The Hipster Type

(Artwork and photography by Mike Johns)

As we know from Julia’s recent post, design trends such as ‘cats’ and ‘triangles’ come and go with a blink of the eye. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what is actually current within design, but a trend which seems to have lingered in the air for some time now is vintage typography. From type foundries to mobile phone applications, we are all crafting handmade type, highly individualised and ornamented graphics, which often hark back to a previous time. The handmade nature of vintage design is difficult to create, but can look beautiful if used correctly and justly. One of the main advantages of adding vintage aesthetics in branding is the effect of nostalgia.

Apple, have taken nostalgia to the next level. Nearly every one of the iPhone/iPad’s built-in apps uses an icon that refers to an outdated, much earlier version of itself… the Frank Sinatra stand mic, the vintage tube television, the spiral-bound address book. Yet many smartphone users are too young to have used most of these objects in real life. iCal has been designed to reference a desk blotter, an item that’s been obsolete since the Biro was invented. If we ask any Apple obsessed teenager if they know what a desk blotter is, they would more than likely stare back with a glazed and ignorant expression on their face. Nostalgic design serves as a kind of safekeeping, preserving images of beloved objects which we have strong and sometimes unconscious connections with.

Something which has helped reinforce this nostalgic trend is the immensely popular mobile app – Instagram. Born from earlier attempts of post production, photo applications such as Hipstomatic, Instagram is packed with a series of photo filters, designed to make your photos look in some way or another very vintage. With integrated social features, vintage effects and nostalgic design, it has captured the attention and hearts of the nation’s Gen Y-ers. Last year an app called ‘Overgram’ was introduced. With Overgram, you can overlay typography to pictures taken on your mobile device. As the name implies, you can easily share your creations on social networks, like Instagram. The application initially includes a total of 10 fonts, a number of which are from the ‘Lost Type Co-op’, the first of it’s kind Pay-What-You-Want Type foundry. The Lost Type Co-Op oozes with vintage American charm. Not only in the look of their website, but nearly every font which is available to download is widely used in a trend known as ‘Hipster’.

The Hipster culture has an identifiable style of typography, iconography, minimalism, and vintage themes. Reinventions of styles from historical context, mostly from a simpler time or simple craft. While you may have already written off the term ‘Hipster’, these characteristics combined are quite popular and should be appreciated for their quality design. From Fixie bikes to hand-drawn, vintage American stimulated typography, Sailor Jerry inspired tattoos and scrappy, unkept facial hair, it is all very popular throughout modern day culture, especially marketing and graphic design. Last year the world’s No. 1 packaging design blog, TheDieline, featured a post that highlighted the use of hipster culture in packaging and you can read it here:

Hipster style typography can be seen on a much larger scale by a number of super brands, such as the Sainsburys ‘By Sainsburys’ commercials currently showing on TV nationwide. All 3 adverts (Breakfast, Sausage Sandwich, and Apple Pie), have the underlying message ‘Everyday food made special’ and include closely shot, almost amateur footage of delicious ingredients, which make up everyday meals. This footage is overlaid with well thought out hipster style lock-ups, each relating to the product it is advertising. This relationship of comforting foods and nostalgic typography, give the consumer a sense of well being and remind them just how nice a hearty sausage sandwich can be.

by Sainsbury’s Sausage Sandwich from House of Radon on Vimeo.

This exact style of type over video was also used 3 Years ago by EF (Education First) International Language Centers. The col­lab­o­ra­tion between Gustav Johansson, Niklas Johansson, Albin Holmqvist (Typography) and Camp David, saw the combination of vintage Instagram style footage with well crafted typographical lock-ups.

EF – Live The Language – Los Angeles from Albin Holmqvist on Vimeo.

Click here ( for more of Albin Holmquist’s typography.

From looking at these featured examples, there is a common theme of blending strong, all-caps sans serif alphabet (to borrow a sign painter’s term), with complementing commercial scripts. They often have generous margins and a well defined visual hierarchy. The proportions of letterforms, and their spacing, aren’t perfect, but it’s these imperfections and simple hand-crafted style layouts that make it so appealing on the eye.

I wouldn’t class myself as the Hipster type, but I am a huge advocate of this trend in branding and typography. I find myself forever clicking my way through (Hipster heaven), to feed my lust of well designed typography. The Hipster trend has embraced society tightly for the last few years and I doubt we will be letting it go any time soon.

To help you create your own vintage designs, check out this link to download 20 free hipster style fonts:


By Mike J