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New Traditionalism

The decision to use “vintage” typefaces, techniques and aesthetics can come from a variety of motivations. Designers tend to be collectors and lovers of informational miscellany and minutiae, and vintage type is the perfect outlet to express those carnal desires in an effective and acceptable way.

Vintage designs are a celebration of their times, their economies and their progress. They come loaded with history and meaning, and tend to be obtuse in the way they go about their business. It is refreshing to look at design that has such a clear voice when you are searching for the right direction in your own work. There is a joy in historical design; A freedom to use a dozen typefaces in one design, the eccentricities of a typeface designed on the fly by a worker in a wood type factory, and the bold, straightforward language used to sell a bottle of soda are all cathartic to us now, free from the burdens we can feel when doing our own work. These pieces have a special sense of emotion; evoking places and moods on top of their visual aesthetics. Vintage designs have reminded designers to take risks, to mix more typefaces and break more rules.

“These pieces have a special sense of emotion; evoking places and moods on top of their visual aesthetics. Vintage designs have reminded designers to take risks, to mix more typefaces and break more rules.”

It’s easier to separate yourself from historical design work than the work of your current peers. The technology, standards, and conventions were vastly different than they are now, and it enables you to look at the work objectively and closely study its formal attributes. The limitations of the time often forced unique solutions for dealing with type and composition. Now that we are separated from the context of those earlier works, we can look on them with our own set of tools, rules and needs and reconfigure them in fresh ways that retain the charm of the original while fulfilling the needs of the modern day. The gaudy, superfluous typefaces of the Victorian period can be given new life when put in a controlled setting, and the surprisingly complicated composition on a baseball ticket from the 1930’s can be revived with careful typeface selections. The goal is not rote reproduction of vintage designs; it is to re-imagine them in a new age.

The right selection of a historically inspired typeface can bring your work an extra layer of meaning and importance. Older designs have an added weight to them, an importance and meaning that goes beyond the formal aspects of the face that comes from decades of use and exposure. We can connect with a typeface without knowing why because it subliminally references the careful craft of a sign painter or the stylized geometric shapes of the Art Deco movement.

It’s refreshing to look at a physical object for a spark instead of a computer screen. Seeing something physical that’s still around decades after its creation is an inspiration in a multitude of ways. It’s design out of its original context, free from comparisons of whatever trends were popular at the time, once again fresh and new. It’s also a reminder of the importance and longevity of design. Design can be timeless, cherished, and treasured, and that’s an exciting thing to remember. I think there is more to looking to past designs than just seeking a spark of visual stimulation. There is an element of reverence and respect tied to it as well. By resurrecting a design element from the past you are honoring it and proving that it was a worthwhile endeavor in a way you hope your own work will be respected in the future.

You can purchase Design: Type through amazon and various other sellers of fine books.