Arkitypo™: the final alphabet


The Arkitypo project came about when one of our clients, Ravensbourne, asked if we were interested in developing a research project to test and showcase the in-house 3d prototyping skills and technology at their site in Greenwich.

We suggested they do something typographic – just the briefest period of research revealed very few examples of prototyping merged with graphic design. So we set ourselves the brief to develop a 3d alphabet of alphabets. Each letterform is different, each in turn interprets its own alphabet.

For each letter we carried out extensive research, made drawings, built maquettes and did simple 3d visuals on our machines, before handing the ideas over to Ravensbourne’s team.

There was a period of ‘virtual proofing’ where we examined the ideas as rendered files, and when all parties were happy, we began the printing (which for some letters took as long as eight hours). Some of the ideas worked straight away, some needed refining. Some fell apart, some were perfect, but after about six months solid work by December last year the ‘alphabet’ was ready for the photography you see here.

Akzidenz Grotesk (shown above)
Originally designed in 1896, and forerunner to Helvetica, Akzidenz was part of a family of early sans-serifs called ‘grotesques’. It comes in a range of weights and styles: for this design a condensed weight is ‘fractalised’, turning a grotesque into a thing of beauty.


Baskerville and Bodoni are usually judged as two separate typefaces, but Giambattista Bodoni modelled his famous font on John Baskerville’s, at first. The key difference is that the thicks and thins are in turn thicker, and thinner.


Courier was originally commissioned for 1950s IBM typewriters, but soon became the standard font throughout the then-emerging industry. As a nod to the torturous days of jammed machinery, this ‘C’ is built from a small forest of typewriter keys.


DIN is the acronym of Deutsches Institut für Normung. Type design DIN 1451 was selected in 1936 as the standard German typeface across areas such as engineering, technology and traffic signs. As its popularity grows internationally, it has become one of the key symbols of cities and technology across the world.


This was typical of a style of font originally designed for engraving into metals, especially gold and silver.


This classic ‘blackletter’ style of fonts is umbilically linked to Germany’s history, being the predominant style for centuries in pre-war Germany. For most of the 20th century it proved controversial, eventually being banned by the Nazis in 1941. Post-war adoption of sans-serif typefaces effectively killed it off as the nation’s style of script.


Gill Sans
This is the famous lowercase ‘g’ from Eric Gill’s 1933 typeface, Gill Sans. He is quoted as saying, “A pair of spectacles is rather like a ‘g’; I will make a ‘g’ rather like a pair of spectacles.”


Originally designed in 1957 as Neue Haas Grotesk, its 1960 version was renamed Helvetica. Given that its name was based on ‘Helvetia’ (Latin for Switzerland) it was no surprise that it became the vanguard of the Swiss style, and the typeface of choice for corporations across the world for the last fifty years.


Originally designed for The Face in 1984 by Neville Brody, Industria was released publically as a font in 1989. It has a mechanical structure of straight strokes, rounded corners and square inner spaces that refer back to Art Deco and design pioneers such as Ladislav Sutnar.


This face is one of the earliest 20th century sans-serif typefaces, designed for London Transport by Edward Johnston in 1916. Originally called ‘Underground’, we now know it as Johnston, and it remains in use a century later. It was a key influence on Gill Sans and has several unique features, including its diagonal square dots.


Released in 1927, Kabel was a geometric sans-serif typeface that was named in honour of the then newly completed transatlantic telephone cable.


Lubalin Graph
Herb Lubalin designed this font by initially basing it on its predecessor, Avant Garde. It filled a need for a slab-serif alphabet for the emerging phototypesetting industry.


This infamous ITC typeface of the seventies took its inspiration from the American Midwest a century before. Now a classically brutal font perfect for all things industrial, it is interpreted here with a system of interlocking cogs.


New Alphabet
This typeface was a radical experimental font proposed by Dutch design legend Wim Crouwel in 1967. He simplified characters down to their absolute minimum, and only utilised vertical, horizontal or 45-degree strokes.


One of the original computer fonts, OCR became omnipresent in banking and on cheques. It was often printed in magnetic ink and was widely adopted in industry, despite the fact that many of its letterforms (designed to be uniquely different) were in fact uniquely odd.


Another Eric Gill font from the 1920s, Perpetua hints at Gill’s skill as a calligrapher and stone-cutter, especially in its capitals. Here it is set to perpetuate in an endless, Möbius strip of uppercase letters.


Many of the characters within this grid-based typeface from 2002 have the impression of having 3D form whilst only 2D. So this adaptation imagines what its 3D shape ‘could’ have been.


This typeface began as a typeface for the sections of the The Wall Street Journal printed in very small sizes. At large sizes it seems to feature crude ‘notches’ cut into the letterforms but these are there to compensate for the way blobs of ink blur type at tiny sizes.


Adrian Frutiger designed Serifa in 1966. Technically a ‘slab-serif’ design, Frutiger based his first designs on his well known sans-serif font, Univers, and simply added the serifs.


This was a 1989 adaptation of the famous Roman capitals inscribed on the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome. These letterforms have been influential for centuries, but this was the first design to directly emulate the carvings. The column itself can be climbed via an internal spiral staircase.


This typeface family was famous for its broad appeal and was one of the first attempts to create a classification across its many weights, widths and styles. Since its introduction in 1957 it has become one of the world’s most ubiquitous typefaces.


A font specially designed for use on screen: after being bundled into Windows software from the mid-nineties onwards it has become one of the pre-eminent typefaces on the worldwide web.


Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch
Rudolf Koch, who designed this font in the 1920s, drew heavily on the shapes and curves learnt during his training as a calligrapher, as he developed this ‘blackletter’ design.


Introduced at the turn of the millennium, Xheighter is a tall, condensed sans-serif that becomes even taller and more condensed when stacked on top of itself.


DFP Yuan
Yuan in Chinese literally means a ‘round object’ or ‘round coin’. Intersecting ¥ symbols have been spun in a circle to create an endless circle of Chinese money.


Zig Zag
This is an inline, Art Deco style typeface that, in 3D, becomes an interlocking, zig-zagging puzzle.


The alphabet is also featured in the February issue of Creative Review in their ‘Monograph’ which is sent to all their subscribers. It will be exhibited for a short period in Arup London’s exhibition space from this Friday for a week (there’s more information here) and in a set of limited edition posters (more details later this week).

Project credits:
Design: johnson banks
Client: Ravensbourne
3d imaging and prototyping: Jon Fidler
Photography: Andy Morgan
Project client: Jill Hogan
Project advisor: Ben Caspersz

Design ©johnson banks design limited/Ravensbourne

The Arkitypo™ name is ©johnson banks design limited