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Typography as the voice of change

By Sarah Hyndman

Find out how typography gave the angst and rebellion of Punk a voice, and how you can use fonts to ensure that YOUR message is heard. 

Punk changed graphic design¹. When it first exploded in the 1970s it appeared to be youthful rebellion. However, looking back we now consider it to be an important part of the Postmodernist movement, which began as a reaction to the rigid restrictions of Modernism. Punk’s DIY ethos encapsulated the anti-establishment mood of the mid 1970s: a time of ongoing economic hardship, with social fragmentation, an economy struggling to recover from a stock market crash, housing problems and increasing unemployment. This was a decade facing a clash of expectations as both the economy and society struggled to cope with the pace of change as the rose-tinted nostalgia of the past collided with a seemingly out-of-control vision of the future. Sound familiar?

Punk was an empowering time of do-it-yourself, when the message truly became the medium as everybody took up their scissors and glue to create zines, posters, flyers and record sleeves (this was pre-Mac). These were often mass produced on the photocopier in the local library and stapled together by hand—not designed and typeset by professionals. What made Punk’s voice stand out was its difference; it literally broke all the typesetting rules by cutting up the grid and throwing the words back down on the page in a haphazard chaos of styles.

Do you have a message that you want the World to listen to? It’s not just what you say, it’s also the way you say it that will create maximum impact and ensure that your message is heard. Context is key. In 2008 Obama’s presidential ‘Change’ campaign² looked so different to the political typographic landscape in the US at the time, that it literally embodied the theme of change. It did this while also conveying trust, confidence and experience, not idealistic rhetoric.

Craig Oldham documents the miners’ strikes of the 1980s “a historical movement of the working class people”. He shows how the placards distributed by the LCDTU trade union use distinct geometric forms that are “bold and direct in the sea of visual noise that is a mass demonstration”. These letterforms mirror the immediacy and anger of the miners’ hand-written placards, and they also give the miners a unified voice³.

Roboto, Google typeface Segoe, Microsoft typeface San Francisco, Apple typeface

The typography of social media and apps today is of corporate and minimalist sans serif typefaces* that, to the untrained eye, look very similar to each other (above), all contained within a structured grid. There are few opportunities to use type expressively, hence the rise of the emoji. Snapchat is a platform that enables you to customise your words (in any font you want, provided it’s Avenir), and their fleeting 10-second life span encourages a DIY approach that breaks them out of the homogeneity of the social networks.

A typeface gives your cause or movement a recognisable voice that inspires ideas, ensures your message is heard, and empowers your words to make a difference. Looking at the voices of change and rebellion in the context of history reveals the full impact they had at the time, and demonstrates how you can use a font as a catalyst for change.

Would you like to find out more?

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Design Week, sarah hyndman

Typographer and graphic designer Sarah Hyndman, author of Why Fonts Matter, will be giving a talk this month about the power of typefaces in the punk era, part of the current Graphics of Punk exhibition on at the Museum of Brands.

We speak to her about how punk democratised design, and why Snapchat is the modern-day equivalent.

Design Week: Why did you get involved in the Graphics of Punk exhibition?

Sarah Hyndman: Type charts social and historic change. The Museum of Brands is a place where you can see all these voices speaking through all of its products and packaging, which wouldn’t normally be shown in an exhibition because they’re not considered high design. My area of interest is how type is woven into the social fabric of our lives – it’s something that I’m on a mission to democratise.

DW: What will you be talking about in the Never Mind the Typography talk?

SH: It’s an hour-long, interactive talk. I’m going to start by looking at what Britain was like in the early, post-war 1970s – there were a lot of social conventions, and the graphic design community was still besotted by the formality of modernism and minimalism. The UK was also going through a recession and it was a massive time of change. Then punk appeared and completely broke the rule book. It was shocking compared to everything else that was happening.

I’ll look then at how punk gave people a voice. It wasn’t about the designers, or the establishment. This was before Apple Macs were around, so you couldn’t just print your own posters. You’d have to go to a typesetter, and the method would be expensive. Punks ignored all of that and found this really immediate way of disseminating their voices. Punk graphics and typography have become part of the everyday vernacular today, but it was very empowering at the time.

Read full article in Design Week…

Book a Typographic rebellion ‘Learn, socialise & create’ session
How to start a revolution with Comic Sans Dazed & Confused magazine interview
2016 is the new 1976 Sarah Hyndman
How Punk changed Graphic Design Sarah Hyndman

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Vetements, Brioni and Kanye Agree: It’s Gothic Time
New York Times, August 9th
By Max Berlinger

“It’s been used for some of the most sacred texts in the Western world,” said Michael Bierut, a partner at the design firm Pentagram and a senior critic at the Yale School of Art. “At the same time, it’s used by biker gangs, street gangs, heavy-metal groups and death-metal groups. It seems like Satan has come to own it more than God.”

Thanks to its longevity, the typeface has accrued a wide range of cultural associations and the versatility to convey both a sense of reverential authority and rebellion. “I think there’s always that double edge, a duality that goes on in everything,” said Sarah Hyndman, the author of “Why Fonts Matter.”

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Read the full article.

 

AIGA Eye on Design

How Type Can Tell the History of Your City
A London designer leads a tour of her neighborhood signage
By Ellen Himelfarb for AIGA’s Eye on Design.

**BOOK HERE for the final two Dalston Type Safaris taking place this year**

“On a recent Tuesday evening, I followed Sarah Hyndman around Dalston, one of London’s most creative and fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. Her so-called Dalston Type Safari hadn’t sounded like the most exotic endeavor, to this local, at least. It resembled a safari insofar as we roamed among native creatures, some growling to themselves, and kept alert for dangerous beasts of the wheeled variety.

“Yet Hyndman, author of Why Fonts Matter and an expert on the psychology of typefaces, came armed with vast amounts of wisdom (and a tote stuffed with gummy treats, popcorn, and hand-pressed postcards, lending it all a staycation vibe). I think we all came away as enlightened as if we’d been abroad and back.”

Read the full article…

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Secrets of Dalston revealed on a Type Safari
The next Dalston Type Safari is on Thursday June 25th. We found some hidden secrets on the last walking tour, what signage discoveries will we make on the next one?

Click here to find out more.

Update. There are no Type Safaris departing this year as Sarah focuses on new and exciting projects. If you would like to arrange a private tour for your company please get in touch with sarah(a)typetasting.com.

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Print

‘Typeface at the Rock Face’
By Sarah Hyndman

Originally published in Artrocker Magazine issue 134
ARTROCKER3

In our everyday lives we are surrounded by fonts and use them to navigate through our environment, understanding instinctively that they communicate a great deal of the information before we’ve even read the words. We choose typefaces to express our personal style or to demonstrate our allegiance to a philosophy, music style or band.

This is possible because there is such a diversity of font designs which have absorbed a multitude of references and intended messages during their centuries of development. Type we use today is influenced by everything from stone carving, handwritten manuscripts, the evolution of the printing industry and now the plethora of designs available online. When we look at type we don’t just see the words, we also see the letter shapes which—much like fashion or cars—are loaded with associations.

Typefaces absorb layers of references and designers continue to use them in a way that reinforce these to help them communicate their message. We all interpret these meanings readily, often on an instinctive level, and we’ve been learning to do this all our lives.

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