Logo art, just like any other art, goes through cycles.
The Fashion of Fashion
Fashion is cyclical. At first, something is new and fresh – after the excessively large straight leg or bell-bottomed jeans of the 90s, the low-cut tight-fitting jeans of the 2000s were a refreshing new silhouette. This continued into the 2010s, where the waist got higher but the jeans remained tight, and then finally the pants relaxed in the later 2010s with the revival of ‘mom jeans’, which are jeans that are less tight and higher-waisted by design. While this wasn’t full out JNCO jeans level pants, it was a reference to earlier designs, a sort of remix, old and new together. You see these cyclical design choices everywhere, not just clothing, and what was tacky and outdated five or ten years ago will no longer be tacky in twenty!
The principles of designing a web page are also cyclical. Some things will always remain the same – hamburger menus have stayed in fashion the same way buttons on jeans do. Others are constantly in flux – font choices, color rules, and general ‘feel’ come and go just like colors and fit of denim do.
The web went through a period where everything cool was minimalist. Every design website suggested that a minimalist design was more professional, and so many small up and coming businesses kept things narrow, black-and-white, and hidden until moused over. This is in heavy contrast to the free-for-all of the 2000s, where websites could be neon pink with blue text and totally unreadable. Customers, understandably, did not want to stare at that while reading blog posts or debating what to buy, and so breakout websites that made things somewhat less painful to look at ended up flourishing.
Of course, just like any trend, people were doing things outside of it and alongside it that accomplished the goal of a readable website, so not everything was minimalist, and the definition of ‘minimalist’ in a totally new space isn’t the same way you’d define a minimalist website today, the same way mom jeans are not JNCOs or bell-bottoms even though they meet the criteria of ‘not-low-cuts’.
Where 2000s minimalism was ‘there are no images, the website is nearly entirely black and white text’, 2010s minimalism was ‘all the buttons are hidden, the background is one large image, and the text is almost unreadably narrow, except sometimes for serif text which has broad diagonal lines’. This is also difficult to read in a different way. While users may spend more time on this site, they’re going to be spending that time looking for the button they need because it’s hidden by design, to minimalize the site.
Understandably, users get sick of this taken to an extreme. Just like jeans, it is possible to design a website that’s too tight, that’s too minimal. Fashion tends to lean harder and harder into an idea, taking it to an extreme beyond recognition, until it either mutates or someone comes up with something totally new and counter-culture. Websites that dared to stray from minimalism without looking like the sites of the 90s and early 2000s become the trendsetters, and thus Cooper Black begins to take over. Cooper Black is a fairly well-known font – it’s the same font on the Chobani logo, and it’s one of the defaults for Microsoft Word. While not perfectly readable (especially when small) it’s easier to spot when it’s just floating in space thanks to the line weight.
Just as more relaxed jeans were a response to pants getting tighter and tighter, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, this wide text is a response to websites doing the same with ever thinner, ever taller Calibri sans serif fonts that disappear into nothing on small screens and mobile.
The only problem with Cooper Black is that it’s incredibly recognizable. A lot of the tall, narrow fonts used on minimalist websites look similar, but not exactly identical. Even if you can tell that they’re approximately the same, the font itself is so ultimately brandless that it’s not noticeable. Like jeans, as a generic term – jeans are made of denim, and most are a shade of blue. When Cooper Black comes swinging in, the shape of the individual letters beyond the thickness of the lines is an immediate tell for the font. It’s the equivalent of one designer using teal instead of the standard indigo blue for jeans, and everyone else replicating that exact shade of teal. And it’s a nice shade, there’s nothing wrong with it, but when it’s used everywhere alongside beige, it can get kind of repetitive. Small companies use it. Large companies use it. It’s got a kind of 60’s vibe to it thanks to the mild warping of the letters, which leads to it being used in a lot of ‘feel-good’ brands that advertise their products for self-care. It also calls to mind the décor of the 60’s, so people working with wood and leather can also use it without it feeling out of place. For as memorable and striking as Cooper Black is, it’s surprisingly versatile!
As a default font, it’s also more accessible than a number of professional fonts that could substitute it. For someone designing a brand logo for their microbusiness, the twenty dollars you’d have to spend on a font pack only to use exactly one of the fonts inside it is money that could have been saved with the use of Cooper Black.
The Next Big Thing
Cooper Black rides a wave of non-minimalism in websites. It’s not obnoxious, but it’s not the same super-skinny fonts that came in reply to obnoxious websites. When people making their websites, logos, and other digital items get bored, I expect to see something thin and a little blocky come to the limelight in it’s place – cyclically, people aren’t going to go back to ultra-narrow, ultra-tall type fonts, but they may start using a similar font that’s less difficult to read in small sizes. Cooper Black hasn’t peaked, even though website designers and online denizens alike are beginning to notice how often it’s used.