Type Trends: Slants and Angles

I’m fortunate to be in the field of typography that I love surrounded by colleagues whom I admire. I’m constantly learning from the “shop talk” conversations that happen at type conferences, on Twitter and via e-mail. I met Tiffany Wardle de Sousa at the University of Reading 15 years ago when we were both working toward our masters degrees in typography and graphic communication, and we’ve remained close ever since. This is the first in a series of conversations about typography in design, where Tiffany and I look at current type trends, and give them a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

Type Trend: Angled or Slanted Type

Dr. Shelley Gruendler: One of the type trends I’ve been seeing recently is slanted type set on an angled baseline so that the stems become vertical—thus forcing the words to incline up the page. It doesn’t all seem to be retro, either. Some of these designs are quite modern, some are hand-generated, and many use script typefaces.

Tiffany Wardle de Sousa: I’ve noticed this as well, and I think it’s a valid trend and not just a fad. (Can you call something that designers have been using for a long time a trend? I’m not sure I’d call it a trend or a fad.) I think I’d just say it is a tool in the tool chest of a designer. Like any tool, it can be used wrongly and poorly.

SG: This look reminds me of some of the slanted settings from advertising art and lettering in the 1950s. We seem to be in an era of enormous interest in vintage and retro typography. I love it! It’s wonderful to see new interpretations of styles that have been around for decades or even centuries. Perhaps more people are starting to care about type history?

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Poster by Will Ecke for Albert+Marie

Learn the essential elements of typography as they apply to logo and identity design, in a session with Denise Bosler at the HOW Design Conference in San Francisco, June 23-26. HOW Design Live logos

TWD: I think these type trends might stem from nostalgia. In many ways I’m absolutely enjoying it, but at the same time I have to say that it can be cloying at times. Some designers seem to be using it as a crutch or a decoration when it doesn’t really make sense.

SG: I wonder if the angled type is a throwback to the typography of the early 20th century, where lines of text were set in multiple faces and all crammed in to fit. Look at movie titles, for example: Many title designs in the 1920s through the 40s and 50s were set at angles as well, but they were more in the hand-lettering genre. Or maybe I’m giving today’s designers a little too much credit for their historical references?

TWD: No, no. I think some designers are honestly interested in history and use it asappropriate inspiration in their project. But other designers don’t dig deep enough. They seek out the more popular work right now, such as the work of Jessica Hische, and can only mimic. Mimicking doesn’t always ring true in design, and it can be obvious.

SG: I agree: There are some situations where this slanted-type trend seems to work, and when it does, it works very, very well. Designers like Patric King have done an excellent job with the Movie Line Portraits series. It feels modern and wonderfully edgy but still is readable, clean and crisp.

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Movieline poster by Patric King

TWD: These are great! The designers are taking information and doing the something to make it more dynamic than just a column of names. There is so much design out there we can’t possibly see all of it. It could be that the designers we follow or are associated with just happen to also like simplicity in design and happen to use [angled type] as a device.

SG: Good point. I think that many could think of ‘dynamic’ typography as in motion, but this is a method of bringing movement in to an obviously static application.

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WPA poster, circa 1941, courtesy of Collection of the Prints & Photographs Division of the U.S. Library of Congress.

TWD: Some designers throw everything and the kitchen sink at a project, but usually the best answer is the simplest answer. When working with display typography, it isn’t always necessary to make it explicitly active or dynamic. A simple tilt of the type can be enough to serve the purpose.

SG: Do you see this type trend of angled words waxing or waning?

TWD: I don’t know why it would go anywhere. I think it will simply be applied with different levels of style. If you look through history, it’s been around for a very long time—just used in different ways. For whatever reason, slanted type is trendy right now. The typographers I most admire choose their type wisely and use devices sparingly.

SG: It shows that innovation is still alive in typography and design—and we haven’t yet exhausted all the possibilities.

TWD: Thank goodness for that!

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