Ju­lia Sa­gar talks to top type pro­fes­sion­als about why cre­at­ing ex­per­i­men­tal type can be key to im­prov­ing your de­sign abil­ity

Computer Arts - - Contents -

The ubiq­ui­tous sans serif turned 60 years old last year – but what if time hadn’t been so kind to Max Miedinger and Ed­uard Hoff­mann’s mod­ernist font, and the years were etched onto its with­ered let­ter­forms? That’s ex­actly what Lon­don-based de­sign stu­dio SPIN won­dered when the team were asked to cre­ate a poster cel­e­brat­ing six decades of Hel­vetica in 2017.

“We cel­e­brated by crin­kling it up and mak­ing it look re­ally old – like it was 60,” re­calls SPIN co-founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor Tony Brook. “Then we took it a bit fur­ther, into the idea of it be­ing like [Os­car Wilde’s] Do­rian Gray. What if Hel­vetica has been stashed away in a type drawer in Zurich some­where, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ex­hausted by ev­ery de­signer’s thought­less and care­less abuse? Ev­ery time Hel­vetica was mis­used it would get a lit­tle more crin­kled, a lit­tle older and a lit­tle more dis­tressed.”

SPIN imag­ined what Hel­vetica would look like af­ter such a life, craft­ing a se­ries of play­fully crum­pled, dis­torted nu­mer­als. And the team didn’t stop there. “We de­cided maybe it was closer to col­lapse, and ac­tu­ally that we ought to per­form an op­er­a­tion on Hel­vetica to see if we could pro­long its life and give it ex­tra cre­ative juice,” con­tin­ues Brook. “But sadly we killed it,” he dead­pans. “It died un­der the knife. So we then had to cre­mate it.”

The projects, Hel­vetica Alt and Dr Franken­stein’s

Hel­vetica, are show­cased in the lat­est ver­sion of the stu­dio’s jour­nal, Ad­ven­tures in Ty­pog­ra­phy 2 – a 52-page pub­li­ca­tion that en­ables the team to record “itches that needed to be scratched,” and cre­ative ex­per­i­ments that might nor­mally go un­seen. Whereas is­sue one was all about form, is­sue two in­tro­duces even more con­cepts to fur­ther push the bound­aries of ty­po­graphic ex­pres­sion.

So what is it about these bound­aries – about that space where ty­pog­ra­phy meets art – that end­lessly fas­ci­nates de­sign­ers? What role do let­ter­forms play in con­vey­ing emo­tion and mean­ing, when tra­di­tional type rules such as leg­i­bil­ity are stretched and pushed to break­ing point? And how can ex­per­i­ment­ing with ty­pog­ra­phy make you a bet­ter de­signer?


“What re­ally fas­ci­nates me,” re­flects Jonathan Quain­ton, one half of Lon­don-based cre­ative part­ner­ship Saw­dust, “is the ab­sur­dity – push­ing the lim­its to find new, ex­cit­ing ways to com­mu­ni­cate a con­cept with an added el­e­ment of sur­prise. I think that’s the drug that keeps driv­ing us for­ward; a con­stant search for orig­i­nal­ity within our art­work.”

For Saw­dust co-founder Rob Gon­za­lez, there’s an ab­stract el­e­ment too. “It stim­u­lates some­thing in my brain that makes me feel good. There’s a beauty about it that’s hard to ex­plain, and there’s a re­bel­lious­ness that ex­cites me. You can break all the rules and push all the bound­aries, and that’s some­thing that res­onates.”

The pair spe­cialise in be­spoke and in­no­va­tive ty­pog­ra­phy, and have at­tracted a rich ros­ter of clients – in­clud­ing Nike, Ap­ple and The New York Times – with their stun­ning port­fo­lio of ex­plo­rative type work. Here, the bound­aries be­tween type and il­lus­tra­tion are glo­ri­ously blurred, with let­ter­forms ex­ud­ing emo­tion and mean­ing far be­yond those of the words they con­struct, and the logic of leg­i­bil­ity tak­ing sec­ond seat to some­thing else en­tirely.

Take their work for Wired UK. Over the years Quain­ton and Gon­za­lez have of­ten col­lab­o­rated with the mag­a­zine, cre­at­ing ev­ery­thing from ty­po­graphic il­lus­tra­tions through to cover im­ages and be­yond. One of their most ex­per­i­men­tal projects saw the pair craft­ing a se­ries of ty­po­graphic head­ers for the mag­a­zine’s 2014 re­design. Wired is about pro­gres­sion, fu­ture think­ing and in­no­va­tion. So, Saw­dust sought to cap­ture these qual­i­ties in the type, both through the let­ter­forms them­selves, and through the treat­ment.

“The let­ter­forms needed to be unique, sur­pris­ing, ver­sa­tile, in­flu­enced by tech­nol­ogy and cul­ture, and above all func­tional,” ex­plains Gon­za­lez. “We wanted to evoke sur­prise, de­light and ex­cite­ment. We threw out a lot of de­signs be­cause they sim­ply didn’t feel

Right Hel­vetica aged 60: SPIN imag­ined how the type­face might look if it aged in this 2017 trib­ute poster.

Above Ad­ven­tures in Ty­pog­ra­phy 1. “We’ve had a couple of com­mis­sions from peo­ple see­ing this work and think­ing it’s fresh and in­ter­est­ing,” says Tony Brook. “Our ex­per­i­ments have turned into projects and that’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing.”

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