Type-lettering styles that typify various historic eras

deval's picture

Hi there,
I am starting to work on a new project and I would like to collect some advices and opinions.

The project tells the story of the course of human history from the prehistoric to the modern age.
It's a collection of visual facts divided in 4 era:

1- Prehistory
2- Civilization
3- Middle Ages
4- Modern Age

I am designing a visual identity for each section, so that design will evoke some sort of evolution.
Is there a typeface - or a lettering style that you would use for each era?

Any thoughts or tips are very much appreciated.

Thank you

Té Rowan's picture

For some reason, the mention of prehistory brought Manfred Klein's vast array of stuff to mind. Dunno why... *tries to look innocent and saint-like*

oldnick's picture

Prehistory is kind of a tough nut. By definition, anything prehistoric predates written records, and so predates any identifiable script. Ignoring this minor detail, one might choose something on the cusp, like cuneiforms, but that choice is historically incorrect and at least a tad intellectually dishonest. So, if you really want to be prehistoric, you might devise rebuses based on cave paintings: that would be stylistically and factually accurate.

And, FWIW: the Modern Age is dead. We're all Postmodern now, hurling headlong into the Future…

Nick Shinn's picture

1: Lithos
2: Trajan
3. Blackletter
4. Didone

BeauW's picture

1. Neuland
2. Trajan
3. A Unical
4. Helvetica

sko's picture

Will this be for body copy or just headlines / display use?

Also, since 3 is mediaeval, is 4 'modern' the end of the middle ages and renaissance onwards?

deval's picture

Thanks everybody for your contributions, much appreciated.

Sko - yes, it's just for main titles. For body copy I will use the same font across the 4 sections.
Section 4, "Modern Age", describes the historical timeline after the Middle Ages, including also the contemporary history and historic events that are immediately relevant to the present time.

I am still exploring but so far I am trying to adopt a different style per each section:

1- Prehistory: Handwriting
2- Civilization: Calligraphy
3- Middle Ages: Serif
4- Modern Age: San Serif


1- Prehistory: Script
2- Civilization: Slab serif (or Egyptian)
3- Middle Ages: Blackletter (Based on Gothic type and late mediaeval calligraphy)
4- Modern Age: Serif

any opinions?


sko's picture

If Modern is post Middle ages, I would personally choose a serif (something like a Caslon perhaps, which is bang in the middle of the eras the section represents).

Egyptians are rather 1800s rather than the ancients. What do you mean by Calligraphy? If it's something like a Chancery script I wouldn't put it with ancients either. Trajan says 'Ancient Rome' though if there are any suitable roman rustic style lettering might be more interesting?

oldnick's picture

IMO, both handwriting and script would be poor choices for Prehistory. What we normally identify as the initial forays into writing—cuneiforms and hieroglyphics—were rigidly formal and, initially, also limited in their use to an educated elite class, whether administrative or executive. Scripts tend to reflect a democratization of the process. IMO…

HVB's picture

If your intended audience is ghe general public, then I wouldn't bother trying for authenticity, but instead would cater to what would immediately give the desired impression; particularly if only used for major section headings.

Prehistory: The Jurassic Park title font (Africa, others)
A Flintstones/Bedrock/ style face

Civilization: Roman (a la Trajan or a 3D-incised face)
Faux Greek

Middle Ages/Medieval: Blackletter or Uncial

Modern: Some current Sci-Fi-ish face

- Herb

JamesM's picture

Cave paintings are the earliest artwork that has survived, but probably long before cave paintings were simple symbols made with a finger or stick in the dirt to mark a spot, indicate direction of travel, etc.

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