Why Not Futura? How Futura is Actually a Conversation with the Past (2023)

Why Not Futura? How Futura is Actually a Conversation with the Past (1)
In the process of writing and designing the book, Douglas Thomas created an exhibition showcasing Futura’s cultural history.

Douglas Thomas is a graphic designer, writer, historian, and assistant professor at Brigham Young University. On the heels of the recently released Never Use Futura, and the typeface's 90th birthday, Maya P. Lim sat down with Thomas to discuss Futura’s Modernist past, present “golden age,” and unknown future. What does all this add up to? In Thomas’ words, the “biggest story in typography that no one was talking about.”

Maya P. Lim: Why is your book about Futura? Why not Helvetica? Or Arial? Or Times New Roman?

Douglas Thomas: Perhaps like many design students, Futura was one of my first type loves. I first became enamored by Futura in high school while shopping at what was then called Nike Town in Honolulu. Seeing the sleek sophistication of the logo embedded in a complete branding project got me excited about graphic design. Later, I used a similar geometric sans serif in my senior yearbook. Learning a bit about its history, I discovered it was fundamental to the beginnings of graphic design.

I had a professor warn me that Futura was so overused that if I wanted my design to stand out, I’d have to find a more unique typographic voice. I’ve found myself giving similar advice—in part because Futura is really useful and beautiful—but it’s not the easiest typeface to use out of the box. It’s more idiosyncratic than many typefaces, like Helvetica, for example. And worse, the versions of Futura included on most computers are woefully inadequate.

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MPL: So Never Use Futura your way of amplifying what your professor meant? There seems to be some irony here, because under the title you list all of these iconic designers who have used Futura.

DT: At first I wanted to write a retort to those undergraduate professors who told me to never use Futura in my work, because Futura is used over and over again by most of the famous graphic designers of the last century of printing and design. But there was more to it than that. I realized that the best uses of Futura (or really, any typeface) are always in conversation with the ways it has been used in the past. And I also wrote the book to correct a popular misconception. Despite Futura’s role in establishing modernism, many people continue to associate modernism with Helvetica. As such, Futura seemed like the biggest story in typography that no one was talking about in the public at large.

Why Not Futura? How Futura is Actually a Conversation with the Past (2)
The book was written as it was being designed to help ensure a tight integration of words and images.

MPL: How did your interest in type design or type history begin?

DT: What really got me interested in type history, as a corollary to design, was an intellectual history class I audited as an undergrad. I discovered that there was a broad historical context for any typeface that’s been created, and that [type] history had corollaries in other areas, like politics, culture, music, and philosophy. Understanding those connections deeply enriched both my ability to create design and use typography in more interesting ways. When I began to think about Never Use Futura, I was fascinated by the popularization of typefaces. How could a typeface like Futura be at the forefront of popularity in the 1930s, passé in the early 2000s for my design professor, and become a hot commodity again? I wanted to explore questions like those.

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MPL: What are a few of the most surprising things you discovered while conducting the research for the book?

DT: Even though I knew Futura was widespread, it was amazing to see how ubiquitous it became after I started looking for it. It seemed to peek out of every street corner and sign, and even in corners of archives that I never thought would have included Futura. For me, the most shocking discovery was visiting London, walking across the street from Westminster Abbey and the Parliament buildings to see the new Queen Elizabeth II building decked out in Futura—not in Gill Sans, the icon of 20th century British modernism. Almost as surprising was arriving in a small Irish village to see a local politician running their campaign in Futura.

MPL: One of the most surprising things for me was your photo essay—I didn't realize how many companies use Futura for their logotypes, which all look different. There are many other faces with extensive families of weights and styles. Why is Futura so popular as a choice for logotypes?

DT: That was surprising to me too—how it kept showing up everywhere. From my study, its retail popularity was a confluence of a few things: Futura was enjoying a new cycle of popularity in the marketplace in general in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, just when many big box companies were coming of age. Another factor is that since most companies start small, they often begin with typefaces that are widely available to local designers, printers, and vendors, rather than commissioning custom work. Futura also works because it has a range of distinct voices across its family. These allow Futura to appeal to high-end women’s fashion (Futura Light), industrial corporations (Futura Bold), low-end retail (Futura Extra Bold), and even quirky restaurants and clubs (Futura Black). And many companies are copycats—they use what works and has worked before.

Why Not Futura? How Futura is Actually a Conversation with the Past (3)
No digital Futura is exactly alike. A comparison of various modern digital Futura letter S, with Neufville Digital’s Futura in red.

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MPL: You know how Massimo Vignelli said that we only need a few basic typefaces. Do you agree?

DT: I don’t agree with his assessment that there were (or are) only a few great typefaces to begin with. But I do think that a designer could make a great career using just a few typefaces—the work of Vignelli himself is proof of that. More recently, the design studio Experimental Jetset has utilized Helvetica for well over a decade in dozens, if not hundreds, of unique projects. That said, I also don’t think that sort of typographic monasticism is practical for everyone, or every project.

Every typeface has its own unique character and feeling. Because it takes time and practice to become acquainted with every typeface, I think Vignelli’s advice is good when seen from a pedagogical light. Designers who continuously flirt with new types without seeking depth of understanding cannot create well-ordered, complex typographic systems.

MPL: What excites you most about type design today?

DT: In many ways, we’re in a golden age for type design—there is a lot of great work being done, and more of it than ever before. As a graphic designer, I’m most excited that expert-level type design has finally made it to the web. After years of web-typography being an ugly duckling compared to print, it is starting to become a domain where beautiful typefaces are not just used but also expected by top brands. This is especially true of multi-lingual scripts. Not long ago, if you wanted a typeface in every language, you had to use the equivalent of Helvetica or Times New Roman worldwide. Now, there are dozens of exciting script families that incorporate not just Latin-based scripts, but Cyrillic, Greek, Indic, Arabic, and in a few insanely big families that include even east Asian ideograms—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean types, for example.

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MPL: What do you see are the greatest type challenges for the future?

DT: I wonder how type will continue to be used in the future, when Cisco estimates that 82 percent of all internet traffic will be video by 2021, and how type will play in augmented reality and virtual reality formats. Add to that the sheer number of emoji and gifs being used in (or instead of) text snippets, and it is easy to imagine that our society will continue to shift from a print culture to an oral culture. Type design will need to find its place in a changing visual world. Given the creativity and skill of today’s type designers, the future is bright, and I believe that there will be incredible typefaces for every new format.

MPL: Will you assign Never Use Futura to your students?

DT: Yes, for the right classes. Futura may be the focal point, but the more fundamental questions are how and why designers choose typefaces in general, and how those choices have longstanding cultural ramifications. At its heart, I hope readers will come away with a better understanding of type as its own unique language.

Why Not Futura? How Futura is Actually a Conversation with the Past (4)
Much of the book was written and designed at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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FAQs

Why is Futura called Futura? ›

Futura was released by The Bauer Type Foundry in 1927. It was marketed as the “font of our time,” and also as the “font of the future.” It was an immediate commercial success.

What does Futura font represent? ›

Futura is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by Paul Renner and released in 1927. It was designed as a contribution on the New Frankfurt-project. It is based on geometric shapes, especially the circle, similar in spirit to the Bauhaus design style of the period.

How do you identify Futura? ›

The most common characteristics of Futura include it's low crossbar, pointed apex, ascenders that rise above the ascender line, mono-weight strokes, crossbars that have an extended width, circular counter-space, center of the letters that extend to the baseline, and terminals that cut-off.

Is Futura real? ›

Leonard Hilton McGurr (born November 17, 1955), known as Futura, and formerly known as Futura 2000, is an American graffiti artist.
...
Futura (graffiti artist)
Futura
Websitewww.futura2000.com
5 more rows

What is the meaning of Futura? ›

futura f (plural futuras) inheritance.

What is Futura known for? ›

Futura is distinctive for its long ascenders and almost classical Roman capitals — these elements give it its stylish elegance and differentiate it from other geometric san-serifs. Futura can be used as a display and paragraph font and is seen in many notable and historic projects.

Where is Futura used? ›

Futura was heavily marketed by Bauer and its American branch, “die schrift unserer zeit” (which is German for “the typeface of our time”) and “the typeface of today and tomorrow” in English. It has maintained its popularity and is used in famous logos such as Volkswagen, Supreme, IKEA and Party City.

What does Futura pair with? ›

Futura is a sans-serif font. It goes well with Playfair Display, Proxima Nova, Sohne Buch, Lato, Helvetica, Open Sans, Trade Gothic, Book Antiqua, Lamplighter Script and Lyon Text.

Is Futura good for reading? ›

Futura. Even though it was originally released in 1927, Futura is named for its timeless style that makes it look almost futuristic, regardless of when it's used. With clean, thin character strokes and a geometric design, Futura is not only easy to read, but can be used in both casual and formal contexts.

How much is Futura? ›

Futura
FoundryURW Type Foundry
Price$29.00
Released1927
Fontspring Debut2018
StyleSans Serif
2 more rows

Where is the original Futura? ›

In 2013, Barris sold the vehicle to Rick Champagne in the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $4.2 million. However, the car is currently housed at a different location in California: the Gotham Garage, a highly publicized garage owned by ​​Mark Towle.

Is Nike logo a Futura? ›

The Futura logo – which was was created by the graphic design student Carolyn Davidson and sold to Phil Knight and Bill Bowman for just $35 – was a 90s icon in the replica game between 94 & 98 and whilst for the last couple of decades it has been lent to Nike Sportswear products, the Swoosh have brought it back to a ...

Is Futura modern? ›

Although Futura has a somewhat dated, almost Art Deco appearance, it still somehow inspires thoughts of progress and the future. It is simultaneously classic and modern, which makes it an appropriate font for many different applications.

What language is Futura? ›

futura - translated from Spanish to English.

When was Futura made? ›

Though not officially part of the Bauhaus school, another German typeface designer, Paul Renner, believed in the school's principles and felt he could make Erbar's typeface better. In 1927 he created Futura (above).

How many versions of Futura are there? ›

The definitive geometric sans, designed by the Monotype Studio. Futura® Now, the definitive version of the family that defined modern typography, contains 102 styles.

Can I use Futura in a logo? ›

Yes, provided you have a proper license for that font.

Is Futura free to use? ›

Futura is a crisp geometric sans-serif typeface that's great for headlines. Like many great fonts it isn't free, but there are some great free Web font alternatives to Futura that just might work for your next Web design. Amazingly, Futura was created way back in 1927 by a fellow named Paul Renner.

Is Futura on the moon? ›

Futura is how Nike commands us to JUST DO IT. It has defined the look of Volkswagen, Ikea, Louis Vuitton, and countless other brands throughout the decades. Futura can even be seen on the moon. It's displayed on the plaque NASA's astronauts left behind in 1969 announcing that WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.

Which company uses Futura? ›

Other notable brands using this font are Volkswagen, the television show Lost, Sesame Street, HP, and Crayola, all of which are known for their creativity and ingenuity. Futura has a look and feel of creativity, differentiation, and uniqueness in an otherwise Helvetica-dominated world.

What font goes with Old English? ›

Blackletter Font

The development of Blackletter is directly related to the Old English and Gothic fonts. The Blackletter style is defined by dramatic strokes and decorative serifs in symbols and letters. Forms of Blackletter exist today, and it is still a font that you can download and find online.

What makes a good font pairing? ›

In general, fonts pair well together when there's a significant amount of contrast between them. Here, font weight (i.e., thickness or thinness of letters) is the point of contrast. Stout, chunky fonts often work well with tall, skinny ones.

Is Futura font readable? ›

But Futura isn't meant for readability. Not that Futura is unreadable – you can definitely read it in small sizes, or even put it in paragraphs – but it's too artistically charged to appear in something like a book; you can't easily ignore and look past it.

What font is best for studying? ›

Best fonts for reading
  • Times New Roman. For many, Times New Roman has become the default font for print and web documents. ...
  • Verdana. ...
  • Arial. ...
  • Tahoma. ...
  • Helvetica. ...
  • Calibri. ...
  • Verdana. ...
  • Lucida Sans (PC) or Lucida Grande (Mac)

What font gets the most attention? ›

Using a Sans-serif font gives you the best readability and flexibility when choosing a font for body text. Most typography experts readily recommend sans-serif fonts for online content.
...
Some commonly used Sans-serif font choices include:
  • Helvetica,
  • Roboto,
  • Avenir, and.
  • Calibri.
30 Apr 2018

Is Futura a grotesque? ›

Although Futura's designer wasn't directly associated with Bauhaus, he shared the ideology that a modern typeface should express modern models. In doing so he rejected most previous sans serif designs that are now known as grotesques.

Can I use Futura for commercial? ›

Our ever-growing library of hundreds of typefaces includes some of the most widely used fonts, such as PT Sans/Serif, Futura PT, DIN 2014, and Circe. Paratype also creates custom fonts and provides font mastering services. The full Adobe Fonts library is cleared for both personal and commercial use.

How is Lex LuthOr pronounced? ›

The Pronunciation of "Luthor" Follow-Up

Thor - rhymes with "four" Lu-thor. Fellow comic book writer Jimmy Palmiotti agrees, saying he pronounces it "LuthOr". As does comic book writer and artist Phil Jimenez.

What is a Futura car? ›

The Lincoln Futura, designed by William M. Schmidt, was a sensation at 1955 auto shows. The concept car boasted push-button transmission controls, a 300-horsepower V-8 engine, and a double-dome canopy roof.

How many different Batmobiles are there? ›

Ten different Batmobile designs are available for play, including the designs from the 1960s television series, The Animated Series, The Brave and the Bold, Arkham Asylum, and every Batman film up to and including The Dark Knight Rises.

Was the Batmobile a Futura? ›

According to 66BatmanToys, “Before it became one of the most famous vehicles in the world, the Batmobile was actually a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car built by Ford Motor Company. This vehicle was built in Turin, Italy and cost $250,000 but was never put into production.

What does the Nike logo symbolize? ›

In Greek mythology, Nike is the Winged Goddess of Victory. The logo is derived from goddess' wing,'swoosh', which symbolises the sound of speed, movement, power and motivation.

Which font is used by Nike? ›

Nike has nearly completed its transition to Trade Gothic as the primary typeface for the brand. There are still some areas of the site using Futura Extra Bold Condensed, but mostly it's Trade Gothic Bold Condensed being used everywhere. Body copy is Helvetica.

What is Nike's original logo? ›

The Nike symbol wasn't always the swoosh we know today, and the Company wasn't originally called Nike. In 1964, Nike was “Blue Ribbon Sports”. The logo for this company was a set of interlacing letters (BRS) with the name of the brand underneath.

Is Futura German? ›

Futura's modern design became a symbol of change and of German aesthetics, making it a critical motif for the Nazis. Fortunately, the Nazis favored the elaborate Fraktur typeface over the avant-garde Futura, exiling the font and its creator from Germany.

Is Futura a German font? ›

In fact, graphic historians attribute the paternity of Futura to the German designer Paul Renner. Renner began designing the characters in 1924 and published the font in 1927 as a contribution, commissioned by the Bauer Type Foundry, for the New Frankfurt.

Is the word Futura copyrighted? ›

The “LT” stands for Linotype, one of the Monotype font companies. They own the copyright for Futura and they license the font family. Again it isn't free. If you see someone offering a free version, it may be pirated software.

What font is similar to Futura? ›

Some of thedisplay fonts that share similarities with Futura include Gotham, Bauhaus, and Trade Gothic. These fonts all have a strong geometric look that makes them stand out from other sans-serif fonts.

What font does Nike use? ›

Nike has nearly completed its transition to Trade Gothic as the primary typeface for the brand. There are still some areas of the site using Futura Extra Bold Condensed, but mostly it's Trade Gothic Bold Condensed being used everywhere. Body copy is Helvetica. Source: nike.com Nike.

Is Futura a modern font? ›

Futura® Now, the definitive version of the family that defined modern typography, contains 102 styles. Its contemporary alignment of names and weights offers an improved user experience. And it's also available as a Variable font—delivering limitless styles in a tidy digital footprint.

Is Futura good for body copy? ›

The reason why using Futura or Century Gothic for body text is not a good choice is because the letters “a” and “o” have a very similar circular shape. The tail of the letter “a” in Futura and Century Gothic is so subtle that it is hard to distinguish it from the letter “o”.

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