The ascending and descending trajectory of grunge typography
August 23, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The Rise And Fall Of Grunge Typography.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (45 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
David Carson. I always thought his designs were fun, yet at the same time never felt they communicated anything more than "Oh, that's fun."
posted by cavalier at 10:47 AM on August 23, 2012


Terrific post! I miss the sense of play that was present in the better versions of Ray Gun-style design. Also, even though it's not strictly related to grunge typography, I keep associating that general style with both David McKean's artwork and the design of the Planescape books.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:54 AM on August 23, 2012


NIN's The Fragile featured very interesting design work from David Carson. He also directed one of the commercials for the album.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:57 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


ZALGO - he exits.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


So are we now on the ascent or descent of Zalgography?
posted by komara at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2012


DANGIT Artw!
posted by komara at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Barry Deck’s Template Gothic will forever be my favorite grunge font.
posted by migurski at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I used to love me some David Carson. He's one of the [many] reasons I got into design myself, you might say; his stuff has so much energy, so much impact, that I wanted to be a part of something that was that moving. Still, it always irked me that, because he didn't like that Bryan Ferry article, he didn't bother to really lay it out, and he turned it into Zapf Dingbats. Carson seems to even be proud that he did that (he's spoken about it in interviews). Grade-A dick move.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's akin to the digital/analog recording thing, where every plug-in is trying to re-create some sort of analog noise or color that digital was originally supposed to free us from.

Typography has gone down the same path:
1. This typewriter sucks -- it's blurry, uneven and the little e always blobs out.
2. Wow, this new computer makes really straight, clean type!
3. Wow, that straight clean type is really sterile compared to our cool old typewriter.
*nostalgia ensues*
4. Hey, check this old typewriter font I've just installed on my $5,000.00 Mac Pro!

Design seems to always be in search of DIY authenticity, especially when it comes to "underground" or "alternative" things, like CD covers, that are almost illegible in a lot of cases these days, as a result. Like any trend, it's been overdone, and I'm perfectly happy to see it get dialed back a bit, even though I frequently do it myself.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Barry Deck’s Template Gothic will forever be my favorite grunge font.

Marcelle is my current love, but that'll probably change by dinner.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012


Eduardo Recife has created some of my favorite grunge fonts/effects.

Design seems to always be in search of DIY authenticity

My favorite related example is how Toy Story 3 uses lens flare for dramatic effect.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This thread needs appropriate styling.
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Marcelle is my current love, but that'll probably change by dinner.

The thing that bugs me about distressed fonts is when you have a word or phrase that the same letter appears in repeatedly, each instance is distressed in exacatly the same way. Most typographers don't go to the proper trouble of creating 2 or 3 alternate sets so that when you spell "Bookkeeper" in your crud font, you can avoid this pitfall.

There's a trend towards distressing T-shirt designs using crackle patterns, and I keep a whole bank of bitmap files around that I can throw over an object like a word, or an entire design, and randomize it a lot more effectively in just a couple steps. We made a bunch of 'em years back by printing out whole pages of black on the laser printer, crumpling them up in different ways until the ink cracked, then scanned them back in on the desktop scanner. (Its funny how digital design will occasionally create those disconnect stumbling blocks, like when I wanted a torn edge on something, and spend hours googling "torn edge" to no avail, then flailing with Photoshop effects before it finally dawned on me to actually tear an actual piece of paper & scan that. Sometimes analog art is still the only way to get those sort of analog effects)
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:25 AM on August 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


It seems to me Template Gothic wasn't designed as grunge but was certainly used that way.
posted by bz at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2012


This thread needs appropriate styling.
posted by Artw


Flagged as fantastic.
posted by grouse at 11:31 AM on August 23, 2012


The most fun I ever had though, was when I wanted some ink splats for a design. My artist started out with the india ink dropper at his desk, but the spats didn't spread enough. He stoop up, then stood on his chair, & still not good enough. We ended up going outside, & he climbed the tree in the parking lot while I tried to center the paper under the falling ink drops. I think he was about 15 feet up before we got what we were after.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:34 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The overused fonts right now, at least based on what I see, aren't necessarily the sans ones that are kind of the empty modernism that replaced grunge, but rather the twee faux-script fonts most likely to be seen emulating emo yearning on instagram photos. They just make everything read like treacly notes in a middle-schooler's trapper keeper.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the 50's diner menu look. Getting old fast.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> when you have a word or phrase that the same letter appears in repeatedly, each instance is distressed in exacatly the same way.

That's what Beowulf was designed to address: It's a font with a clever little Postscript hack that deforms the path outline of each character in every instance and every rendering. The problem is that it was still pretty much distinctly the same letter, with just a wiggly little edge (except for one of the more extreme iterations), and didn't really resemble organic wear'n'tear.

Of course since it's a Postscript hack, sometimes a given app or environment didn't actually randomize the character outlines -- they were all wiggly in exactly the same way, which returns us to the original problem you describe. That doesn't seem to have stopped many designers, though.
posted by ardgedee at 11:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Handwriting fonts suffer from the same problem. I only ever had one good handwriting font that had three different complete font sets, that were all the same weight rather that bold, italic, black, etc. that a normal font comes with, so that you could change the second of ss type combinations to an alternate version.

Of course, the suitcase corrupted years ago & I can't remember its name. FONT CORRUPTION!
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


They just make everything read like treacly notes in a middle-schooler's trapper keeper.

Whatever man. Just get off my Font/DA Mover and spec your glyphs elsewhere.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wasn't even on drugs.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:19 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The other grunge touchstone for me is Kyle Cooper
s 1995 title credits for the movie Se7en, which spawned a whole new era of artistic credits. Here's info from Art of the Title. I loved the movie but I think the title credits have stuck with more than the film has.
posted by Nelson at 12:29 PM on August 23, 2012


Design seems to always be in search of DIY authenticity, especially when it comes to "underground" or "alternative" things, like CD covers, that are almost illegible in a lot of cases these days, as a result. Like any trend, it's been overdone, and I'm perfectly happy to see it get dialed back a bit, even though I frequently do it myself.

Well, it goes through phases, as all design does. Helvetica, for instance was a turn toward the whole "rational"/"international" movement in design, where design wasn't supposed to get in the way of meaning. Before that, the font design and rendering of words was meant to be more energetic and fun!

Just before grunge, the height of using font for effect would probably be the FRANKIE SAY RELAX shirts of the 80s, rendered in bold, blocky, capital letters that could be read from a mile away. Before that, the 70s were bubble letters that looked soft and easy and a little bit porny.

So design really hasn't always been in search of authenticity...it's sometimes trying to ape DIY, but sometimes it moves directly against that convention. I expect that our own clean, crisp ideas of font design will be moved aside for something we haven't thought of yet, that's just catching on with some oddball who decided to travel somewhere for a design class or is creating the cover for a self-published flyer or something.
posted by xingcat at 12:42 PM on August 23, 2012


I love this post and I love the Awl, but the phrase

Indie movies like Fight Club

contains a really glaring error in its first two words. Oh, and I love Fight Club, too.
posted by item at 1:01 PM on August 23, 2012


But we still have Bleeding Cowboy!
posted by asfuller at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2012


Design seems to always be in search of DIY authenticity

I agree, but I think it has even more to do with texture and weight than just straight-up authenticity. Grunge is a great example. It evokes this whole aesthetic of having been really well used, abused even, tattered and torn and tossed around like an old pair of jeans held together with safety pins and head shop patches. That's oddly comforting, beautiful even.

As a musician I'm always looking for that texture, something to give my music extra heft and depth. As a graphic designer I'm doing the same thing; I probably use the "add noise" filter more often than is healthy. Similarly in music I like to add noise, which is really just representational of some low-level chaotic nature shit that you can't create on your own.

Example: hounds-tooth pattern is pretty cool on its own, but it's really cool on actual wool. It's that fuzziness of the wool combined with the ordered sharpness of the hounds-tooth that makes it so tasty.

See also: wabi-sabi

Pretty sure I've linked this before too: Shitty is Pretty
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


the FRANKIE SAY RELAX shirts of the 80s, rendered in bold, blocky, capital letters that could be read from a mile away.

Jesus, dude! Trigger warning!
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:44 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a musician I'm always looking for that texture, something to give my music extra heft and depth. As a graphic designer I'm doing the same thing; I probably use the "add noise" filter more often than is healthy. Similarly in music I like to add noise, which is really just representational of some low-level chaotic nature shit that you can't create on your own.

I totally appreciate that, & agree on a lot of levels. I didn't mean to disparage the idea of a DIY asthetic overall -- I just find it interesting how we're using digital technology to replicate analog processes in search of that authenticity. As I said, I tend to do it myself.

There's just a bit of irony that amuses me in a wry way in using a device that's capable of previously unmatched exactitude & programming it purposely to re-introduce the analog funk that used to be unavoidable because it was the best process we had. Often, that analog asthetic ends up being superior, like the warmth or recording to an Ampex tube deck through a Neve console.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Too funny - I was actually thinking about this just the other day. The grunge fonts of the 90s have I think been replaced by Futura. Something about the yearning for both a bright science fiction-y future where we all wear silver lamé jump suits, combined with a fondness for the 1940s aesthetic. Futura is like Helvetica's hip younger cousin.

Meanwhile, popular photography is I guess going through the same renaissance now that fonts did in the 90s. If 90s grunge fonts were all about "power to the people" and rebelling against a sanitized public image where everything is clean and crisp, that's what Instagram is all about right now.
posted by ErikaB at 2:44 PM on August 23, 2012


That's true -- Digital photography is just now entering the nostalgia phase that digital audio and digital art have already been going through for a while now. I can see why, too. I've gone back to shooting film again, and film is great. (I love my D80 but my new-to-me Canon AE-1 is quite a little marvel, too)
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:59 PM on August 23, 2012


The grunge fonts of the 90s have I think been replaced by Futura.

BLAME GOES HERE
posted by Sys Rq at 3:44 PM on August 23, 2012


Futura is like the best ever and I will personally FIGHT YOU WITH WEAPONS if you disagree mmmkay

FUTURA BOLD 4 LIFE
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:02 PM on August 23, 2012


futura is my metafilter body font
posted by subbes at 4:09 PM on August 23, 2012


I was totally guilty of producing grunge typography in the earlier 90s, but it was mostly analog, of the “print text in Courier, rip into phrases with ragged edges, glue onto backing at skewed angles, photocopy with zoom, repeat until industrial zine look achieved” variety.

I wonder if the fall of the digital grunge aesthetic was mostly just people realizing how lame it looks to use a typeface where every letter A looks grungy in exactly the same way.
posted by mubba at 7:15 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


(or, what Devils Rancher already said.)
posted by mubba at 7:16 PM on August 23, 2012


Maximo Vignelli

Heh.
posted by safetyfork at 8:37 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Futura is like Helvetica's hip younger cousin.

Futura is, in fact, 30 years older than Helvetica. It is Helvetica's badass uncle.
posted by zjacreman at 8:41 PM on August 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


David Carson was my world civ teacher in high school. The year after I graduated, he was the advisor for the yearbook staff. Besides working at the school he was working at Surfer Magazine (he was also the advisor for our school's surf team... Yes we had one). I was pretty excited when he got famous, even though I had heard a lot of bad rumors about him and his ethics after I left town... I wasn't gonna believe that jealous stuff... He was cool! Mister Carson was a design celebrity! And coincidentally I was studying design! It was symbiotic!

So I went to an Envision Conference in Sacramento and he was speaking (so were Vignelli, Margo Chase, a whole bunch of people...) so when I saw a chance I walked up to David. I said, "Mister Carson, I don't know if you remember me but I was in our world civ class a few years ago and now I'm a graphic designer." with a big smile on my face.

In my life I have never seen anyone look so much like they wanted to disappear. He basically hushed me to not tell anyone that he was a high school teacher because it was a long time ago (it wasn't) and he was ashamed of it. He then turned his back to me.

That was when I realized that many of the ugly things I'd heard about David Carson were probably spot on. He was one of the biggest (okay, littlest - the man is two feet tall) dicks I have ever met in my life and since that moment I have always considered him an example of how success can turn some people into narcissistic monsters. He was a pompous little turd and I'm not sorry that his work's popularity had a descent... I hope he was forced to be humbled.

Truth be told, if I could will it, I would simply hope for him to have to go back to teaching high school in his old age... and in the process realize that teaching kids is a *far* more important and meaningful job than designing hipster grunge magazines where half of the articles aren't even readable because they were printed backwards "accidentally on purpose."
posted by miss lynnster at 10:14 PM on August 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


What is this stuff called?
posted by snottydick at 7:57 AM on August 24, 2012


Typographic Glurge.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:02 AM on August 24, 2012


Calligraphic Glurge.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 AM on August 24, 2012


Back when one of my pals was in design school, one of the things he was most proud of was creating a handwriting/script font that had ligatures for some sixty or so letter combinations, which helped get past some of the repetition that made regular handwriting fonts so boring.

Now, it's totally not a practical font, and a lot of those ligatures would repeat, but it was pretty cool in the main.
posted by klangklangston at 1:13 PM on August 24, 2012


What is this stuff called?

A first or second comp, to get it out of your system.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:24 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Studying Typography Through Fossilized Letters
posted by homunculus at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2012


« Older Jonathan Cohn compares the effects on Medicare fro...  |  The violin player in the Stope... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments