Licentious letterforms

Ornament has had to put up with some bad press in the past, especially from Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who proclaimed in the early 20th century that superfluous decoration was essentially immoral. But, as a new book by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson shows, the ornamental has made a triumphant comeback over the past decades.

‘Since the late 1990s, it has been as widespread as it was in the Victorian and Arts and Crafts eras,’ the authors write. New Ornamental Type presents ornament’s resurgence in type during the digital era under ‘historical’, ‘au naturel’ and ‘eclectic’ banners. It features high-profile proponents such as Si Scott, Marian Bantjes and Alex Trochut, as well as relative newcomers such as Yulia Brodskaya.

Stefan Sagmeister and designer Matthias Ernstberger’s pissing contest, ‘Everybody thinks they are right’, for Japanese Esquire magazine crops up in the ‘liquid’ sub-category, while Craig Ward’s Futura Bold-based Hirsutura for Fontlab is among fine hirsute company.

Object as letter’ features the lettering tableaux of Viktor Koen, while the section ‘green’ includes Bruce Willen’s home-grown grass. The reinvigoration of ornamentation might seem to be a rejection of the coldness of computers, but the new ornamental type is largely enabled by the computer, Heller and Anderson point out. ‘From faux naturalism to the integration of graffiti, this is a raucously esoteric time for letterforms,’ they add. ‘And, we might say, for the decriminalisation of ornament.’New Ornamental Type is published on 8 February by Thames &Hudson, priced £24.99

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