• 2 minute Read

The Surprisingly Subversive Typography Of Star Trek

With Star Trek Beyond now in theaters, it’s worth remembering how its logo once served as a political statement.

The Surprisingly Subversive Typography Of Star Trek

For over 50 years, the Star Trek franchise has been exploring fonts that boldly go where no typographer has gone before. In an excellent article on the typography of the Final Frontier, Yves Peters has dissected many of the typography choices used by Star Trek over the years. It’s a fascinated read–not least because it turns out that what we think of as Star Trek’s primary typeface was actually incredibly subversive, at the time.

CBS/via FontShop

The original Star Trek logo used an all-caps, custom-designed alphabet, which had a style reminiscent of Constructivist fonts from Russia in the early 1900s. For a show released during the height of 1960s Cold War paranoia, using a Russian-inspired font to suggest the futurism of space travel was a daring, rebellious choice. It’s one that made a lot of sense for Star Trek, though. Gene Roddenberry’s show was always one that aimed to show the utopian side of the future, and how science and technology would ultimately help heal the political schisms on Earth.

In the Star Trek universe, the United States and the Soviet Union are eventually able to put aside their differences, and unite for the good of humanity; a Russian officer, Chekhov, even serves on the Federation flagship. The choice of a Russian Constructivism-style font for the Star Trek logo, while subversive, was just in keeping with the universe that Roddenberry had created. Sputnik and the space race weren’t going to lead to eventual nuclear war, but rather the whole human race coming together.

© 1979 Paramount Pictures/via FontShop

Unfortunately, the first Star Trek logo was the last one to make an explicitly political statement with its font choice. The next typeface, used for the identity of the first six Star Trek movies, as well as both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager “embodies many of the ideas people had about futuristic typography in the late ’70s,” writes Peters. It seems designed with the notion that the triangle was the shape of the future: check out those tiny little triangular serifs, or the way letter strokes intersect with curves with triangular cuts. But there’s nothing subversive about it.

As for the Next Generation typeface, it’s a slanted font, based on Aldo Novarese’s “Stop,” that looks just totally silly, in retrospect. In the future, apparently, all letters will have a big, unnecessary line running through them. By the time the franchise reached Enterprise, Star Trek had practically gone Helvetica with the adoption of a stock, boring, all-caps sans-serif font.

CBS/via FontShop

Produced by J.J. Abrams, the new Star Trek films, including this summer’s Star Trek Beyond, don’t have all that much going for them, either. You certainly can’t call them subversive, except in the sense that they distill the wonder of the Star Trek universe down to yet another summer blockbuster action franchise.

But at least it’s got the original logo going for it, featuring a typeface so rightfully iconic that, as Peters notes, the “poster for Star Trek Beyond [can] rely simply on the word ‘Beyond,’ without even having to mention Star Trek anywhere on the canvas.” Now that’s a successful typeface.

You can read the full story here.

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.



More Stories