapes into a cohesive design.
Slab Serifs have been trending in design for some time but are now gaining traction with larger or more established brands. Like Serif fonts, this may be a backlash of the "Sans serif everything" trend of the last decade. These Slab Serifs can be a challenge to work with as to not veer into "western" design themes, but they can feel geometric and contemporary when done well.
With so much digital design suffering from an overwhelming sameness, the organic feeling of hand-lettered type brings a refreshing warmth and humanity.
Combining multiple typefaces is not new, but online, we continue to see type design that blends serif and sans serif fonts in a single headline. This can help communicate quirkiness or a feeling of being approachable when executed correctly.
Animated & Kinetic Type
Animated type is not new. Saul Bass pioneered animating type to tell a story with his title design way back in the 1955 film The Man With the Golden Arm.
With newer technologies like Airbnb's Lottie, it is easier than ever to animate and display kinetic type across various devices. These files are vector animations, not embed videos, and therefore are much for flexible and easier to produce for the designer. In addition, animated type opens up many new opportunities for storytelling when done right.
Type as Hero
Engaging design dares to let the typeface stand as the main design element. The details of a well-designed typeface can get lost when mixed with too many elements on the screen. Treating type as the main element can highlight the subtle details in the font in a direct, compelling way.