Does the World Need Another New Typeface? [Take 2]
This question may seem irrelevant for many. But for some, it’s begging for an answer. Because if you doubt that what you’re doing in type design is worthwhile, it can cause you to procrastinate or give up.
The question behind this question is, “Is what we’re doing worthwhile?”
Why do typefaces continue to be made even after we already have an abundant supply?
You may be reminded of the late designer Massimo Vignelli who famously said “there are only 12 good typefaces”. And those weren’t empty words-he made a whole life’s worth of design work with that small selection.
Vignelli may be responsible for this question being asked in the first place, and has caused graphic designers to be skeptical of new type.
But if you think about it some more, doesn’t the question itself feel wrong?
There are 5 implications that asking “do we really need new type?” makes:
- Supply exceeds demand
- New typefaces are more of a problem than a solution
- Typefaces don’t grow old or outdated
- We have enough typefaces, thank you very much
- Type sensibilities don’t change-type design is static
And now that these assumptions have been articulated, it’s easy to refute them.
Answering the 5 assumptions:
1. Supply exceeds demand.
The main consumers of type design are graphic designers. Design work is constant and growing, and some of the requirements for type can be extremely specific. Sometimes the answer is found in a typeface made by an independent designer, or requires a custom type design. Our type aesthetic as humans continues to evolve too. If type production stopped, pretty soon instead of focusing on making great communication, we’ll be struggling to make fresh work with old typefaces. I mean yes, you can find ways to use Helvetica in a fresh, revolutionary way (or bang your head on the wall trying to). But take a look at Degular and you’ll see it do things that Helvetica can’t.
2. New typefaces are more of a problem than a solution.
I’d say the real problem here is overwhelm. The addition of new typefaces increases the inventory of the worldwide repository of existing typefaces. We used to be able to keep count of typefaces as we do books. But hey, publishing has changed. And I don’t know how the internet can get the data on how many unique otf files exist, but to me it’s now like the sand on the seashore. Too many to count.
This is the same problem in the world of content—there’s just so much. So, why not just focus on what is relevant to you.
In the world of content, we learn to identify fake news, or discern insincere motives such as trying to get attention or go viral. There is content written by veterans as well as first-timers. Because publishing has changed and editors and gatekeepers are optional, we have to live with a sea of information, all with varying levels of quality.
With this growing quantity of type, the answer is not to reduce quantity but to level up in curation and evaluation.
3. Typefaces don’t grow old or outdated.
Do you buy a wardrobe and stick with it for the rest of your life? If you keep wearing the same clothes they do tend to grow “old”. That’s true for anything with a visual element to it.
4. We have enough typefaces, thank you very much
Typefaces are not about quantity. You can’t say, “I have 100 typefaces in my computer. I’m set for life.” Typefaces are raw materials for design. As long as the earth is turning, raw materials need to be in constant production. As long as the design industry lives, typefaces must continue to be produced. That’s true for every resource in the world.
5. Type sensibilities don’t change-type design is static
Have you ever looked through the Letterform Archives at some of the type from the 1800s? They will look awkward for contemporary use, but so charming and beautiful as vintage elements.
Similarly if these ancient type designers time traveled into the future, they would be shocked at what type looks like today.
Type in their time was completely hand-drawn and hand-cut. Machine-cut, but by a human, without the help of a vector file. But in those days, that was perfection.
Things get refined over time. Our sensibilities change.
We are bound by time, and so is type design. Every typeface has its time.
So, does the world need another new typeface?
It’s always a good time for a new typeface. Now go and make one.
*I tried answering this same question almost three years ago in this article. Same sentiments but different arguments.