I admit it, I’m somewhat of a design throwback. There are two approaches to typography that I love – and they’re pretty much opposites visually.
First, is the formally structured Swiss design. The style uses a formal grid, usually sans serif typography, dramatic, bold graphics – both photos and illustration – and strong use of positive and negative space. It started in the 1940s and 50s in (guess!) Switzerland and was the one of the dominant design styles mid-twentieth century.
Some samples of Swiss design – also called the International Style. Everything in its place, but striking and dynamic.
But I was drawn to an online article about the second style I loved, which was driven by strong typography, simple visuals, and compelling copy. It started for me with Apple’s first campaign for the Mac. Apple even commissioned Adobe to create a special version of Adobe Garamond Condensed for their branding. Auto, footwear, and other companies followed using the same basic template.
Here are two samples of ads from the 1980s that show the influence of editorial design – powerful images and narrative copy.
To me, this style of visuals refers back to editorial design where the narrative drives the design. In editorial there has to be story-telling component and these designs, combined with narrative text, tell a story.
Three samples of editorial design. From left to right: The New York Times Magazine, 2021. Center and right- two spreads by Herb Lubalin from one of the great design publications, U&LC, from the 1980s.
So why is there a revival in this look now after years of Myriad, Open Sans, Frutiger and the ilk? I’m avoiding mentioning Helvetica because that’s a subject for a whole other blog.
Why is this style coming back now? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s because we’ve been stuck in a clinical, sterile visual world for a while and we need a little of the richness and complexity of the past. Maybe there’s a new awareness of storytelling and we need to be reminded that there’s something going on that we have to dig a little deeper for. Social media is there for instant gratification but sometimes it’s nice to explore something that has deeper layers to reveal. And, frankly, it’s more fun. After being cooped up for two and a half years looking at screens, something more visually lively is a relief.
Who knows if this design trend will expand more or stay at the level that it’s at now. Maybe some will say it’s nostalgia, but I’m not a nostalgic person. I don’t like old movies because they’re in black and white – I like them because they’re good movies. I like this narrative design style because of its esthetic and it’s good, rich communication.