You know Futura.
With those knife sharp Vs and wide circle Os,
it cornered the market on that retro-future-cool thing.
Futura defined Barbara Kruger’s art and helped streetwear company Supreme
rip her off...I mean, create a loving homage to her work.
It’s such a Wes Anderson cliche that complaining that it’s a cliche is a cliche.
It’s on wedding invitations from those friends of yours who put Urban Outfitters
on their wedding registry.
But Futura overcame a lot to get this far.
(Yes, those Nazis.)
Paul Renner designed Futura, and he came to it
from book design, where it was key to communicate clearly.
It was the 1920s and the Bauhaus school of design was becoming popular.
Think cool looking chairs that are really uncomfortable.
Renner wasn’t part of that school, but like Bauhaus designers, he wanted function and
At the time, when people thought of German typography, they thought of fraktur style
typography, and Renner thought it didn't work.
He said fraktur was like lederhosen.
Outdated and quaint.
So after a couple of years of development, Futura went on the market in 1927.
It was sold as “the typeface of our time.”
This thing was modern.
Some early designs were even crazier, with extremely geometric figures, like this g,
or this a.
That look was in the air with other typefaces, like Johnston and Akzidenz Grotesk, but Renner
thought Futura was unique.
He called it an “eminently German typeface” and
the type foundry, Bauer, sold it as the type of the future.
It gained broad international distribution, showing up on charts or being overlaid on
It became a symbol of the future - and for the Nazis, that was the problem.
That fraktur - the Gothic style Renner rejected — became the Nazi look in the 1930s.
And the Nazis starting scrubbing out modern fonts in favor of ornate styles.
At the same time, Renner became an outcast after he wrote a famous anti-Nazi essay.
He was arrested and briefly in exile from Germany.
Sans-serif type was cast out too.
But Nazis were inconsistent.
Renner returned to Germany, and Nazis occasionally even used Futura.
Look at these pages from a Nazi design manual.
Aside from the Fraktur and little Nazi paper cut out dolls, which were uniform guides,
there are a couple of charts in Futura.
In 1941, the Nazis reversed course.
Out of the blue, they decided their beloved Fraktur was a “Jewish” style, so they
They’d really come around to Renner’s idea, that the German typeface of the future
had to be more readable.
But by that time, Futura was established as an international typeface.
That might be what saved it.
During World War II, a lot of different, modern-looking sans-serif fonts were kicking around NASA’s
predecessor, NACA, and the rest of the American military.
At the time, people chose fonts based on the availability of physical pieces of type.
Futura was...around, and it was clear and modern . That made it an obvious choice for
a very important job.
When NASA needed a plaque for Apollo 11, they chose one font;
they pulled from a typeface the would become beloved by
Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson alike.
They used the uniquely German design that through a talented and idealistic creator,
traveled beyond the Nazis, beyond the 1940s, beyond Germany, and beyond this planet, too.
“We’ll read the plaque that’s on the front landing gear of this L.M.
Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon.
They chose Futura.
There are a lot of reasons that Futura has that extremely modern, international feel.
One of those reasons, though, is really German.
A lot of people credit Volkswagen with bringing Futura to a new generation and also into the