Goopy typography of all shapes and sizes is at a fever pitch, with squat bubble letters and viscous handwriting popping up as logos for new and old brands alike.
You might even say we’re in the midst of an expressive type boom. But while the larger spirited type movement we’re zeitgeisting our way through includes many rounded forms, these so-called “squishy sans” carve out a distinct niche: unlike the broader Jugend-ish category, they almost never contain unexpected angles, narrow spots, or sharp edges to balance out their roundness. They’re unselfconsciously voluptuous and revel in their softness. All sugar, no spice. They’re the opposite of blanding—a welcome and friendly foil to the overt seriousness of the buttoned up branding from the past decade (and the general ennui of the pandemic era).
The typographic framework underlying these squishy forms is varied: some feel like typical modernist sans serifs inflated with a bit too much air, while others are more like a traditional script that’s been sitting out too long on a hot day. This trend towards doughier logos is often supported by brand systems that also use bright, saturated color palettes, similarly rounded or soft secondary typography, and other irregular and organic elements like droplets and curves.
Images 1-2 courtesy Adùn. Image 3 courtesy: Date better.
One clear influence for these squishy letterforms is their direct predecessors of bygone consumer packaged goods (CPG) past: the candy and drink packaging of the 1970’s (or should I say, the Wonka era). Type of this era was personality-driven and bold, arguably in response to the more buttoned up mid-century aesthetics of the ’50s and ’60s (see: Massimo Vignelli et al and the slate of consumer packaging with minimal color and modernist sans serifs à la Hersheys, M&M’s, or Life Savers).
This current iteration of expressive, bulbous type emerges from a similarly reactive impulse, but in response to the posh, Scandi-leaning sans serif typography that dominated the food, beverage, and wellness spaces of the 2010s. (That was really the era of minimalist DTC-everything, honestly, with Casper, Outdoor Voices, and Ritual being a few immediate examples.)
Images 1-2 courtesy Djelissa Latini. Image 3 courtesy Swear Words. Image 4 courtesy Andreas Pedersen.
“The style of the 1960s and 1970s feels familiar and reassuring, while still reading as fresh to modern consumers," explains Djelissa Latini, who designed the bubble letter-forward brand identity for Belgian chocolate brand Kyoot. Latini says that her branding aimed to be “cheeky and disruptive” within the often serious world of dark chocolate, providing an unexpectedly retro levity without sacrificing a sense of contemporary cool. But squishy sans can be as versatile as they are disruptive, according to Latini, who adds that they can bring happiness to anything, “from a vinyl cover to a recipe book or a laundromat.”
Or suncare, for that matter. The creative agency RoAndCo recently developed the brand identity for new suncare brand Bask with an undulating logo evoking a rolling wave. (I assisted RoAndCo with logo and packaging refinements.) RoAndCo creative director Roanne Adams, who led that brand development, suggests that this push towards punchy type isn’t just a pendulum swing aesthetically, but a form of conceptual industry progress. She believes we’ve outgrown the need to have serious brand identities to reflect serious values: “We're smarter and more curious consumers now, so we can still have our kitchen or bathroom filled with quality products—they just don't have to all follow the same austere aesthetic formula.”
Images courtesy RoAndCo.
The squishy type trend has shown up everywhere from fashion to media (consider Skims and Naomi Osaka’s production company Hana Kuma), but has proven to be especially heavy-lifting in the brand identities of consumer goods, and even more so within food, beverage, and beauty—especially with products often taken on-the-go like jello cups, protein bars, or canned drinks.