In this tutorial, we’ll look at the famous Mid-Century Modern design style. We’ll look at some of the characteristics, typography, and a few Mid-Century Modern font suggestions.
What Is Mid-Century Design?
We’ve all seen the flat design comeback that happened a few years ago. This particular style stems from the design period starting from the 1930s all through to the mid-1960s. This was enhanced by the opening of the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago in the early 1940s and the popular Swiss International Typographic Style in the 1950s.
Multiple historical and social events led to the Mid-Century movement. A new era of advertising arose due to the evolution of printing technology and the mass production of posters and billboards. The style was also a rejection of the characteristics of the previous Victorian style: a highly ornate and overdecorated aesthetic. Mid-Century graphic design is well known for distilling complicated concepts into simple and highly visual forms.
Some of the most well-known designers of this period are Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Josef Müller-Brockmann, and Wolfgang Weingart.
Saul Bass was an American graphic designer, best known for his award-winning title sequences. He created innovative title sequences by mixing graphic design and moving images. This collaboration resulted in a new way of displaying information while giving each movie its own identity. The movie titles introduced the theme of the movie even before the actual movie started.
Characteristics of Mid-Century Design
Like many art forms, Mid-Century design was a response to the previous style. There was an urge to make design simpler and straight to the point. It all started with Art Deco—the style in this era was influenced by technology and geometric styles. The Mid-Century Modern style kept some of the touches from Art Deco but opted to follow a more minimalistic approach. This affected not only graphic design but also architecture, interior design, and furniture design. The style had some of these characteristics:
- Geometric shapes were the main choice of designers. Mixing basic forms to create a full composition led to a minimalistic style. Saul Bass created multiple posters using minimalistic but freeform shapes in his famous movie posters.
- Color palettes vary from decade to decade. It started as desaturated and monochromatic with the work of Piet Mondrian. It later evolved to saturated and playful with the works of Josef Albers. Towards the 1950s and 1960s, the colors became even more vibrant.
- Space was a key component in Mid-Century design. Designers provoked the spatial relationship between positive and negative spaces. Many of the Swiss International Typographic Style posters include this playful feature. The Swiss grid was born during this time to create order and emphasis. Josef Müller-Brockmann’s work was well known for its simple design and strong use of a grid system. In the poster below for Musica Viva, Brockmann also used diagonal grids to add dynamism to the poster.
Mid-Century Modern Font Styles
The Bauhaus and the Swiss International Typographic Style were the two most influential schools in this era. The Bauhaus characteristics included playful typographic posters designs, while Swiss designers kept type very clean and traditional, with flush left paragraphs or center-aligned headlines.
When it came to graphic design work, the Mid-Century fonts were generally geometric sans serif. A few of the most popular Mid-Century fonts were Futura, especially at the beginning, and later Univers, Frutiger, and Helvetica.
The bold Mid-Century sans serif font style communicated messages clearly with no fuss, which was a big selling point when it came to advertising. You’ll see some of the main Mid-Century Modern font characteristics in the famous ad for Volkswagen Beetle by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. The advertisement features a single car with a simple word “Lemon” in bold sans serif. There were a few relaxed and less sterile Mid-Century sans serif fonts used during this period, like Akzidenz Grotesk and Franklin Gothic.
The Mid-Century Modern font style also included serifs. Their anatomy was usually expanded, and slab serifs conveyed a warmer mood compared to the cold sans. The anatomy of the slab serifs during this period included big and bold terminals, with extreme curves and contrasts. Serifs like Century Expanded, Craw Modern, Hellenic Wide, Clarendon, and Pistilli Roman were used for a friendlier take on layouts.
Mid-Century Modern Font Examples
San Marino is an elegant and geometric sans serif. You can use this font for any of your fashion-inspired or thematic events. This Mid-Century font comes in four styles, including regular, outline, and italic versions. Most geometric Mid-Century Modern font numbers have the same characteristics, but San Marino has a different anatomy. The numbers are more contemporary and slightly less geometric. The low belt and pointed corners make San Marino a true Mid-Century Modern sans serif inspired font.
Cartograph is a fixed-width font that is the opposite of regular monospaced fonts. This typeface is friendly and has an easygoing character. Cartograph has a typewriter feel with a spin. The package also includes proportional characters so you can choose between the two. Cartograph is a tribute to utilitarian beauty, which was seen very much at the start of the Mid-Century era. This Mid-Century font comes in eight weights, including italics—that’s a total of 32 fonts for you to have fun with!
Undeka Regular is a contemporary sans serif that combines geometric forms and strong type foundations. It’s inspired by the grotesk typefaces from the early 20th century, like Futura. Undeka is a great dupe for the geometric Mid-Century Modern sans serif fonts developed at the beginning of the era.
If you are designing a thematic design piece, Let’s Jazz is a fun Mid-Century font inspired by the advertising and lettering of that era. This jazzy typeface is condensed and comes in a regular and a stamp version. The Mid-Century Modern font numbers in Let’s Jazz convey fun and dance-like features. This extensive Mid-Century font contains 450 glyphs and supports multiple languages and thoughtful ligatures. The font was inspired by the works of Saul Bass, who was a pioneer in movie posters during the Mid-Century era.
Schmalfette is inspired by the Mid-Century sans serif fonts of the 1950s. It is a revival of the original Schmalfette Grotesk, with small changes to accommodate today’s digital needs. Designer Jason Walcott did an amazing job with this Mid-Century font that strongly exemplifies the style of advertising during that time period.
Classy Marisa is the right mix of minimalism, modernity, and vintage style. This versatile font is a friendlier and warmer version of the Mid-Century sans serif fonts used in the 1950s. The font has a classic feel by maintaining a low contrast between the thick and thin strokes. The low belt on the capital A is very similar to the Mid-Century sans serif fonts seen in the 1930s. The Mid-Century Modern font numbers are elegant, which makes it perfect for wedding invitations. The font comes in four weights and supports multiple languages. It also includes some beautiful glyphs that can help you add personality to your designs.
Roger is another elegant and minimalist font that resembles the Mid-Century sans serif fonts from the beginning of the period. The similar width and height values make each character look square, giving it the right mix of classic and modern. This Mid-Century font is highly geometric and includes some interesting glyphs for some characters. The font comes in regular, bold, and italic versions.
Mid-Century design saw a few slab serifs in use on advertising and billboards. This wide font is full of fun and personality. This type of Mid-Century font was especially popular in America as it was released in the 1800s as wood type. Hellenic Wide has strong horizontal letterforms that make it great for a period piece.
Many of the invitations and TV shows of the Mid-Century era featured fun serif fonts. Herald is a font that’s very close to the originals being used back then. It is not your typical serif font; it has a handmade quality to it, but it still has clean edges. The baseline is different in each character, so it makes it look as if the letters are moving. This is a great Mid-Century font style to use for invitations because it just says fun all over it!
This vintage-inspired font was created with a real Sharpie marker to display the imperfections. Mid-Century script fonts were very big in the 1950s—you can see this especially in classic car logos released around that time. Carosello is a great, gritty font to use for quotes or any vintage design layouts.
This awesome Mid-Century script font has a great handmade quality to it. The letters are highly legible and uncomplicated, making it perfect for any type of medium you might need. While this Mid-Century script font is legible, it still has a specific personality to it. The package includes many glyphs and useful ligatures that can help avoid character repeats in the same word.
This font duo consists of two fonts: a Mid-Century sans serif font and a script. If you are still getting used to pairing fonts, this is a great duo to get. The Mid-Century sans serif font is slightly geometric but still has a handmade quality to it. The script font is dynamic and lends movement to the sans serif. The combination of these two fonts is great if you are designing inspirational quotes and branding.
This script font is retro and modern at the same time. It is inspired by badges, signs, and pins. The Mid-Century font style contains multiple stylistic alternates that can help you enhance certain words. This Mid-Century script font style feels very natural and organic, making it perfect for brands that have handmade products.
Belymon is another script font that has a brush and ink feel to it. Vintage, highly legible, and fun, this font mimics many of the custom ink designs of the Mid-Century era. The font includes ligatures, stylistic alternates, swashes, and end alternates. All these options are great to have in a Mid-Century script font if you want it to look natural.
Making a Comeback
The Mid-Century design trend evolved over the course of roughly 30 years, and the styles it saw varied slightly. Art and design trends are usually a response to the previous style, and this was the case for Mid-Century design. Some of the best advertising campaigns were made during this era (hello Mad Men!). The Mid-Century style made a comeback just a few years ago and is still lingering with the flat design digital icons—not only in the graphic design field but also in those dreamy Scandi-inspired interiors.
In this article, we gave you a quick history of Mid-Century graphic design. Take a look at the designers who inspired it and created some of the greatest design pieces of that era. The typographic style was important in the design pieces, so why not try to recreate your own or design your take on the Mid-Century style. Don’t forget to show us your designs!
If you are looking for other styles of fonts, be sure to check out Envato Elements—they’ve got an extensive library that can help you complete your next project.
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