The unprecedented events of the past year have awoken the inner activist in many of us. Throughout history, typography and activism have gone hand-in-hand to spread important messages. True to form, typography has been a central element this year in empowering and uplifting communities, as well as raising awareness of important topics.
We’ve gathered some of the best typography that has emerged during the last 12 months, created by designers across the world. From the relentless lockdowns, to the political and social unrest, it’s this global sense of solidarity and responsibility that will allow us to enter the new year with strength.
Best typography of 2020
A master in unconventional, experimental lettering, Milan-based graphic designer and music producer Alex Valentina puts aside classic typography notions when approaching new projects. Adopting a distinctive chrome aesthetic, he’s collaborated with the likes of Crack Magazine, Apple and Sony.
In his piece for Refinery29’s Pride is a Riot, Alex uses his quirky, irregular style to celebrate queerness in all its glory.
“This work is a reminder that awareness and information lead change, protesting is part of freedom and the need to celebrate is human nature even during these uncertain times."
The work of LA designer and illustrator Ryn Davis doesn’t always cover political or social issues. Recent events made it impossible for her to focus on her usual subject matters revolving around the comical, mundane moments of everyday life.
With political tensions rising, Ryn felt the urge to focus her energy into something productive and potentially useful to others. Her recent typographic ‘vote’ series began as a way to quell her anxieties about the US elections, giving her the chance to lend her voice to important conversations through her art.
“I hope people can continue to find moments of joy within my work, but as long as the world feels like it's on fire, my art will reflect that too.”
South African born creative director Ben Johnston specializes in art direction and custom typography. Having won numerous awards for his outstanding type designs, he has also worked with the likes of M&Ms, Lululemon and more.
Known for his huge typographic murals, Ben’s works can be seen across city walls, spreading a message of positivity. During the pandemic, he created this piece in his current hometown of Toronto, reading ‘Today is a good day,’ in hopes to bring a smile to people’s faces and support local businesses.
“It’s a reminder to passersby that even though the world seems crazy right now, everything is going to be okay and to just take it one day at a time.”
Kris Andrew Small
Billboard lettering, energetic lines and neon shades make up Sydney-based artist and designer Kris Andrew Small’s work. Having collaborated with brands such as Pull & Bear and Nike, Kris also uses his art as a way to deal and respond to the challenges we face.
Originally a personal piece, his poster design calling for togetherness and community was picked by Dutch multidisciplinary creative studio, SL&DB, to be used in their 'Stay Sane Stay Safe' initiative. It ended up being displayed in hospitals around The Netherlands, in various pop-up shows and was eventually exhibited at the V&A in Scotland.
“I made this poster around the start of the pandemic, when countries were shutting borders, death tolls seemed to be spiralling and it felt as if the world was breaking apart. My aim was to put out some positivity and try to make people unite and focus on beating this together.”
Based in Berlin, graphic and digital designer Carmen Nacher specializes in experimental type design. With more free time during the lockdown and the need to keep herself entertained, she seized the opportunity to delve into her personal projects and let her creativity flourish.
Drawing design inspiration from online platforms, she was inspired to take on a 36 Days of Type challenge, as well as look back at her old photographs, which resulted in a series of typographic posters.
“The goal of this personal project was to create custom poster designs and lettering that would mirror the unique forms of each of the flowers.”
Typography collection by Ohno Type Co.
Known for their expressive and experimental typography, Ohno Type Co. is a California-based foundry whose designs have been used across industries, from high-end publications like New York Magazine, to fashion brands, album covers and more.
Ohno’s set of Collections are curated bundles of the foundry’s statement typefaces, and can be downloaded and used for various projects. Each Collection comes complete with typographic templates, enabling designers to create sophisticated, eye-catching designs, and respond faster to current events with impactful typographic messages.
Many of the typefaces featured in the Collections draw inspiration from prolific artists like Victor Moscoso, who is known for his psychedelic posters created during the rock and roll era of ‘60s San Francisco. James Edmonson, founder of Ohno, nods to these highly-charged times in his work, giving the classic typography styles a more refined and modern look.
“My aim was to fix the problems I saw with some of those styles. Trying to make the spacing and drawing quality better was the main objective.”
Degular by Ohno Type Co.
A self-proclaimed hypocrite, type designer and founder of Ohno Type Co. James Edmonson, explains how he abandoned his distaste for grotesque typefaces when he came to accept the power of their simplicity in branding.
This realization brought on the creation of Degular, a clean sans serif typeface that can be used repeatedly throughout various projects, in contrast to his typically flamboyant designs that function more as statement pieces.
“It wasn’t so long ago that I made every effort to curb the use of grotesques in graphic design. From my perspective, their abundance is similar to turning on the radio, and hearing techno on every station. Sure, techno is ok, but why should a single genre dominate so heavily?”
Chicago-based Jeremy Rieger is a designer at &Walsh, the creative agency that has been making waves since its launch in 2019. Jessica Walsh, the founder of the agency, caused a stir in the design world when she left the successful Sagmeister & Walsh firm to start her own business and join the 0.1% of female-led creative agencies.
For Jeremy, typography often serves as a soothing escape from everyday life and plays a central role in his works. Hoping to regain his sense of calm during a particularly stressful period, this piece allowed Jeremy to experiment with type and explore ways to convey tranquility.
“I chose a script that would wrap around the letters in a sort of airy and breathy way, like a calm breeze flowing through the type.”
Madefor by Wix & Dalton Maag
Award-winning type foundry Dalton Maag partnered with leading cloud-based web creation platform Wix to create Madefor. The bespoke typeface was created to be used across a wide range of Wix and sub-brand Editor X’s assets, from product interfaces to large displays.
In light of the growing movement of companies creating custom typefaces to express their unique identities, Wix felt they were missing an easily-recognizable typeface that would reflect their brand values. The result is a distinct blend of tradition and modernity, giving the brand a fresh tone of voice that will stand the test of time.
“The project benefited from the dynamics between Dalton Maag and Wix. The mix of departments, backgrounds, cultures, and genders allowed for balanced feedback and resulted in a typeface that truly feels like it was made for all.”
– Matt Burvill, Font Developer at Dalton Maag
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