The Significance of Technology in the Evolution of Typography

Since the invention of the movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, there have been significant developments in the field of typography. Typography which was once used to stamp royal currency and seals has now turned out to be one of the most crucial elements for intricate works of design.

Thanks to technology, the introduction of Font API’s has led to the rediscovery of how well fonts can be displayed on mobile devices for enhanced user experience. During every stage of the development of typography, technology has certainly played a huge role towards its betterment and acceptability among the viewers as well as users.

The Rise of Western Typography

It is believed that western typography started to evolve mainly during the middle of 15th century when typefaces, fonts and types started to appear. This was mainly due to the fast growth of movable type printing that opened up new opportunities of reproducing texts for western culture. Now, you may be thinking, “what on earth is movable type printing?” Well, type mobility refers to individual letters of different sizes that were cast with the assistance of a device invented by Gutenberg. Reproduction of text was extremely simple as it was only required to arrange the metal letters in different combinations to create meaningful text.

Calligraphic handwriting which was prevalent during those times started to get replaced by the fashionable Gothic hand which consisted of diagonal and horizontal lines, dainty curved lines and heavy vertical strokes. Thus, Gothic letters became the preferred choice for carving blocks during Gutenberg’s times. But, the best part was that, the evolution didn’t stop and it started to take inspiration from various other writing forms. The craftsmen constantly looked for new sources of inspiration like Dark Ages Bibles, Roman inscriptions, etc. so as to create new letterforms. An important thing to note here is that the technology invented by Gutenberg already came to existence in Asia a few centuries back.

The Rise of Western Typography

What Led to the Need for Typography?

Typography was already starting to establish itself as a very detailed form of human creativity. However, the question that comes to mind is that what led to the need for new and various interpretations of punctuations, letters and numbers? Well, one might agree that legibility has something to do with it. After humans learned to read their brains no longer wanted to make any sense out of single letters. They started to see words in the form of shapes or, the combination of different shapes.

Aesthetic appeal was considered to be one of the other reasons. Similar to the way a building is not built from one only type of brick, a word is also not made of one type of letter. The beginning of the period of Renaissance can be largely contributed to the fact that information revolution had already created a spark where the change seemed inevitable. Slowly time was running towards the modern era. Wooden font molds came into existence which was infrequently used to print large fonts apart from the fonts that could be created by the metal font molds. Technology was getting better and the chances of typography evolving to a huge extent increased considerably. During the 1890’s, the linotype machine was invented which made it possible to compose lines of type at a time with help of a keyboard consisting of 90 characters. This was the first step towards reducing the human effort of manually arranging letters. The great thing was that the letter molds produced could be used immediately. Not only that, it also meant that letter molds could be continuously produced and people could access information more easily and quickly.

During the 17th and 18th century, new trends started to appear giving typography a better look and aesthetic appeal. Greater contrast was being provided to the letters with thin and thick strokes while bracketed serifs turned into straight lines. The transition towards Roman typefaces was evident and a lot of credit goes to Johann Fleischmann, John Baskerville and William Caslon as they are the ones who made notable contributions towards this transition.

Further Betterment and Advancement of Typography

Thanks to the industrial revolution, rapid development started to take place and newer technologies and techniques began to appear. The arrival of printing technology helped a lot of designers to create different types of fonts which would further assist with the evolvement of typography.

Further Betterment and Advancement of Typography

Then came the time of the phototypesetting machines through which characters were projected on to photosensitive film or paper and was developed with the help of photo chemicals. It is quite obvious that these technologies offered limited scope of growth but their advent laid the foundation of a bright future for graphic arts. It actually prepared a strong base for the digital type of the present day world. Fully scalable fonts could be produced with the help of these machines which was not at all possible with the physical type.

Similar developments were taking place in the world of information technology where progress was being constantly made towards betterment and advancement of technology. Phototypesetting systems became highly popular and manufacturers like Mergenthaler/Linotype, Compugraphic, Alphatype, etc. fighting hard to capture the market share. But the only problem was that these machines were highly expensive and could only be afforded by big corporations or large type houses.

Time for a Change

Two men, Charles “Chuck” Geschke and John Warnock dreamed something big and they did what they had dreamed. In the year 1982, these two men formed ‘Adobe Systems’. At that time, none would have imagined that their contribution to the world of technology will remain immortal forever. They wanted to solve problems in a different manner and the opportunity came knocking to their door. Steve Jobs who was at that time working with Canon to build a LaserWriter required software that would enable him to tie it with the hardware of the device. Adobe gave him the software he required – PostScript. They even came up with the hinting technology for the PostScript so that the appearance of types could be improved on page. However, the bigger part of the story was that the invention of PostScript software enabled printers and computers from different manufacturers to easily work with one another. The era of font libraries and typesetting systems was finally coming to an end. By licensing new and traditional font designs Adobe was able to grasp the world of computing with its products. Gaining licenses for various type styles of Linotype and Monotype helped them to carry forward the conventions and heritage of older typefaces.

This was the phase when the world of printing and type started to revolutionize and can be considered to be the golden era of creating type. Proportions and styles that are still quite prevalent these days received more refinement and started to get popular among designers. Traditional fonts like San-Serif, Scripts, Slab, Serif, etc. were introduced and they became the base for font foundries. Adobe knew what they had to do and their device independent software helped them to quickly capture the emerging market of fonts. Geschke and Warnock understood that in order to carry forward the success of personal publishing they required a great type. This led to the negotiation between International Typeface Corporation and Adobe so as to include fonts within future versions of PostScript. Summer Stone, a renowned typographer was hired by Adobe as the Director of Typography. This further helped Adobe to become the official distributor of typefaces to various companies all over the world.

The Days of Modern Typography

During the early days of computer systems typefaces were primarily based on ASCII consisting only 128 characters. This was proving to be a limitation when it came to the sale of computers. It was obvious that computer systems required a universal character set so as to make things easier and open up new possibilities. This led to the inception of Unicode character set which can be easily incorporated across multi-tiered or client-server applications as well as websites. Slowly things started to take a new direction and typography became a specialized field. With the growth of the internet, the scope of experimenting and introducing new fonts widened to a huge extent. Technology was constantly playing its part to improve and evolve typography in way that receives easy acceptance and appreciation from the readers and users.

In the year 1995, the first Netscape browser was released and that created the opportunity to diversify fonts. With the gradual progress of web standards, the ability to customize as well as utilize different types of web fonts became a lot easier and convenient. On top of that selling and using of personal; computers also became easy with Unicode deployed on the system. The world was gradually moving towards an era where technology would establish itself firmly on every aspect of human life. Typography started to take an effect on graphic design and designers started to infuse text along with graphics to attract and engage the web visitors.

Over the past few decades or so numerous technologies and techniques have been invented which has further assisted with the growth and development of the web and print industry. During the times of HTML, styles and font faces displayed depended totally on the settings of a specific browser being used by the user. However, things took a drastic turn with the introduction of webfonts. These fonts are specifically configured to work in browsers and allowed users to make use of fonts which are not installed in their computers. Credit for this feature actually goes to CSS which helps to search through fallback fonts even if the font is not installed within the system.

The Days of Modern Typography

In the age of smartphones and tablets, designers have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing the right type of typography. With the continuous growth and expansion of the internet the need for varied and new fonts continues to increase. With several new tools available to designers to design a new font opportunities of showcasing their creativity has vastly increased. After so many transformations and developments, typography has evolved as a design and art form which is being increasingly used by designers to express their creativity and passion for art. Nowadays, one can also see designs being made simply with various types of fonts creating a stunning effect.

It is quite clear from the above discussion that typography and technology has been going hand in hand towards further advancement and development. Since the early days of its invention, typography has not only provided us means to communicate our messages through writing but created a new form of art with endless possibilities of evolvement and growth. However, it is difficult to imagine what would have been the fate of typography had technology not been there at its side at all times. Technology acted as the medium through which typography could express its real beauty and charm to the world. As technological advancements continue to embrace our lives, it needs to be seen how typography will evolve further over the coming years.

Like the article? Share it.

LinkedIn Pinterest


  1. This is very interesting, You’re a very professional blogger. I have joined your feed and look ahead to looking for extra of your excellent post. Additionally, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks..

    • Surya, I am glad that you liked my post. Thank you so much for sharing the details and keep dropping by my blog. It always feels good when readers appreciate your work :)

  2. Very much helpful content for me as a typography student.

Leave a Comment Yourself

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *