A Brief History of Typography

Typography is the art and technique of arranging type, so its history is inextricably tied up with the history of printing. Covering the entire topic in detail would require years of study, but this potted history of typography should shed a little light on the words that surround us every single day…

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Laying the foundations

Printing and typography were only able to flourish once two things came into being:

1) Paper : Which was first produced using vegetable fibre in China in 105 AD and finally made its way to Europe around 3,000 years later, when it was used for hand-written books and documents.

2) Moveable type casts : These individual character stamps also originated from the East around 1041 AD. The Western alphabet was then captured by moveable type technology around 1440 by expert metal-worker Johannes Gutenberg. He used it to print around 200 copies of the Bible, 21 of which remain intact today.

Type’s gothic roots

In the early days these individual letter stamps were made to look like their gothic, hand-written equivalents. They had strong dense verticals with almost no curves and a calligraphic variety of width :

A Brief History of Typography - Gothic Type

As they were designed to ape the hand-written books of the time, these new printed books were difficult to read and so the ‘Serif’ font was created. Essentially Serif involves a curve at the end of each letterform and a variable width to create more visual cues for the reader.

All fonts are now recognised as either Serif or Sans Serif (without the curve), so it’s important to appreciate this difference before looking at the development of some key fonts through history:

1470 – The Serif, also known as Roman form, was developed in France and soon became the type of choice for most printers throughout England and Europe.

Late 15th century – The Venetian Old Style was designed to be clear and legible, imitating the handwriting of Renaissance scholars.

15th century – Aldus Manutius created the first italic versions of Roman fonts. Up until the 18th century these italics were used as text type, after which they became the supplement to Roman which we use today.

1643 – Script typefaces such as Legend were designed in Paris to imitate various writing instruments including brushes, broad edged pens and pointed pens. These were usually used for special purposes rather than body text.

18th century – Type designers began to use mathematical formulas in the text design process. It was during this period – known as the ‘transition’ – that some of the most well-known designers were working, including William Caslon and John Baskerville.

Late 18th century – The Didot family in France began to emphasise strong verticals and fine hairlines to create fonts now referred to as Modern or Didone. Italian designer Bodini then took this even further to create a heavy, elegant style that is ideal for headings and title pages.

Early 1900’s – Geometric type came into use, which was influenced by the Bauhaus mechanical and geometric designs of the period. Futura is one font that reflects this influence.

1900’s – Humanist fonts combined Sans Serif features with a slightly more varied stroke than is typical of Sans Serif type. Gill Sans and Optima are examples of the styles they came up with.

1900’s – Slab Serif typefaces were developed for early nineteenth century posters and high-impact advertisements. They are typified by strong, square, finishing strokes and include Clarendon, Courier and Glypha.

Typography and the advertising boom

Once the advertising industry caught on to the value of typography it heralded the start of a more artistic approach to setting type. Experimental typographers Francis Picabia and David Carson are just two of the hundreds of artists who have developed typography over the last 100 years or so.

Today, typography in advertising is used to reflect a specific brand identity:

  • Classic Serif fonts – Suggest a strong personality and traditional values
  • Cleaner Sans Serif fonts – Communicate a more modern, neutral look
  • Flamboyant fonts full of detail – Use whimsy and informality to express a myriad of different traits

Thanks to free font download websites and prolific designers, there are now millions of different fonts to choose from when it comes to presenting the written word. But one thing’s for sure, if it wasn’t for the work of Gutenberg, Manutius, Baskerville and co. the modern world would be a far less legible and engaging place.

For your inspirations I have handpicked 15 creative examples of Typography in advertising :

Typography in Advertising - Example 1

Typography in Advertising - Example 2

Typography in Advertising - Example 3

Typography in Advertising - Example 4

Typography in Advertising - Example 5

Typography in Advertising - Example 6

Typography in Advertising - Example 7

Typography in Advertising - Example 8

Typography in Advertising - Example 9

Typography in Advertising - Example 10

Typography in Advertising - Example 11

Typography in Advertising - Example 12

Typography in Advertising - Example 13

Typography in Advertising - Example 14

Typography in Advertising - Example 15

Written by CrazyLeaf Editorial

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