Typography from the most unlikeliest of places
In tracing the history of typography, one must first come to grasps with the classification of typeface systems that Maximillien Vox designed in 1954. An article by ‘fontfabric’, titled Type Origins: History and Evolution of Typography, illustrates the common features and chronological periods of Roman fonts used for communication. Tracing the :
first font used for Gutenberg’s printing press as crucial for the way we communicate effectively through writing; to the evolution of the Industrial Revolution’s typography through copperplate engraving techniques; the intersection between architecture, art, and industrial design from the Bauhaus school to create the efficient and near-perfect counters of the Geometric style like Futura, and the antithesis of the former with softer looks taking inspiration from Renaissance typefaces such as Gill Sans or Syntax.
Fonts of the past become reference for the new methods of communication that exist in the modern era. And there exist projects of visual communications that push the creativity within typography by means of intersecting ideas of the past within a new context.
One such project is that of Alice Savoie’s typeface, Faune.
Animals within Faune
Commissioned by the Centre National Des Plastiques, the work involves the processing of design sketches and documents to contribute in bringing a new typeface to the world (as of writing this article, it is free for download on their website cnap.fr).
One thing to note from Faune’s creation is the inventive use of two important sources in scientific work, Histoire Naturelle and Description de’l l’Egypte. Both books with engravings taking into account the variability of different species are crucial in advancing the understanding of zoology, botany, geology, and ethnology. However, its exemplar quality lies in what Faune takes value from it: exceptional history plates and typographic printing that is done to show a cultivated interest for nature by France’s elite in 1730-1860.
Three key ideas were taken from the engravings: lineage, mutation, and variation. Lineage taking into consideration the contrasting characteristics to each of the letters. Mutation is then used as a selection for what is essentially the most distinct feature of the animal to use, as per the author’s personal understanding of the ideas that were developed. Variant being the specific animal in question that becomes the key reference for the letterface design. On top of that, the process of the typeface is then referenced to previous typefaces of the past. Take for instance, the ram being a reference to the Sans Serif style of the 19th century that has less stroke variations, usually at the end, called serifs. More bold, solid designs with the point of advertising, as per the ram’s imposing spiral horns.
This becomes a usual occurrence in designing typefaces, as in all other works of design, where designers take inspiration from nature but use it as inspiration to form ideas for a contemporary context.
Although the process and end result for Faune is visually striking for where it takes its ideas from, it is an entirely different project from the following one that is written in an article by Meg Farmer. While the framing of Faune comes from the fascination for classifying nature, this next project involves a topic that asks us to reframe the way we interact with nature. Climate change.
Now the project concept is quite evident of how the Nordic’s largest newspaper would like to intersect typography with ecological and political issues.
A typography style projected from the heaviest font-weight to the lightest. A reminder that the Arctic Sea ice in 1979 will shrink to 30% of its original mass in 2050.
Unlike the former example, these types of works follow a pattern of creative thinking that call back to old typographies to highlight relevant issues plaguing society. The article cites examples such as the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker I AM A MAN using an all-cap bold type that shouts the need for basic human rights, the 1963 san-serif type called Bayard based off the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom used in Jonathan Sangster’s distorted typefaces to highlight a disturbing contradiction for appropriating black culture but not standing up for it. In fact, what this whole article asks of its readers is to recognize typography from artists that do not typically come into the typical straight, white male history that is mostly known.
It is an invitation that the world of typography can come from the most unlikely of places. What is meant by this are places where typography would have least likely taken place from. Faune presents us with the imagined world of biologists from a certain period in history, which intersects these realistic illustrations of animals with simple typography. Then there are typography that interact immediately with current political issues. From the need to rewrite predominantly white narrative to intersect people from different backgrounds to the current need to represent the impending doom of a climate crisis. It is from these unlikely places where typography as a field could be seen as a radical but at the same empathetic art that is beyond its type, strokes and lines.
Centre National des Arts Plastiques. (2017) Faune: Lineage, variations: from natural history to typography. [Online] [Accessed on 31st of July 2023].
Farmer, M. (2023) The 2023 PRINT Typography Report: Why Type Empathy Matters. 31st of January. [Online] [Accessed on 12th of August 2023]
Kirilov, K. Petroussenko, N. History and Evolution of Typography. Insidefontfabric. [Online] [Accessed on 29th of July 2023]
Sanomat, H. ‘Climate Crisis Font’ 1266 x 2250. In: Helsingin Sanomat. Climate Crisis font: Type to act. Kampanjat.hs.fi. [Online] [Accessed on 31st of July 2023] https://kampanjat.hs.fi/climatefont/img/bg-section-graph-sm.png
Savoie, A. Rivoal, M. ‘Faune’ Typeface and Illustration on Digital Image, 834 x 598 pixels. In: Centre National des Arts Plastiques. Faune. Cnap.fr. [Online]. [Accessed on the 31st of July 2023] https://www.cnap.fr/sites/faune/en.html.