History Revealed – Interpreting Typographic Vernacular
“You need type again and again and again to get through the day – to live your life.” – Tobias Frere-Jones, Typeface Designer.
How many typefaces do we see, read and interact with throughout our day? And of all those typefaces, how many do we really see and notice?
One morning last week I decided that I would take pictures and record all the typefaces I came across in my first hour of being awake.
Despite all the variations in fonts used, what does this collection of typefaces reveal? They tell you a lot about me, my routine and the things I like. If you didn’t know me – you would be able to build up an impression of what I was like just through type alone. That’s amazing!
The same can be applied to any town, city or location across the world – the typography of a location can reveal what that place might be like.
When I travel, I want to feel that I am experiencing somewhere new, somewhere that is different from home and somewhere I don’t recognise. The culture, the food, the climate, the language and the history, can all contribute. Typography plays an important part in each of these areas.
Typography also creates emotional responses depending on the message being delivered. It can give us a sense about a place – the history, the lifestyle and current trends. It can influence our behaviour and feelings – whether we might enter a building or not or which restaurant we might choose to have dinner in.
Language, directions, instructions, signs and shop fronts are visible for all to see. They each use many different examples of typography, which can help us navigate our way through but can also encourage us to explore further, be curious and gain more knowledge.
Over recent years, countries, counties and cities have developed brands for themselves – creating identities and typefaces that visitors can recognise upon visiting. Campaigns have been used to promote and attract visitors from across the world – giving a small insight into what the location might be like.
In a world that is getting smaller and smaller due to globalisation, I feel that these countries, counties, cities and towns want to retain their individuality from one another, looking at the past to see what sets them apart and develop their own identity through image, colour and in particular, typography.
I live in a relatively large village just outside of Basingstoke, Hants, which is mostly filled with housing. We have a few small businesses but there isn’t much of a history other than some old buildings. Hardly any typography to view.
Basingstoke town is a fairly new town and again doesn’t have that much history, so when it came to this week’s challenge, I decided to concentrate my efforts on my nearest city – Winchester, Hants. In contrast to Oakley and Basingstoke, it is full of history!
Some interesting facts about Winchester are that King Alfred was crowned in 871 which made Winchester a royal city, it became the centre of Wessex and the capital of England. Winchester Cathedral was originally built in 1079 and remains the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and also, Winchester Castle is known for its Great Hall (the only remaining part of the castle) which currently houses King Arthur’s Round Table.
Winchester today is considered a very affluent area and has been voted ‘one of the best places to live’.
Before leaving home to explore the typography of Winchester, I thought about how I was going to approach the challenge and felt that I could use the ‘affluent’ description of the city as an ‘angle’ to take images that represented this.
The first typography I saw was some ‘ghost’ signing as I entered the city, advertising ‘Nestle Milk’, on a house at the end of a terraced street – very exciting!
As I walked round most of the main streets of Winchester taking pictures, it became clear to me that through the typography I was seeing, there was a clear sense of the ‘preservation’ of the city’s history.
It wasn’t all about past history either – some buildings had used typography to carve in stone, the name of businesses that were still occupying the building. Therefore, securing their place in history.
There was a lot of variation in the typography around the city from the very old to the very new but because Winchester is a historic city, I felt that the new was very respectful of the old and it had worked hard to get the balance right. As I walk around, I could tell that the buildings had stood for a very long time but that the modern shops and businesses that occupied them, didn’t look out of place.
The 5 images I selected for the challenge represent ‘preservation’ or are respectful of the cities history and want to pay tribute to that in some way.
I also found myself taking pictures of typography round the city that helps and guides us – and wondered if the same items had different styles and typefaces across different locations. Whether the location was forefront when deciding which typefaces to select.
It was great to go around the city and spot all the different styles of typography – noticing type that perhaps I normally would have walked past and not seen. What I found when looking at the images was that I wanted to know more about the typography or the building that it was on. How it was made and by who. I really felt there was a story behind each image and that it would be interesting and exciting to find out what that story was.
As I said earlier in this blog, ‘typography creates emotional responses depending on the message being delivered’. For me, my emotional response was one of curiosity and excitement that there was so much more to learn from the typography I’d carefully selected and captured on my camera.