This year's top fonts (for now)

WedWed, Jun202163009 2021+00:00amWed, 16 Jun 2021 09:28:19 +0000

Trends come and go, and the same is true for fonts. It is always difficult to forecast what will be popular, so instead of guessing, we’re going to look at which fonts have already seen a rise in use, and the reasons why.

Serif fonts – personal favourite: Ogg

Classic, retro-nostalgic, sophisticated, and flourished, serif fonts are seeing a strong renewal in 2021. They are defined by the little flourishes at the line-ends of letters (see below), and some examples include Ogg, Garamond, Tiempos Text, and the ever-loved Times New Roman. Serif fonts stand out in particular because their flourishing contrasts the simple, minimalist fonts that had previously seen popularity in design circles (remember when we all loved Helvetica?).

Ogg min

Tiempos Text min

Times New Roman min

Garamond min

Why are they popular now?

Whether you’ve been listening to ‘80s pop revival (favs include anything from Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia), watching Stranger Things, Wonder Woman 1984, or really any remake Hollywood has thrown at us in the last few years, you may have noticed a cultural tendence towards retro-nostalgia. While this trend was not necessarily caused by the pandemic, it certainly pushed it to new heights as new cultural production became at times impossible. It’s likely serif fonts are part of this nostalgic current in our culture, but perhaps unlike the colourful neon of ‘80s pop aesthetics, these fonts are more timelessly sophisticated; they suggest an ongoing excellence and commitment to quality. In fact, the origins of serif fonts go back to antiquity: Timothy Samara suggests that the flourishes came about to neaten the letters made by Greeks and Romans when they carved writings into stone (explains the name behind Times New Roman, too).[1] It seems serif fonts will always have a spot because of that timelessness, while our locked-down selves have bolstered their popularity due a desire to escape into the past.

Sans-serif fonts – personal favourite: Futura Now

Sans-serif fonts are not a trend as such, as they have seen consistent popularity across the decades. However, there are some exciting sans-serif fonts that are seeing more and more use from designers. Coming from the French sans (‘without’), sans-serif fonts are defined by not having the flourishes of serif-fonts, instead opting for simplicity, modernity, and minimalism. Before becoming known as such, these fonts were often called ‘gothic’ – hence the names behind sans-serif fonts such as New Gothic, Franklin Gothic, and Highway Gothic (not to be confused with Tumblr Gothic, which describes my teenage years). While Helvetica is now too old-school to be considered hip and modern, the latest trend includes exciting fonts such as Neue Haas Grotesk, Circular, Proxima Nova, and Futura Now. Sans-serif fonts have the added benefit of holding up well in low-resolution images, but as high-res technology has become more readily available, the reason for their popularity now is perhaps more complex.

Circular min

Proxima Nova min

Futura Now min

Neue Haas Grotesk min

Why are they (still) popular now?

Equally as the pandemic has encouraged us to take comfort in past joys, so too has it pushed us to opt for a better future. Sans-serif fonts recall the avant-garde aesthetics of Futurist circles in the early 20th century (see below: Blast, published 1914) and push towards imagining new types of futures. It is not a coincidence political posters from different decades opt for sans-serif fonts too, either to promote or consolidate recent social changes. For instance, a poster from Switzerland in 1928 uses the font Berthold Block to make a strong case for keeping casinos and gambling houses closed.

Of course, its uses are more diverse than politics, however. In fact, sans-serif fonts have had to fight against the prejudice that their only use was in commercial media: in 1922, master printer Daniel Berkeley Updike claimed they had ‘no place in any artistically respectable composing-room.’[2] Sans-serif fonts therefore position themselves in opposition to tradition, but they can equally be recuperated into capitalist and commercial aesthetics. We will continue to see sans-serif fonts in branding – to suggest ‘we are the future of x industry’ – but also in countercultural media, as different sectors of society reform after the pandemic.

Blast min
Blast, edited by Wyndham Lewis, was a short-lived avant-garde literary magazine published in 1914 in Britain.

Swiss poster min
A Swiss poster from 1928 (translation: 'For the honour of Switzerland! Not the game houses nor the croupiers! So vote NO. In 1920, the Swiss people decided to close game houses. Why reopen them?')

Boulevard Wharf min
From the Boulevard Wharf website, which uses Proxima Nova (

YCL Glasgow min
The (Glasgow-based) Young Communist League's logo on social media.

Display fonts – personal favourite: Beatrice Display

In a world of branding and business, having a punchy, unique font sets you apart from competitors. 2020 saw an explosion of display fonts, defined as fonts that exist as larger headings rather than smaller fonts which can be used for extended passages of body text. Display fonts are relatively new in the history of print because early printing technology primarily sought to accommodate large passages of body text (for instance, the first book made in Europe on a printing press was the Bible – imagine typing THAT in a display font). But now more than ever, display fonts are on the rise, including such beauties as Mirtha Display, Beatrice Display, Degular, and Meek Display. For big chunks of body texts, consistency in the lettering is key for legibility; for display fonts, however, the aim is to exploit and juxtapose the space available when letters are blown up to huge sizes. Note, for instance, the sharp contrast between the widths of the different lines and curves in Beatrice Display: the effect is attention-grabbing, as a header or logo should be.

Why are they popular now?

Digital marketing remains the strongest way to attract new customers, a situation compounded by shop closures and stay-at-home orders. While shopfronts rely on printed fonts, never before has it been easier to adapt and change fonts that exist in virtual spaces. It is often the case that you will see a shopfront or a van that uses Comic Sans – a classic graphic design blunder of a choice, so much so it has acquired cult meme status – but rarely do you see generic fonts for online branding, because it is so easy now to change it. The demand for unique, visually interesting, and impactful fonts, and their increased accessibility and ease, means that display fonts are likely to keep exploding moving into the second half of 2021.

Beatrice Display min

Mirtha min

Degular min

Meek Display min

For more (free) resources in choosing the perfect font, visit:

Written by Maddie Reid -

[1] Samara, Timothy (2004). Typography workbook: a real-world guide to using type in graphic design. (Rockport Publishers), p. 240.

[2] Updike, Daniel Berkeley (1922). Printing types: their history, forms, and use; a study in survivals vol. 2 (1st ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 243.

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