History of Typography


Typography History


Communication has been a critical aspect of human life since ancient times, with people employing various methods to interact and convey messages. Even in antiquity, individuals developed their own forms of writing and typography, which facilitated smooth communication among them.

The roots of modern writing and typography can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic era, where cave paintings utilized symbols to convey language. Additionally, historical evidence suggests that the Sumerians pioneered writing around 3500 B.C., marking a significant milestone in the development of written communication.

As civilizations progressed, the necessity for effective communication became increasingly complex and vital. The Egyptians introduced hieroglyphics, a system of symbols representing words and sounds, while the Ancient Greeks adopted an alphabet developed by the Phoenicians. Subsequently, the Romans further refined the alphabet, introducing the uppercase alphabet that forms the basis of contemporary writing systems.

The Middle Ages witnessed the emergence of illustrated manuscripts and calligraphy, showcasing the artistry of hand-written text. However, perhaps the most transformative moment in the history of typography occurred in the 15th century with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable printing press. This groundbreaking innovation revolutionized the production and distribution of books on a large scale, democratizing access to education, news, and advertisements through the use of serif and sans serif typefaces.

But how did typography transcend its role as a mere decorative element to become not only a form of art but also a language in contemporary society?


Modernist Typography- The Bauhaus Fonts

The history of the Bauhaus Fonts emerged from one of the last Bauhaus students, Herbert Bayer. He has left a huge mark on typography as well as other forms of visual arts and architecture. He developed the popular Sans-serif type titled Universal with the use of the principles of reductive Minimalism. This font was also one of the keys to defining the entire Bauhaus aesthetic.

The aesthetics of Bauhaus has influenced various artists, one of them is Jan Tschichold. He is the man who designed visual experiences on a subconscious level. As a result, the book lovers could see art in books even while only observing letters. Further, history says that Jan attended a Bauhaus exhibition in 1924, and decided to adopt the composition,

structure, and geometry of the Bauhaus. He left behind his passion for black letters and scripts and adopted new rules. Die Neue Typographie- The New Typography, published in 1928 is considered as his significant work and a masterpiece of modern typography and graphic design. This book graded typographic practices with a set of rules. It indicated a move towards a more universal and modern communication style.


The emergence of Technology Tools & Pop Art

The rise of technological skills allowed the capitalist society to prosper from further ways of creating new items and commercials. It also enabled artists to refer to and play with these new creations.

Varityper and Photon made a significant move and brought a revolution by introducing a reasonably priced, standalone typesetting system during the early 1950s. It indicated that both the producers of goods and artists can have more access to the production of typography.

Artists like Andy Warhol copied both the forms of consumer products and the fonts for their commercials. Roy Lichtenstein incorporated a comic book text font into his famous paintings. The British artist, Mike Edwards, who is also known as one of the popular pioneers of contemporary Typographic art created Word Paintings that displayed each letter in a separate color. When you view the image from distance, the letters blend and produce a photographic quality.


The Role of Typography in the 1960s Design

Radical social changes and the peace movement were the highlights of the 1960s era, wherein new fonts and designs entered to support the flourishing innovative ideas. Wes Wilson, one of the significant designers of psychedelic posters influenced typography with the invention of a new font around 1966, known as the psychedelic font. It became synonymous with the entire era.

The font made the letters transform into more dynamic and appear like they are melting away from the prints. Eventually, artists used typography to spread ideas about adopting a new lifestyle, protests, and continuous social changes. One of the key designers, Victor Moscoso brought the concept of vibrating colors by experimenting on his typographic posters. He developed those posters by selecting colors from the opposite end of the color wheel, with equal value and intensity.


The Rise of Software Development in the 1970s and 80s

The 1970s brought the invention of third-generation typesetters that used electronically stored font data. These machines proved to be the most significant in the early ’80s for the printing and publishing industry. The highlights of this era were the bubbly, futuristic, colorful letters on album and book covers. Various artists even today try to copy the genuine retro fonts such as Baskerville OF, Bubble Gum, or Futura.

One of the artists of this time, Alan Kitching developed The Typography Workshop, wherein they have used traditional techniques of letterpress printing. It combines these techniques with obsolete technologies and applies them in innovative ways.


The Emergence of Contemporary Typography Design

Contemporary artists have been known to redefine and transcend traditional practices and procedures of typewriting. They remarkably use technology and multimedia design tools for this purpose.

The contemporary typography includes Neo-Pop, contemporary calligraphy, filmmaking, installation art, sculpture, and street art.

Today, artists Craig Redman uses this style with his iPhone, camera, laptop, and Photoshop to develop simple cynical messages. Various other artists have come up with new styles of typography by using the latest technology.


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