Trends in Web Typography: What's your Type?

11 Jul 2017

Headings follow similar conventions: extended sans-serifs and display serif

Combing the web for inspiration often leads me down similar paths, and one website that’s nearly always on my go-to list is Typewolf, a stalwart of the cool and cutting-edge sites that utilise type as their main organising structure. As the clue is in the name, these sites aren’t always development marvels, but the typography is always on point, for better or for worse. There are beautiful sites, ‘interesting’ sites, and completely unusable sites; but they all have one thing in common: excellent and inspiring typography.

It’s hardly surprising that I come across similar combinations of typefaces with the number of repeat visits I make, and few seem to have hit the 2017 zeitgeist sweet-spot the same as extended sans-serifs and their lovely flouncy counterparts; dependable, elegant and beautiful display serifs. If it’s not extended subtitles and lovely serif headlines, it’s monospaced body copy and art-nouveau humanist faces. For the very trendiest, there is the resurgence of blackletter – the Fraktur and Textualis of old – maybe to remind us that in the dark ages, everything must have been difficult to read (if you could read, of course).

The depth of expression you can get from these typefaces is astonishing. Even if the site in question is set entirely in Helvetica, as this one is, the weight and size of the font can interact with the colours and visual elements in a way that images and graphics cannot.

Negative Labs as an example

Within the world of websites and letterforms, there are a few fascinating trends that appear to be entirely driven by pop culture and popular television shows. The precipitous rise in the decorative serif ITC Benguiat and fonts of a similar design have become immensely popular due to Netflix’s Stranger Things title screen, which uses a tweaked version of Benguiat. You can see a marked rise in Clearface and Korinna on the web, too; both similar in style, and each have a shared history of adorning fantasy books such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Extended faces, on the other hand, have seen an assimilation into Sci-Fi more often than on a design-conscious website. Industrial and nonsense-free, these look more at home on the side of a dumper truck or a spaceship than on some letterhead. Microgramma and Eurostile, two immensely popular typefaces for sci-fi and fantasy, surface relentlessly: Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future, and The Incredibles.

The influence of Mad Men and the logo of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and all the associated mid-century furniture and design aesthetics, made their way into people’s living rooms, and eventually crept onto their marketing collateral and business cards.

Untold Stories as an example of Times New Roman

After looking at decorative typefaces for a while, it’s clear that there’s another contender: the Normcore fonts. Somehow, designers have made Times New Roman and Arial (and their clones) cool again, even if it is in some tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It appears the desire for understated cool has had a significant impact on the use of certain serifs and sans-serifs: there’s even a high-concept suite of fonts called Untitled Sans and Untitled Serif by Klim Type Foundry that champion the quotidian nature of a great experience. They argue that normal design, rather than special design, is of greater importance as ‘special’ design gets n the way of what’s important – the content and the message. I’m no stranger to this myself – the utilitarian Stevie Sans has long been a favourite of mine as it’s clearly a grotesque typeface, but has subtle nuances that not everyone will pick up on.

Untitled Serif sample

For all this choice, the classic forms with modern twists are the clear winners. Typewolf reports that Caslon, Gotham and Futura have been in their ‘most used’ listings since 2015. Perhaps the most surprising is that Futura still hasn’t been knocked off the top spot - this is likely due to the surge in popularity of geometric sans-serifs, especially after Google’s rebrand in 2015, and is considered to be ‘clean’ and ‘modern’.

If there’s one thing we can now celebrate as web designers, it’s that we have boundless access to beautiful, functional fonts. In the halcyon years, we were limited to just a handful, routinely relying on Arial, Verdana, Georgia or Times New Roman. Now, I can spend upwards of a day looking for a typeface that best suits my needs from countless providers. All I can say is I’m happy. And bring on what trends come next.