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New perspectives on a historic idiom: Chromatic types in the digital era

conference contribution
posted on 2023-07-26, 14:23 authored by Will Hill
The paper will consider the phenomenon of the chromatic, multi-colored or ‘layered’ typeface and its re-emergence as a digital artifact. Successive phases of digital media development have prompted the design of increasingly complex chromatic types over the past 20 years. Recent trends in font design software include the capability for creating multi-colored types. This tendency has been followed by the more recent emergence of ‘color fonts’ for web and mobile devices, using principles derived from emoji. The paper will begin by tracing the early evolution of the form as an aspect of 19th century display typography, through a variety of examples including the types of William Page and George F. Nesbitt in the USA, Julius Klinkhardt in Germany, and Harrild and Sons in the UK. It will consider the possibilities anticipated by the modular types of Joan Trochut (revived by Andreu Balius and Àlex Trochut in 2004 as Super Veloz) before examining a range of examples by contemporary designers. As a design idiom interrupted or marginalized by mid 20th century modernism, chromatic types frequently evoke historical associations, with the consequent risk that they can be viewed in nostalgic or sentimental terms. The paper will consider the case for re-inventing the chromatic face as a contemporary idiom rather than a historicist exercise. It will position chromatic design within the context of wider critical debate around the status of ornament and decoration, which have emerged first as a characteristic of post-modern architecture and design, as noted by Jencks (2010) and more recently in the developing reappraisal of concepts of craft by Wild (1998), Adamson (2013) and others.



Universidade de Aveiro

Place of publication

Aveiro, Portugal



Conference proceeding

6.º Encontro de Tipografia: Livro de Atas

Name of event

6th Typography Meeting


Aveiro, Portugal

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Event finish date



Pedro Amado, Vítor Quelhas, Jorge Brandão Pereira


  • other

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Legacy Faculty/School/Department

ARCHIVED Faculty of Arts, Law & Social Sciences (until September 2018)

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