Sharan Shetty, The Rise And Fall Of Grunge Typography via The Awl
The disappearance of grunge typography can also be credited to human nature: techniques become less appealing, less refreshing, once they are used incessantly for nearly a decade. Cleansed of the burden of precedent, typographers began experimenting within the boundaries of convention. More importantly, grunge typography, like most things that outlive their relevance, simply didn’t possess the power of association or expression it once had.
As Goren put it, “I think after people got that out of their system and realized what they could do with their tools, typography became a lot more classic and reliant on the rules people thought were boring then. Now, pretty much everyone with the skills can design a typeface, so there are so many different voices and perspectives. There’s a lot of mediocrity, because that’s what happens when the tools are distributed to everybody. But I think the pendulum is now swinging toward good, elegant design, and that sort of trendiness of the 90s looks a little dated now. It was definitely a movement of its time.”
These days, Segura believes classic design has been overemphasized and overexposed, to the detriment of the industry. He believes true innovation has become rare. Though experimental typography should never be defined as solely grunge typography, he sees a troubling lack of originality in current type design.
“What I think happened is that it got so excessive that simple, clean typography became the ‘in’ thing,” Segura said. “Almost to the extreme, because then everyone started using Helvetica, and Helvetica was suddenly used as the default answer for every type design project. In my view, that’s also the wrong way to go, because I feel you should pick the right font for the right message. So typography got a little bit too conservative at that point.”
In many ways the demise of grunge is in perfect accordance with its ideals: change is constant, and rules can never be sustained. Despite what the classicists believe, design is not timeless. Neither was grunge typography. It belonged to and defined a very specific period of rebellion. It did so the same way blackletter strongly evokes daily newspapers and stiff men in suits and hats smoking cigarettes, or the way cursive suggests old, coffee-stained diary entries and dusty historical journals. It’s a testament to the enduring power of typography that the way a letter is designed—its curves, its thickness, its heft—can embody an era.