Tag Archives: typography

Can a font be racist?

This is a question I’ve been asked a few times recently because the discussion is currently bouncing around social media. Typography is language visualised. It documents cultural attitudes and narrates social change, so it’s no surprise when it becomes a part of the conversation. 

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The terms we use in this conversation even originate with printing—the word stereotype comes from making identical solid pieces of metal type for printing from a mould, and the word cliché is a French term for this process.

We live in a global and nuanced world in which naive cultural tropes from the past feel lazy or out of sync with our values today. But it’s not the typefaces that are at fault—it’s the context they’re used in and the associations that are forged through repetition.

Why does context matter? Because what might have been quick visual short-hand for something that seemed exotic and new in the 1950s becomes an outdated or offensive cliché when used today. Or a typeface that suggests ‘gravitas’ on a newspaper masthead, ‘authentic German recipe’ on a beer, conjures up much darker associations when combined with words like ‘White Boy Summer’.

Can a name create fake provenance?

Since writing my first book I’ve tried to find out why decorative Antique Tuscan letters, hugely popular in the Victorian era, have become shorthand for ‘Mexico’. Maybe the silhouette could be a little reminiscent of traditional hacienda architecture, or the letters are spiky like a cactus, or Hollywood has taught us to think of these ornamental wood display types as being ‘wild west’ or ‘western’? But these aren’t genuine or authentic historical links to Mexico, it’s more like a fancy dress font. When I asked a Mexican friend she said ‘only tourists would expect to find that in Mexico’ and the type experts I’ve asked have been unable to shed any light on the mystery. 

My theory is that it began when a digitised version of a C19th Antique Tuscan wood display typeface was released in 1990. All the typefaces in this collection were named after kinds of wood to reflect their wood type origins. This particular one was randomly named Mesquite, a plant found in Mexico. Could the name have led graphic designers to assume that the typeface has Mexican provenance? Over the last 30 years this typeface has become a signifier for all things Mexican: Desperados beer (launched in the 1990s), tequila, movie posters, Mexican restaurants etc. Now the cliché has been repeated so many times that it’s hard to unsee.

Here are some really interesting articles…

Credit: Library of Congress

Karate, Wonton, Chow Fun: The end of ‘chop suey’ fonts

By Anne Quito, CNN, 2021

Here’s a thought experiment: Close your eyes and imagine the font you’d use to depict the word ‘Chinese.’ 

There’s a good chance you pictured letters made from the swingy, wedge-shaped strokes you’ve seen on restaurant signs, menus, take-away boxes and kung-fu movie posters. These ‘chop suey fonts,’ as American historian Paul Shaw calls them, have been a typographical shortcut for “Asianness” for decades. 

‘Neither the food nor the fonts bear any real relation to true Chinese cuisine or calligraphy. But this has not prevented the proliferation of chop suey lettering and its close identification with Chinese culture outside of China.’

Read the article

White Boy Summer is a bad idea — but are its shirts racist?

By PJ Grisar, 2021

Despite Hanks’ protestations that the white boys in question were white hip-hop artists like himself, the phrase certainly seems like it might appeal to the Charlottesville and Capitol Siege crowd, and the clothing isn’t helping. Internet observers were quick to opine that, while not quite a Camp Auschwitz hoodie, the text on the clothing, in Gothic font, appeared to be a bit… well, Nazi-ish if not just flat-out racist. The Guardian noted that it resembled Fraktur, a style of script used on Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and early Nazi letterhead. But what if a font is just a font?

Steven Heller, an art director and graphic design historian who’s written extensively on fascist aesthetics, said that White Boy Summer’s merch ‘speaks more to tone-deafness than racism.’

He argued in an email that using blackletter should not be ‘a priori, considered White Supremacist. But the mash-up of word and letter equals a mental picture that is hard to irradicate.’

Read the article

New Black Face: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography

By Letterspace (Journal of the Type Directors Club), 2004

The typeface Neuland was designed by Rudolf Koch in Germany in the early 1920s as a modern version of the German blackletter style. By the time it reached the United States it was simply promoted an advertising typeface, a ‘type that attracts attention’. Koch’s intentions for the font to modernise an ancient form of writing had been entirely lost.

Neuland has come instead to be used as a signifier of the ‘exotic’ or ‘primitive’ and often ‘Africa’, all far removed from the purpose for which its creator originally intended it. You’ll see it on Jurassic Park films, Trader Vic’s, Natural American Spirit cigarettes and The Lion King.

Type designer Jonathan Hoefler says ‘I suspect that designers who use Neuland or Lithos as an approximation of the Africanesque are being unimaginative at best, and jingoistic at worst.’

Read the article


Would you like to know more about typography and culture?

Join me, Sarah Hyndman, for a Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass. Learn how typography reflects wider cultural trends and future-proof your communications. Ideal for those in the communications industries, designers and students.

Availability is limited so give me a shout now if you’d like to arrange a 10-minute call to find out whether this session is right for you.

I’d like to arrange a call.

Typography is changing, are you ready?

Typography is changing. Two decades dominated by sans serif typefaces are coming to an end, which type designer Charles Nix describes as “the waning end of a supertrend”. Are you (and your team) ready for this new and exciting typographic landscape?

Find out about workshops / Arrange a 10-minute call

It’s an exciting time to explore how type reflects culture right now. I was delighted to run online workshops recently with the inspiring type designers at international type foundry Monotype. This was such a brilliant opportunity for all of us to compare notes as we explored the themes and trends we’ve been seeing and chatted about what we think is coming next.

“I loved the event. I know we are trying to make do with the pandemic situation, but I truly feel like this event was even more impactful and inspirational with this format than being with a bunch of people in an auditorium. Sarah was amazing.”

I think that looking at what’s changing typographically reveals the wider cultural themes of what people care about today. After a year when so much has changed, what things really matter to you today? What do you really value and/or what no longer seems important?

Are you and your team ready for the new typographic landscape and the fast-paced changes that are happening?

How to spot and decode typography trends

You can spot the trends and themes for yourself by keeping a visual diary and by following the people who are talking about what’s happening. This is a great way to future proof your typographic skills in a time of fast-paced change that trends, foresight and strategy company The Future Laboratory call “the great acceleration”.

  1. Think about what’s important to you, how might this have changed over the last year?
  2. When you look at what’s happening in the world, how are cultural attitudes changing?
  3. Take a look at the typographic landscape of the products and services you interact with today—can you see any styles or themes becoming prominent that you might not have seen a few years ago?
  4. When you think about these in context of changing cultural attitudes, do you think there are any links?
  5. Are there any companies or products that you think are doing this really well (or really badly)?
  6. How can you incorporated what you’ve observed into your own design process?

Want to find out faster?

You can book a highly interactive online workshop wherever you are in the world. Your team will be prepared for this exciting new typographic landscape with the tools they need to make effective typography choices.

Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass

From £800 (education discounts are available).
This is a live online workshop, which can be delivered anywhere in the world.
Availability is limited.

Discover how to decode the typography of everyday products. What does it reveal about changing moods and attitudes? How does it motivate your decisions? How can you future-proof your typographic choices? With a formula for making typographic choices that you can use today and into the future.

Ideal for designers, communications and marketing teams, students.

Find out more

Arrange a 10-minute call

Come to a Typographic Swearing Workshop on Valentine’s Day

Would you like an alternative way to spend Valentine’s Day? Come along to an online Typographic Swearing Workshop and get creative.

THIS IS NOT A DATE—everybody’s welcome. This is an antidote to all the gooey cuteness of Valentine’s Day.

This is a typographically fun and rebelliously creative workshop where you can vent some frustration using fonts. Learn about rebellious typography through history. Explore the sounds that make swear words so satisfying. Subvert lettering to create your own typographic profanities. Suitable for all, no experience needed and you can join this virtual session from anywhere in the world.

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Professional development typography masterclasses

Professional development typography masterclasses—not just for designers!

Invest in the professional development of your company with effective Zoom workshops that are engaging and fun with plenty of “aha!” moments.

Typography is the voice of your brand and it’s important for everybody in a company to understand some basics, not just graphic designers.

This is a series of Zoom masterclasses hosted by author, researcher and Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman. Sarah’s an expert in making learning fun and is on a mission to make typography exciting for everybody. Each masterclass focuses on an experiential area of typography with enlightening activities, engaging demonstrations and useful how-to guides. These are currently available as live Zoom sessions, which means you can join a masterclass from anywhere in the world.

Ideal for departments across the whole company, not just designers
These are interesting, inspiring and fun workshops with clear and empowering takeaways for people from all roles in a company. They’re ideal as a team-building session or to reinforce the importance of coherent use of language and fonts for your brand.

You can arrange a private session for your group or organisation, or come along as an individual to a public event. Private sessions are modified to suit the participants.

“Such a fun, interesting and inspiring workshop with clear and empowering takeaways. It reinforced the importance of coherent presentation of our brand for colleagues from all parts of our company, in all types of roles.” Nicky Borowiec, Springer Nature

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Typographic mince pies

Which mince pie would you eat? Which one wouldn’t you eat?

What would they taste like?

Sanjay Mitra @shonlerock
“Would eat a) traditional looking font, Dickensian, fruity, icing sugar. c) trad. appeal, . d) no, looks fun, 70s, but don’t get feeling of quality, little filling. f) could go either way: cheap rubbish, or potentially high quality, large and deep filled. b and e no opinion.”

The Bookwise Owl @BookwiseOwl
“E. It’s unfussy and no-nonsense, much like mince pies!”

Claire @ClaireFPalmer (via Twitter)
“C Festive and full of posh booze”

Allyn @AllynGR
“E: It looks like it’s going to taste traditional but with a modern twist, perhaps stripped down to key flavours, or an interesting new one. I guess because the font is thin it looks like the pie is not going to be too stodgy. The other fonts all looked either to fat or too fussy”

 

Fontosaur: When dinosaur fonts roamed the Earth, a Christmas gift idea for children inspired by 13-year-old Eddie

My 13-year-old nephew Eddie loves fonts. Those of you joining me for the Sunday Painting with fonts Zoom sessions know him because he joins us most weeks. If you’ve been to my other Zoom events you will know his voice from the Typography Karaoke game.

Last Christmas Eddie had the brilliant idea to make the faces of animals like cat, dog, cow, pig and T-Rex out of the letters of their name.

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Learn in lockdown & meet people around the world

As another lockdown is about to begin here in England I’ve been thinking about ways I can help at a difficult time for so many. I’m creating new Learn in lockdown workshops on Sundays starting this coming weekend (scroll down to see the dates and topics). These are interactive and fun creative sessions, which are suitable for all levels and you can join in from anywhere in the world.

I know from the conversations I have with so many of you that there’s a shared feeling of loneliness and isolation during lockdowns. In response to this, my live Zoom workshops are packed with interactivity and you’re encouraged to keep your cameras on where possible so we all feel like we’re in the same room together.

There’s an option for a small group to join me for a chat after the event. I’ve been finding that this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the event with people from around the world and to hear how so many of our experiences are shared.

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What’s your typographic superpower?

A meditation in typography for people with a fondness for fonts.

A fun game created by Adobe Fonts and Sarah Hyndman to showcase the new browse-by-tags feature that lets you help build the Adobe Fonts collection of tags. More fonts and tags will be added in the future.

The game was built by Oddbird with sound created by Rob Taliesin Owen.

Play the game here https://game.fonts.adobe.com/

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Why are there so many fonts?

Final weeks — book now or miss out! This is the most effective way to learn about fonts. Learn why there are so many different styles: from politics to pop-culture and where you’ll encounter them today.

No knowledge of typography is needed, just your curiosity. Draw along as you learn with a Spotify soundtrack.

Three x half-hour sessions are broadcast live on each topic then available to watch at a time that suits you. Recordings are only available for three weeks after the live broadcasts end.
£9.50 / £6 (students and those financially impacted by coronavirus).
Book here

 

So you thought typography history was boring?

A selection of creative drawings

“Typography doesn’t exist in a history vacuum”

I’ve started a new online series based on the extremely popular activity from my in-person workshops called Typography Life Drawing. This article is a celebration of the results and feedback I’ve received so far, which you can see here are wonderful. A selection of the work is featured here or click here to visit the growing gallery.

This is an innovative new way to learn about type history through drawing, storytelling and music.

“It’s 3 x half-hour sessions a week but the sessions are recorded so you can do them in your own time. Brilliant!” Jan Lewis

There’s still plenty of time for you to join in. With a new topic each week you can just join in for the weeks that interest you or sign up for the whole series!

Typography Life Drawing with author Sarah Hyndman

Weekly £9.50 / £6 (students) book here
4-week subscription £33 book here
Full series subscription £65 (only available until Sunday 23rd August) book here

“Another incredible week of Typography Life Drawing. I can’t recommend these enough. Come for the drawing, stay for the history lessons.” @Minarama

👏🎉 Terrific Tuscans drawings shown above are by Olivia Krawczyk, @minarama, @stonkingfidosetc, @minarama, @stircreativenz and Kat Gaska (left to right, top to bottom) 👏🎉

 

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