One example of our approach to type are these research projects we’ve been carrying out in China and Japan. We’re investigating what’s possible in terms of valid bilingual communication and experimenting with the theory that more could be done to make languages understandable.
In the case of this first example, we took simplified Mandarin characters and combined them with pictograms. We call them ‘Mandagrams’.
In some cases, we were just returning the characters to something similar to the ideograms that the Mandarin originally developed from - so the provenance of the character for ‘mountain' as shown at the top of this page is pretty easy to see. Some characters such as ‘ear' (or indeed ‘monkey') have become quite abstracted from their original meaning, or are a combination of multiple characters.
Here are more Mandagrams applied to transit and restaurant applications.
The Mandagram project was actually inspired by a previous project taking the phonetic Japanese typestyle, Katakana, and combining them with English phonetic sounds. (We called this Phonetikana. Shown above is an example of the English word, ‘blue', written out into two syllables in Phonetikana (‘boo'Β ‘roo').
Above are two more examples, ‘Superhero’Β (which breaks down to ‘Soo Pa Hee Roh’) and ‘Big Apple’ (‘Bee Goo A Poo Roo’) . Below is the full typeface for Phonetikana. There’s more on both of these projects being exhibited in Shanghai, and articles on our blog on Phonetikana and the Mandagrams here.
One of the areas of typography that has the most bearing on how we approach our projects is the creation of custom typefaces for clients. This used to be onerous, time-consuming and expensive, but when justified, such as this specially drawn small use typeface for Yellow Pages, the cost savings or brand benefits were significant.
By being carefully drawn to save space both horizontally and vertically, this typeface enabled the famous directory to make significant paper savings, that far outweighed the costs of developing the typeface.
When Save the Children approached us to help make their communications stand out, we suggested they take their global typeface, Gill Sans, and let children redraw it slightly, hence making a beautiful but slightly stiff 1930s typeface come to life again. Luckily the copyright holders, Monotype, agreed with the scheme and helped us to digitise 14 in total for the charity to use.
Sometimes we’re drawing bespoke typography that will help link a campaign together: the idea below for UK charity Christian Aid was that they were the ‘lifeblood’. We wanted ‘keeping hope alive’ to link to the blood bag, so painstakingly drew the type accordingly (based on their brand font, of course).
On some occasions, a custom typeface that links directly to a new identity plays a huge role. This grid-based modular typeface for the Science Museum is carefully drawn to do exactly that, and within just a few years will be increasingly recognisable as the typographic ‘voice’ of the museum.
Linking fonts to logos is an incredibly useful brand asset, especially if that font is unique and cannot be copied by any others. When we were developing the More Th>n identity, there were no suitable rounded typefaces so we simply developed a rounded version of Futura, now umbilically linked to the visual style of the brand. In both the Science Museum and More Th>n examples, the typography becomes so strong and so ‘ownable’, the brands eventually negate the need for constant repetition of the logos.
Sometimes a clear approach to typography turns a simple arrangement of letters into an entire scheme. As we searched for a viable way to show that the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance ran some courses as ‘Trinity Laban’ but also as two well-known campuses know as ‘Trinity’ and ‘Laban’, we experimented with an idea to ‘turn’ the logo in space, and create a unique typographic effect.
Another example of typography ‘supplying' an idea is this logo for Landflex, an organisation that offered office spaces at uniquely flexible terms, allowing tenants to up- and down-size at will. The identity shows a smaller, thinner ‘L' scaling up to a larger, bolder ‘L' (and all the steps in-between).
We were able to extrapolate this identity idea into typography and numerals for use within the Landflex buildings.
Here's another example of type becoming the identity idea: for this US-based philanthropic organisation we were struggling to encapsulate all their work in one single mark, or symbol, until we created their name from all the words they used to describe their work.
Sometimes, requests for typographic help can come from the oddest sources. We were once asked to develop a ‘crop circle' typeface for an advertising agency working for a client specialising in oat-based cereal.
On another occasion we built a three-dimensional V&A logo and filled it with white feathers as part of a bank of images produced for their 150th anniversary.
Sometimes, building type out of the appropriate substance can almost supply the entire idea, so this one of a series of posters for a paper merchant merges the visual meaning with the physical meaning of the headline.
Or, occasionally, we’ll just experiment with typography and see where the experiments take us. Here’s a poster for a talk about simplicity in design – it’s hard to read the text which talks about the search for something that feels right and feels appropriate, but easy to read the important bit – the simple ideas are the best.
And to end, here’s one of the most complex pieces of type we’ve ever done – a 3D perspex sculpture designed to illustrate a word gradually falling out of public use. You can read more about this project here.