Letters are the signs and signifiers that we use to create meaning and to communicate. They tell stories and convey news but there is more to a letter than simply its sound and shape. Before the age of digital typography, most typefaces were designed for very specific clients and purposes. Now, their histories are often overlooked or forgotten, the characters dislodged from their original context. Given the existence of over 100,000 typefaces, many of which are freely accessible to designers, what are the processes through which one chooses a font? Are our choice of typeface based purely on our aesthetic preferences or influenced by the associations we have of a particular typeface’s history and cultural significance?
This paper reports the journey of making a interactive platform for learning the history and characteristic of typefaces. The approach is a combination of art with technology. Using the radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, this project uses images, videos and projections to create a typographic world that reveal the history, inspiration and experimental design of typefaces.
The result is a multi-channel platform that forms up by three sets of interactive installation: The journey of a font, Type Personality and Pangram Art. The journey of a font consists of ten typographic videos that explore the concepts of spatial dimension, human/environmental scale and motion to show the history of each typeface. Type Personality is an interactive exploration of the typographic form. It shows how the uses of letterform, colour, contrast, scale and layering give typefaces their distinct personalities. Pangram Art uses the pangram to give expression to the colloquial, yet unique, Singlish spoken in Singapore by merging language, illustration, and typography.
The experience of the multi-channel platform is designed to be interactive and informative. It allows viewers to choose the aspects of information they want to know by activate it using an alphabet tag or a cube. Survey result shows that the multi-channel platform can serves as a useful resource for novice graphic designers, as well as satiate the curiosity of anyone with even a passing interest in the typography. In addition, the use of typography in video allows us to reclaim the lost art of arranging typefaces in a way that would make an 18th century typesetter’s head spin.
- Jesvin Puayhwa Yeo is a transdisciplinary designer, educator and researcher. She is an Assistant Professor in School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, UK, and her main research areas are in Asian material culture, visual research, knowledge visualization and typography. Her work focuses on the details of design and the processes involved in delivering messages in context, particularly through book design and typography in 3D and digital forms. Jesvin has published her works at several international journals and design books. She has also exhibited her creative works internationally, including 798 Art District in Beijing, China, Museum of Design in Atlanta, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington D.C., USA. jesvinyeo.com
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