A2Z+ Alphabets and Signs
THE NEWLY UPDATED REDSTONE BIBLE OF FOUND TYPE IS PACKED WITH INSPIRATION.
One fantastic resource for type-based inspiration is A2Z+, a gorgeous archive of old lettering and type. The 320-page reference book is packed with unusual, inventive fonts, and contains a wealth of typographic ephemera and graphics that cover everything from type specimens and signwriters’ alphabets to optician’s old eye-charts, logotypes, sign language and semaphore alphabets, monograms, old book and magazine covers. Authors Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding had no constraints around era, genre or purpose when they curated the projects – the result is an aesthetically expressive and culture-rich source of typographic eye candy for designers. A2Z+ is published by Laurence King in conjunction with Redstone Press. £25. www.theredstoneshop.com/products/a2z
different enough. We were searching for something new, and to get that you have to push, discuss, reflect, push again, challenge each other, be highly self-critical, push again and eventually you land somewhere uniquely interesting.”
He continues: “When we were researching the project, we found many typefaces and typographic expressions portraying technology that failed to get beyond the clichés – that was something we were keen to break. Readability was paramount, but the client showed a huge amount of bravery to resist diluting the work for the masses.”
TYPE IN TECHNOLOGY
Another standout project involved the pair heavily merging type and illustration for an article in IBM Systems magazine, which identified a shift from selective encryption to full pervasive encryption. At the time, the designers had started exploring alternative perspectives for their typography using the online modelling and animation program Cinema 4D, eventually coming up with the idea to incorporate the headline onto a single plane and build it out from a complex framework of computer components.
“The idea was to make the whole piece become as seamless as possible, balancing the legibility while naturally incorporating the typography,” explains Quainton. “Each element of the letterforms had to be individually modelled with a relatively high level of detail within C4D to make them look like true individual components. We wanted the overall aesthetic to be dramatic, so we opted for heavy backlighting, which gave it more depth and helped
draw you into the headline.”
In this experimental lettering space, traditional type design concerns like legibility and readability don’t play the same role as they do with conventional type. But as type expert and author Stephen Coles points out, there are many degrees of readability and legibility, anyway. Coles is associate curator and editorial director at the Letterform Archive, a non-profit collection of over 40,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy and graphic design, spanning thousands of years of history. As he explains, readability matters only if you want someone to read the letters, and legibility matters only if you want someone to recognise them.
He highlights the psychedelic poster artists of the 1960s and 70s, which are well represented in the Archive collection. “They prided themselves on making concert information difficult to read, but it wasn’t impossible if you spent some time with the piece and learned to recognise the movement’s lettering styles,” he explains. “The work embraced ‘slow reading’ and rewarded those who were in the know. This proves – like in graffiti – that readability is in the eye of the reader.”
So what about when experimental type is designed within a more rigid commercial or conventional setting? To what extent can emotion, tone, personality and meaning be evoked through letterforms in a space where traditional type rules have more power over form and shape?
FS Sally Triestina is the result of a collaboration between graphic designer Astrid Stavro and Fontsmith senior designer Fernando Mello. Commissioned to tailor an existing Fontsmith typeface as part of It’s Nice That’s Local Characters series, Stavro decided to give typographic expression to her Italian hometown of Trieste. She highlighted the town’s “split personality” as a key inspiration – as well as the letterpress blocks from her family’s printing business – before choosing to splice together two weights of Fontsmith typeface FS Sally, an elegant, bookish font with chunky serifs reminiscent of wooden block typefaces and an adaptable rhythm.
“Trieste is a city full of contrasts,” she explains. “By splicing two contrasting fonts, I tried to evoke its multiculturalism and multifaceted nature. The merging of the typefaces portrays the aesthetics of movement, of frontiers, of the old and new; a split personality that is slightly jarred and the merged
“You have to be highly self-critical, push again and eventually you land somewhere uniquely interesting.” ROB GONZALEZ SAWDUST CO-FOUNDER
Above and anticlockwise Spreads from A2Z+: Jazz Age Alphabet by Karel Tiege with Vítězslav Nevzal, choreographed by the dancer Milča Mayerová, Czechoslovakia, 1926; Below Lettres, Arts et Métiers Graphiques magazine spread, 1948, showing a series of logotypes by French type foundry Deberny and Peignot.
Left A typographic illustration for IBM Systems magazine by Sawdust; Top typographic design for Wired UK by Sawdust; Above Sawdust’s work for Wired UK’s The Wired World in 2016 won a D&AD Wood Pencil
Above Two images from Susan Skarsgard’s 26 of 26: Twenty-Six Alphabets project, in which the calligrapher took the familiar shapes of the alaphet down to their elemental form, stripping them of their meaning. (Images: Letterform Archive)
Below Psychedelic poster by Wes Wilson for Moby Grape at the Fillmore venue in San Francisco, 1967.