Geotypography

We easily associate typefaces with a particular moment in history, or an entire era, and there’s typography that forever refers to a specific place. Gill Sans + London comes to mind, and other examples abound. Although in the case of Gill Sans, we associate it with the place because of the way it’s been applied to London, not because of where or how it was created.

And so I’m wondering about typography that comes out of a place, somehow derived from highly specific geospatial coordinates. Can a typeface be created from a corner of a room, or from a particular building? (Is geotypography a thing? It should be a thing.)

Back in 2010 I created Ding Dong, an amusing sketch for an alphabet in Venice, and I drew Divieto in Rome in 2011. In each case, something vernacular and of the place (local, casual, conversational) inspired me to create letterforms. In Venice it was the doorbells, and in Rome a particular street sign. I treat these chance finds like evidence — inspirational cues to the language and history of the place, embedded in the culture of the street. I’ve discovered that creating these alphabets is an essential part of my work in a place. The find is like a scrap, or a cell, and I grow something from it.

These alphabets tie the work to the place, and refer to my presence in the place.

So I knew I had caught something again when I photographed this photograph of a sign in a shed behind the Weymouth Historical Society in Massachusetts. I drew it out and sketched the Stetson alphabet and decided it had to be a part of the Weymouths book project (the Stetson Shoe factory was at the heart of Weymouth, MA from 1885 until 1973). Creating a working font is not my expertise, so I’ve teamed up with the awesome Thomas Jockin and we are now collaborating on Stetson (one of his sketches, above).

I’ll use it for Weymouths and then make the OpenType font available for free download.

I love this idea of geotypography, and in this case I want to go further and call it geohistorical typography. Perhaps this opposes the Modernist idea of “timeless” design (think of Helvetica and the ability to associate it with anything, anywhere). Stetson is of a highly specific dual-spatiotemporal moment — it locates itself within the original photograph (late-nineteenth century New England), and more importantly, in the shed — with me, on January 11, 2012. From this grows something new.

Stay tuned.

2 Comments

  1. This is beautiful; I’m really rooting for the square-er derivations in the Alternate sets. Hope that “Almost-not-there” nub of a cross stroke in the ‘E’ shows up in the ‘F’. I also REALLY love how these characters appear ‘rotated’ in space (isometrically) rather than simply oblique or italic. I guess you could also term it skewing? I’m looking forward to meeting the whole family!

  2. Thanks Eric — actually, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go for the more angular A and Y (which you don’t see here), for legibility reasons. There’s a nice up-and-down rhythm to the flow that I like. And yes I would call these letterforms axonometric, angled or skewed.

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