Never Use Futura

Douglas Thomas
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Maryland Institute College of Art

Never Use Futura explores the cultural history and uses of the typeface Futura, one of the foundational typefaces of modern graphic design. The project is a playful yet passionate rebuttal to the perceived dominance of Helvetica as the typeface of modern design. Futura not only went to the Moon, and advertised for countless companies, it has been the face of German communism, British conservatism, and American politicians of all stripes. Futura became one of the most popular and iconic designs of the twentieth century in spite of a world-wide economic depression, trade embargoes, political boycotts, government prohibitions, and many knockoffs and competitors.

The project chronicles the cultural history witnessed (and recorded) by the typeface Futura from its avant-garde beginnings to its mid-century triumph and its present-day nostalgic, critical, and forward-looking uses. Even now, Futura remains the iconic typeface of tomorrow. Countless designers have used the type to signal progress and promise change but also to critique capitalism and subvert authority. Futura has sold millions of people their dreams and hopes (and shoes and cars), and ever since the Apollo missions it has embodied our cosmic aspirations. The story of Futura is more than a story of geometric shapes and Paul Renner, it is the secret history of modern public life.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 2.4: CAA Conference 2016, Washington, DC on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.