The 2023 font trends are here to write the next chapter in graphic design. This year’s plot is taking the form of a flashback, as many of the upcoming font trends are tinged with nostalgia.
Despite the common theme, the shape of nostalgia varies dramatically across these trends, with some fonts aiming for comfortable memories, some channeling a dark futurism, and others looking to recapture a long-lost decorum. This may have to do with our increased online activity following the pandemic—design inspiration is less fixed by time period when all eras are digitally available. The themes we’re seeing this year may also be sourced from our anxieties associated with the Russo-Ukrainian war and a year of inflation—the past is refuge for audiences seeking escapism. Whatever the cause, 2023 is shaping up to be another dynamic year of font trends.
8 alluring font trends for 2023
- Mall goth fonts
- Liquid chrome
- Vintage narrow serifs
- Bright red
- Variable fonts
- Distorted fonts
- Art deco revival
- Iconographic mashups
The term “mall goth” hearkens back to the late 90s, during the golden age of Nu Metal and the rise of Hot Topic. The goth subculture was brought out of the shadows and into the fluorescent lights of the mall through an emphasis on fashion. But in 2020, the style experienced a viral resurgence on TikTok, where users embraced the irony of a commercialized subculture. Now the trend has made its way into the graphic design world, through fonts that straddle the line between macabre and fashionable.
Mall goth fonts often contain sharp edges, smoky forms, all-black compositions, and graphic accompaniments such as barbed wire, chains and skulls. The trend’s popularity is directly linked to punk revival in graphic design, as anti-establishment expression is becoming normalized in opposition of economic austerity and the political systems that enable it.
The trend isn’t purely a throwback—these fonts incorporate motifs from the modern digital world. For example, Monalida’s design evokes the dark side of the internet through a lettering piece reminiscent of captcha text. If you’re seeking the best of both worlds—mainstream polish with a subtle edge—look no further than the mall goth trend.
“Y2K & the gothic subculture specifically referencing ‘Mall Goth’ started in the late ’90s and referenced the commercialization of gothic culture. Since then it has had a resurgence on apps like Instagram & Tik Tok.”
After computers failed to end the world during Y2K, design trends looked to technology with renewed optimism, prioritizing emergent 3D graphics for textures and shapes. For 2023, font designers are looking to reclaim that optimism by reviving Y2K-style lettering, complete metallic sheens and melting 3D shapes.
While the style originates from the past, it evokes sci-fi themes, with oblong metals that feel almost alien, like a window into an off-kilter world. In this way, the trend expresses a yearning to escape worldly hardships while acknowledging that escapism is an imperfect, warped solution to our problems.
Additionally, because this style of lettering clearly requires advanced software skills, it revels in the power of computer technology, trading technophobia for hope in the future. The trend is also characterized by a mashup of realism and abstraction, as the texture displays both meticulous 3D rendering and formless fluidity. Somehow, these letters manage to be messy and technically impressive at the same time, and that might just be a metaphor for the internet itself.
While last year saw rounded, bubbly fonts come back in a big way, 2023’s font trends are looking to get a little more grown up. To do so, designers are taking inspiration from the heyday of print fashion magazines of the 80s, when typesetters favored tall, narrow serifs like Bodoni. As the COVID-19 pandemic created a surge in internet usage, many publications are going digital-first, and this trend is a great way to foster familiarity on digital screens by paying homage to print’s golden age.
Vintage narrow serifs have a timeless appeal, with a height that feels stately and a thinness that feels delicate. As a result, they come across as both strong and gentle. Additionally, many of these typefaces will contain minor flourishes to break up their homogeneities, such as italicized letters, looping descenders, and decorative ears and terminals. The result is a font trend that keeps designs classy and classic while still managing to surprise viewers with elegant touches of personality.
“Opposing the big, bold and bubbly Y2K fonts of the past 2-3 years, we find our way back to embrace the 80s/90s style narrow serif font. The condensed serifs bring a timeless elegance to web design as they echo the statement titles of print magazines in their heyday”.
Fonts are most commonly rendered in solid shades of black or white. But for 2023, bright red is the color of choice for many typographic compositions, particularly when it comes to designs featuring retro, minimalist cartoons.
Red lettering has an inherent association with phrases of importance, hence the derivative dictionary term, “red-letter”, which denotes a special or significant day. For that reason, red is meant to be used sparingly, but these compositions are going red all over. The minimalist aesthetic allows designers to get away with this: thin-line art can support powerful colors without overwhelming the viewer. But more importantly, this trend pairs the energy of the color red with light-hearted characters, bringing out their personalities. In comic strips, these would have been printed black, but the brighter red color softens this darkness, channeling an underlying impulse towards positivity, excitement, and joy.
Although fonts come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, individual fonts are static—predetermined letterforms saved to a software file. But as a digital presence continues to take priority for brands, more and more of 2023’s fonts are becoming variable.
Starting with a base brand typeface, the letterforms of variable fonts will morph and change to suit a new context. They may be animated to stretch and squash, they may change color and weight, or they may be converted to a pattern. But through it all, variable fonts remain recognizable to the brand, choosing simple adaptations over dramatic transformations.
Although not necessarily a new style, variable fonts are becoming increasingly popular, and that’s not just because they are playful show-offs (though that’s certainly a factor). As immersive digital technologies like VR ramp up, brands must become more dynamic and interactive in order to engage audiences. They also have to get more entertaining to counteract the negativity of world events. But at the end of the day, variable fonts keep brands from appearing stodgy and stale, demonstrating that they can adapt to different contexts and circumstances without losing their identity.
“I think variable fonts have opened a wide door for creativity; they’re a trend with longevity. I’d never realized that you can create such impactful, creative designs without any images or illustrations. Yet, many design agencies are removing imagery from their branding and communicating their message using solely variable fonts.”
The main purpose of a font is to be as clear and readable as possible, often best when the reader is barely conscious of it. However, the designers of 2023 are serving up distorted fonts that border on complete illegibility.
These are typefaces that are either obscured by overlaid imagery or that contain letterforms warped beyond recognition. One benefit is that these fonts demand attention, as the reader must concentrate and use context clues to decipher their meaning.
But more importantly, this trend exudes a moody tone, the feeling that things are not quite right. This is why the Netflix documentary, “Web of Make Believe”, uses background font distortions in its opening credit sequence as a visual metaphor, hinting at the twisted narrative that awaits. All in all, this trend is most useful in contexts where a project can benefit from encouraging audiences to engage with text in ways besides reading, such as interactive experiences and situations where the metaphor of distortion is the main draw.
“Either in logo or wordmark, type manipulation has always been a clever and useful trend to create a unique look. This will likely go to higher levels as the rise of minimalism stays. Obvious distortions in typesets will play into more recognizable forms of brandmark as the market gets more saturated.”
Given that we find ourselves in a new roaring 20s, it’s no surprise that the romanticism of the 1920s is experiencing a revival in design. For 2023’s font trends, this means reinventions of Art Deco lettering.
Art Deco fonts were typically tall sans-serifs that balanced straight lines with aerodynamic curves, reminiscent in shapes of the skyscrapers and zeppelins that characterized the progress of civilization.
But the designers of 2023 are not simply regurgitating the style—they are adding their own contemporary spin on Art Deco fonts through digital techniques. Some Art Deco-inspired fonts will contain near-computer glitches while others might tone down their decorative characteristics in favor of minimalism. Either approach offers brands a typeface that is classic but not dated. And in general, these fonts reclaim the opulent optimism of the 1920s, sorely needed after the pandemic got our own roaring 20s off to a rocky start.
Although centuries of lettering design has proven that the same letters and characters can be restyled in an infinite variety of ways, that is not good enough for 2023’s designers. This is why so many fonts are changing the letters themselves, incorporating icons, doodles, and abstract shapes for truly weird and eclectic fonts.
Much of the iconography here is reminiscent of the 00s, referencing adjacent trends like liquid chrome while presenting a more joyful take on distorted fonts. There is a DIY, scrappy look to these fonts, making them feel youthful and rebellious. But even as they break the rules, they are jumbled and energetic, coming across as cheeky rather than destructive.
Ultimately, these are fonts that reject uniformity in favor of chaotic collages, resonating with audiences who feel that even our letters should be as diverse and unpredictable as our everyday world.
Ready for the 2023 font trends?
Collectively, the 2023 font trends represent a dynamic timeline of historical lettering styles. Art Deco is channeling the decorative yearnings of the previous century’s 20s. Bright red is coloring in the gleeful lettering of vintage cartoon compositions. Retro fashion magazines are hitting the runway again through tall, narrow serifs. And the dark corners of the mall are being brought to light through 90s goth-inspired fonts.
And all the while, liquid chrome, distorted and variable fonts are inscribing the present with a moody edge, through fonts that are fluid and in flux, refusing to be pinned down. These suggest that while the past can give us some direction, it’s impossible to know what shape the future will take.