As we all learned in history class, the development of moveable type and the printing press in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg was a turning point for the modern world—and, of course, modern typography. During this time, both practical and decorative typefaces appeared en masse, along with a lighter, more ordered page layout with subtle illustrations.
By the Industrial Revolution typography was all about communicating with the masses. Through signs, posters, newspapers, periodicals and advertisements, typefaces became larger and catchier, with bolder lettering and shading—as well as experimental serif and sans serif typefaces. Ornamental typography was another major highlight in this era. In the 1800’s, medieval art and hand crafted individual art has become commonplace, and international artistic styles developed considerably.
Graphic designers these days have the luxury of endless tools and technology to create a wide range of typographic styles and even entire families of font families and typefaces. Armed with the knowledge of typographic history, graphic designers can expand their horizons and enhance their skills to produce a much more refined body of work.
Understanding the various visual communication principles in typography since the beginning of time can help designers determine which elements have more or less remained the same and which ones have evolved with time—as well as the factors that contributed to their success or failure.
History also allows designers to learn from the past mistakes, understand common threads, reinvent classic letterforms and develop innovative typographic styles, which they can proudly add to an existing portfolio or body of work.
The practically-endless body of work that represents typography makes it impossible for graphic designers nowadays to become familiar with each and every typeface design that exists. However, it is important that to be well-versed in typographic styles, iconic typefaces from the past, and the origins of common typefaces. It’s not just about theoretical knowledge, either; a strong foundational understanding of typographic history helps designers understand and meet the needs of their clients more effectively.