If you are passionate about graphic design and advertising, or an art history buff, you might have noticed a recent design trend inspired by the Art Nouveau era. It represents a shift away from the prevailing trend of auto-defaulting to sans-serif fonts in favour of the elongated and mystical fonts from La Belle Époque.
Where it all began
To understand why this shift is taking place, it’s useful to know what Art Nouveau was all about. Beginning in the late 1800s, Art Nouveau, which translates from French to ‘new art’, was a collective response to the industrial revolution that took place across Europe and North America. As industrial machines began to outpace the tired hands of artists producing posters, newspapers, and magazines, many artists wanted to fight back against the establishment and create a form of art that could not be replicated using machinery. They crafted fonts and designs that relied on the careful touch of a human being. Art nouveau typography was largely inspired and influenced by organic and asymmetrical shapes found in nature. The calligraphic and hand-made look helped to communicate that this work was not manufactured — it was originally crafted. The idea of Art Nouveau was to achieve a level of art that machinery could not accomplish. The lasting legacy that Art Nouveau has on current graphic design is the marrying of text and illustration together. The text and the illustration are meant to occupy the space harmoniously, rather than be created separately and placed together.
Jugend, which translates to ‘youth’ from German, was a magazine created to showcase German Arts and Crafts but became famous for showcasing the German version of Art Nouveau, Jugendstil(Youth Style).
To this day, well-known brands have relied on this style of typeface including Carlsberg Beer.
Why the shift?
Over the past year and a half, moving away from the manufactured and monotonous forms of design has been a dream come true for many of us, and has likely spawned this trend towards curvaceous and calligraphic font styles. This shift in design isn’t surprising as we saw it in the 1960s-1970s. The Art Nouveau styles helped to encapsulate the zeitgeist of that period of time with the psychedelic swirls, flowers, and more. Today, the digitally perfect sans-serif fonts like Gills Sans and Helvetica no longer inspire us beyond the confines of our work-from-home offices. We crave a more enriched and dream-like design to transport us to a more playful and evolving future. Many popular artists, including musicians like Lorde and Marina, have opted towards these playful and unconventional typefaces for their upcoming records. Arguably this design choice is a reflection of the music featured on their records. As Marina states in ‘Ancient Dreams In A Modern Lands’:
“You don’t have to be like everybody else
You don’t have to fit into the norm
You are not here to conform”
Art Nouveau-inspired typefaces do just that. They are unique and not meant to be perfect, but evolving and almost alive in their nature.