We’re constantly surrounded by letters. And not just those that you’re reading right now or on the news, but ones that are beautifully crafted, carry character and wit, and are full of emotive storytelling. That’s right, letters can tell stories not only with what they’re telling us but with how they look.
None of your favourite brands’ lettering is ever picked at random. It always looks a certain way, follows a specific colour scheme or takes a certain odd shape because it’s meant to make us feel, understand and relate to it. A lot of this is largely related to data and psychology - the way we react to colour and shape directs how we interact with the beautiful letters we see attached to brands, films, musicians and really, any entity out there. Incredible and memorable typography is a science in and of itself, and is the culprit for brand relatability, especially when used correctly and on the right crowd.
At Little Black Book, we are suckers for beautiful visual design, particularly when it comes to lettering. That’s why we decided to speak to typers and visual nerds from across the industry to find out more about the best and most eye-catching moments of the year. Who is the Beyoncé of type? What is the latest fashion in typography? Are we heading in a straight line to maximalism, or is there still space for elegance? Find out below!
‘Mean Tomato’ was my favourite bit of identity work this year. It had everything - great planning, superb positioning, and execution, it really resonated with me. It’s so important that we don’t forget the power of wit, and this delivered it so well – hence the three D&AD awards!
One of my favourite designers, Alec Tear, was responsible for the design and typography, and as usual he integrated everything beautifully. The bespoke font created for the client hits exactly the right tone and feel and he makes all the elements sing together wonderfully. A dream project! Congratulations to Alec, Kuba and Co, Dan Woodger and everyone else involved.
OK, I’m not going to lie, I have a vested interest on ‘Whole Earth’, as I’ve worked with Alison Carmichael for a long time, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the supreme level of craft on show here, but I’m still incredibly impressed by the finished results, and the art direction which is spot on. Using an actual product ‘live’ for a studio shoot is inherently challenging as, no matter how much planning you do, it’s impossible to predict how it will behave under the lights, especially when you have team of people - including the client - breathing over your shoulder, watching you create the typography in front of their eyes. Creating something this accomplished takes absolute nerves of steel as well as great skill. Hats off again to the Beyoncé of type!
As ever from F37, ‘F37 Press’ is a really clever bit of thinking. Everyone loves the textures that you get from old letterpress work, but it’s always been a huge challenge to replicate that digitally, especially in a programmed font. But Rick and Ryan managed to solve this using code to ensure that no two letters near each other would have the same texture. A simple but really effective way of using contextual alternatives within the type programme to create something creative and useful. Another project well worthy of its D&AD recognition.
Quinnton Harris & Joy Ekuta
Co-founders of Retrospect
This year, Retrospect saw its share of some of the most beautiful and expressive typefaces used within design.
Whether in print, on apparel, or online, we’ve loved typefaces that strike the delicate balance between elegant and vibrant. Some of our favourites have come from houses like Lift Type
[below] and Ohno Type
One that continues to be our favourite is Plage
[below] - its letterforms are clean and feature subtle curves that make it playful and expressive.
We used it as one of the hero fonts for our brand redesign of food tech app EatOkra
because it tonally connected us to how we imagine the flavours and mouth-watering sizzles of food across the Black diaspora. Here’s an example of how we used the font.
Executive producer, Unsaid Studio
In our approach to ‘Gift Of Life’
, simplicity ruled our typography. Opting for stark black and white, a singular font, we aimed to let nothing overshadow the script's poignancy.
Amidst a trend towards maximalism, Unsaid embraced the beauty of reverting to true simplicity, cutting to the core of each project. Exploring the dynamic potential of motion and 3D elements, we discovered the transformative effect on words — adding metaphor, emotion, and depth. This process allowed us to break free from the 2D motion norm, crafting a poetic and immersive experience. Collaborating with DDB, we strategically stood out in newspapers, socials, and billboards, championing impactful, hyper-focused design.
Marketing director, Clear Channel UK
Specsavers have a fantastic brand platform that they bring to life over and over again, built on such brilliant distinctive brand assets, but what I love about this campaign is that it felt like something a little different from the brand.
And core to the campaign? An OOH execution with brilliantly executed typography.
The art direction, set in that knowing moment, squeezes in a simple solution to a very relatable issue. With each piece of copy, it feels like the line hangs as an unsaid truth between the characters.
Just perfect. A powerful poster.
Head of art & design, Wunderman Thompson UK
‘The Hyphen is a Dagger’ – a collaboration between poet SJ Fowler, artist Angie Butler and letterpress printer Nomad, using the physical and technical constraints of the print process along with self-imposed restrictions (font sizes must get progressively larger, only wood type allowed) resulted in a beautiful, limited edition run of a printers’ edit of the poem Guillaume XI.
A genuine artistic collaboration rather than a printer simply producing the poem, the process transforms the text and our relationship with it. And it looks unspeakably beautiful.
Creative director, The Park
2023 has been a great year for drooling over type, huge thanks to my main inspirational players, Will Roids, Lakwena and Pref.
However, there’s a typography institution we should recognise. A concept that’s brought magic to thousands over the years, through playful experience, whilst carving themselves out as the gods of signwriting.
‘Carters Steam Fair’, which started in 1977 and has been managed by the founders’ son (and sign-writing legend), Joby for the past 20 plus years. The fair includes rides from the 1890s like the Steam Galloper and has toured England for most of its existence.
Whether you’re a graffiti artist, graphic designer or illustrator, at some point you’ve referenced ‘Carters Steam Fair’. Let’s be honest, you’ve probably done more than just ‘reference’ their work! Put aside the noise of the funfair, dive into the technicality of lettering that Carters has defined, you’ll find a world of the most opulent 3Ds, illogical drop shadow (but still works), gold leaf and etching that defy physics, and of course, the planet’s finest copywriting.
Creative director art, JvM HAMBURG
While judging the LIA this year I ran across this wonderful piece of work: If you google Comic Sans, one of the first questions that pops up is "Why do people hate Comic Sans?"
In the spirit of "Hate something, change something, make something better" (my all-time favourite Honda ‘Grrr’ commercial from Wieden+Kennedy in 2004), an unloved font is put into a new perspective with a lot of humour, wit and charm, making it visually appealing and special. On top of that, you make "the world a little bit better with a piece of writing".
It is not only the Comic Sans font that is ridiculed and prejudiced, but also people with dyslexia. And the unbelievable thing is that the imbalance of the font that designers criticise is a blessing for people with reading and spelling difficulties. It helps dyslexics to read.
Associate creative director, Re, part of M&C Saatchi Group
For most designers, it’s a dream to make beautiful, bespoke lettering. And to do so for a great cause — raising health awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community — was a dream come true.
Working with 26Health, an American health clinic that supports the under-served LGBTQIA+ community, we created a series of interchangeable hand-drawn letters that not only referenced the equal rights movements of the past, but also the diversity of the community.
It was important that the letters had moments of texture and flair that elevated them against our campaign silhouettes, resulting in a punchy campaign that we’re incredibly proud of.