WALKING TYPE

 11/03/2019 – 15/03/2019

STUDIO: WEEK 5

 

To better understand typography there is no better place then to walk through city, town or even a village. To observe every sign, poster, sticker, flyer, billboard, magazine cover, brand, menu, tag, etc. You start noticing things you never did before, your looking higher up and closer to the ground. Paula Scher in the Netflix documentary Abstract makes two interesting remarks about typography. Before we start, I would like to introduce Paula Scher. I didn’t know who she was until a few weeks ago and feel ridiculous as an art student not knowing who she is. Paula Scher is probably one of the greatest designers of all time, and the most famous from the influential graphic design society Pentagram. She is a decorated veteran who has modelled and reshaped letters in beautiful ways and transforming the landscape for emerging designers. You pretty much cannot call yourself a graphic designer if you don’t know Paula Scher. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry such as: Coca-Cola, Microsoft and MoMa just to name a few.

 

paula_scher_1500x1500

 

The first thing she says: “I walk out and I see typography everywhere”.  This is inherently true when you go out and you actually see letters everywhere, more than you did before. It almost becomes overwhelming because until you notice how many letters surround us on a daily basis, it’s like we’re sharing the city with people and words. Not only are the letters in different languages, but also widths, heights, weights, sizes. Every human says things in a different way contributing to its environment in its own unique fashion, words do the same. Yes you could argue that we do see a lot of Helvetica, a Neo-grostesque typeface designed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman, because of how readable and universally recognised it is. This is the typeface that revolutionised design.

 

 

 

However, even though the same type is used in similar ways it will always mean something else. No two humans are the same, we’re long, short, wide, skinny and it’s no different for letters. For me, this is the beauty of typography and leads to the second point she makes: “typography is painting with words”. It’s true, we can bend the shapes, rearrange them, move them, distort them and we can still get the message across, but the feeling  and the energy is different, they come to life and breathe, by being manipulated they’re saying it better. A great example is Paula Scher’s work on the Public Theatre in New York. In the show, she opens a book and show us a page with R’s and she explains:

“I like American Wood type because its powerful, and it has many forms. On this particular page were these R’s, they go back to the skinniest form or to the widest form, and I realised I could make the word “Public” in the same kind of weights, and it would symbolize all of New York. Every type of weight was included.”

 

ps-public-full-239

 

This logo is inclusive and explanatory in so many ways. By making each letter a different weight she made the word “Public” more public. She used an American typeface, because she’s dealing with an American audience. She also chose a very bold and powerful typefaces that embodies the gritty New York graffiti, street identity and she gave the public theatre a personality, one that reflects the people it attracts. I think this illustrates the power of typography, it can stand for something and it is confirmed by Pentagram’s description of her work:

“The identity responded to The Public’s mission to provide accessible and innovative performances, creating a graphic language that reflects street typography in its extremely active, unconventional and almost graffiti-like juxtaposition.”

It wasn’t distancing itself from its clients, but resembling them and being loud, proud and open about it. The posters speak for themselves.

 

 

 

How this reflects in my practice was with a walking trip I did with me class. We were given a black square where we had to cut out the white centre square and use it as a cropping tool. I could have looked through it and taken a picture of what I saw, instead I held up my cropping tool and snapped a picture of the immediate crop I saw. This small effort I made for each picture kept me true to the exercise, plus I had the exact crop I wanted. Even though the quality is inferior, I think the aesthetic works really well, it looks more lively and imperfect, it breathes more life like in the streets, not everything is always clear and things go by in blurry haze or you see it rush past you. Sometimes you want to hear the noise of the city in the picture, and other times you don’t. This exercise was very powerful, I felt so connected with my surroundings. In truth, I had watched the episode before and it helped immensely because I was prepared to look up, down, left, right. I knew what to do, I was trailing the group and couldn’t keep focused on what my tutor was saying, because I was so distracted by what I saw that I was in my own world. I definitely want to keep doing this for my own practice and keep my mind exercising design-wise. I had used the cropping square so much it started to bend and my pictures were no longer straight, I solved this by sticking q-tips on the back to hold the square together. Sadly, I lost it like most people lose things: I left it on the tube…

 

The brief has two parts: ‘The Hunt’ and ‘New Visual Language’. ‘The Hunt’ says we needed to take at least one picture of the following 10 categories:

  1. Classical
  2. Corporate
  3. Deconstructed
  4. Digital
  5. Macro
  6. Micro
  7. Romantic
  8. Useless
  9. Vernacular
  10. Vulgar

Many of the images could fit in different categories, but each image is where it should be by its most relevant characteristic.

‘New Visual Language’ wants us to reconstruct our data and challenge us on how to display it. I made a collage and a video so that you could relive my experience on the walking trip. I went to several places around London and continued the exercise way into the next day. My locations include: St. Pancras International, Camberwell, Walworth Road, Euston, Elephant & Castle, LCC, Brixton, Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane. The collage is a refined version of the video where I included every picture I took. If you look closely at the collage, I tell a story and each image surrounds the next for a reason, for example the TFL jacket that says: “Here to help” is right next to a crucified Jesus, another would be the pot that says ‘Royal’ next to a picture of Prince William and his family. I needed to think carefully about the placement of each image. I tried a colour scheme and placing the images in chronological order from left to right, but neither worked to the collage’s best advantage. I could have also grouped them by location, but once you go down that rabbit hole I could spend months making categories and subcategories for each image. Instead I opted to tell a story and group the images around each other in common themes: numbers, religion, culture etc.

Here is the collage I made along with an inverted image, because I like the look of it and it gives the whole exercise a different feel. It’s also interesting how flat the inverted version is compared to the normal one, it’s more blue and orange where as the original is more colourful.

 

walking type collage normal

 

The video is entirely square because of the shape of the cropping tool. It’s very quick paced and if you stare into the middle without moving you feel like you’re getting sucked in. The image appears three times, but is cropped differently causing the video to zoom in giving that ‘sucked in’ feeling. It starts with me holding the cropping square, to the full image with a black border, to a specific detail that caught my eye.

 

 

The video progresses chronologically, from the moment we started until I lost the cropping tool on the Bakerloo. I’m very pleased with the final outcome and it did go through a few iterations. I initially wanted to have the full sized portrait image and then have it cropped to a square image of me holding the cropping tool etc. But with the pace of the video made it too confusing and the black borders dominated instead of the actual image. I then sticked to a square video. When you crop an image it gets smaller, thinking this would look cool if the image would crop down progressively to the detail, however the same problem arose: too much black. Sometimes the crop of the detail was so small all we could see was black, making the video pointless. The final cut is simple, square format and every image is the same size.

Here is the link for my video, enjoy!

 

 

 

Bibliography

Dadich, S (2017) Paula Scher: Graphic Design, Abstract S.1 E.6, Netflix. Available at: https://www.netflix.com (Accessed: 19/03/2019)

Pentagram (2019) Paula Scher. Available at: https://www.pentagram.com/about/paula-scher (Accessed: 19/03/2019)

Pentagram (2019) The Public theatre story. Available at: https://www.pentagram.com/work/the-public-theater/story (Accessed: 19/03/2019)

 

Images

Available at: https://www.behance.net/gallery/25885151/Silkscreen-HelveticaPosters?utm_medium=email&utm_source=transactional&utm_campaign=project-published (Accessed: 19/03/2019)

Pentagram (2019) Paula Scher. Available at: https://www.pentagram.com/about/paula-scher (Accessed: 19/03/2019)

Pentagram (2019) The Public: Brand Identity. Available at: https://www.pentagram.com/work/the-public-theater (Accessed: 27/03/2019)

 

Published by Marco-Antonio Grubben

IVM 2018-2022

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