In a way, digital typography really changed with one key piece of technology: when Macromedia introduced Flash,” says Fred Flade, co-founder and creative director of de-construct and committed typophile.
“Before that there was a limit in terms of what you could do with typography online. We had shared fonts on our machines that we knew could safely be used on websites, but when Flash came out you could select the font you wanted and be sure it would display properly in every web browser.”
In 2009 the sheer range of decent typography online is vastly different to 1997, the year Flade graduated with a degree in visual communication and realised that he “probably wouldn’t be working in web design, as it just didn’t offer enough oppor-tunities”. But timing is everything and, later that year, Flade went on to join the London office of Deepend, eventually becoming its design director. Digital type was very much in its infancy but Flash quickly jump-started this emerging discipline.
“Brands could now design websites that fitted the overall look of their communication,” says Flade. “The typography was finally able to look right. Previously, you didn’t have enough control in terms of setting the type, or of those things that you take for granted in print design.”
Ten years ago, digital type was seen as very much the poor relation of its printed cousin. These days, however, faster internet connections and better screens with higher pixel resolutions have meant designers can graphically represent more or less what they want on-screen. As Flade says: “There are no excuses anymore.”
But has the craft side of digital type finally been recognised by those working in traditional media? “We’re in a good place now,” Flade continues, “as there are lots of great sites, which are an indication that the technology has caught up, and there are a lot more people that understand the craft side of things and can apply it.
“What I’ve chosen to show on these pages is hopefully a good mix of digital type. Some are just interesting concepts with a strong idea, as in the newsmap.jp Newsmap where you get a sense of what people are thinking about and talking about, while others are great from a purely visual side.”
The brand new de-construct site for architects OSA (also shown) uses typography to help reinforce the structure of the website itself. “We wanted to get across the geometric nature at the basis of their projects and the way that they put them together,” Flade explains. “This is reflected in the site and by using a just-visible grid you give it a clear structure and a literal ‘architecture’. We’ve used very tight type sizes, the headlines and body copy are limited, and it all works on a grid which holds it all together simply but effectively.”
So ten years on from the launch of Flash, what does Flade see coming next for digital type? “At the moment we’re talking about how we separate the content from the place where it will eventually be viewed or consumed,” he says. “The data you’re looking at on a screen, you can now also look at on a phone. The challenge is to take content to these different formats and interactive devices, which then adds to the complexity of what we do. Since the iPhone and other ‘smart’ phones came along, we’re designing for many different platforms.”