Week 1: History Revealed

Tasks

  • Discover and analyse a selection of contemporary and historical letterforms that define the identity of your location.
  • Research and document the typography in your location and upload them onto the GeoType Wall.
  • Distil and edit your letterforms down to five examples you think best define the identity of your location.
  • Deliver a short written description to contextualise and communicate your research into how type design reflects the identity of your location.
  • Collaborate through group discussions on the Ideas Wall.

I live in an area of London called Walthamstow, located to the northeast of the city, and moved here around six months ago from Peckham, southeast London. The first module, Contemporary Practice, really allowed me to explore the area and history when I first moved, but since then the workload has meant I haven’t integrated into the community as much as I would like. Walthamstow is extremely multi-cultural and in 2019 was the London Borough of Culture, which meant that the area had much investment poured into it. Hopefully, that will continue, as Walthamstow has an interesting history and its multi-cultural citizens’ fascinating stories.

Discover and analyse a selection of contemporary and historical letterforms that define the identity of your location.

Over the weekend I went on a long walk, wandering around the streets. I did have an idea of where I could go, but made sure that I really looked everywhere I went. Here is a map of the images I collected:

Map

Here’s the link for the full collection of images I gathered.

Research and document the typography in your location and upload them onto the GeoType Wall.

Art

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Wayfinding

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Ghost Signs

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Infrastructure

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Neon & Illuminated

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History & Heritage

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‘Missing’

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Campaign

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Distil and edit your letterforms down to five examples you think best define the identity of your location.

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“Heart of Awesomestow”

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Heart of Awesomestow is a piece of artwork by local artist Chris Bracey. He continued his father’s business, illuminating Soho and creating for films. Now, his work focuses on commissions, moving with neon’s reputation from Soho alley to high art.

Mixed typefaces and colours embody the melting pot of Walthamstow. There are serif and sans serif; high and low contrast strokeS; rounded ends and slab serif.

This is placed within the Mall, a shopping centre that is a huge contrast to the locally-run shops on the High Street. The homogenisation of Walthamstow echoes the upward move of neon from seedy to high art.

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Chris Bracey also created the artwork to the right “Welcome to the Home of People who Make and Create” outside Blackhorse Road Tube station. This is my local tube that I commute from each day, and it is uplifting to see as a new person in the area. Whilst being stressed about managing life, work and this course, this artwork always uplifts me and reminds me why I am doing it!

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Here’s the image again so that you can see my analysis after the history lesson! Typographically, there is a lot going on. Multiple styles of typeface, many colours and animated illumination embody that the area is a melting pot of people, ideas and cultures. No one letter of Awesomestow is the same. There are serif fonts with subtle serifs, with slab serifs, with high contrast strokes, with lower contrast strokes; sans serif fonts with equal strokes, with rounded ends. Italic, roman, bold? It’s all a mix that reflects the community of Walthamstow.

This is placed within the Mall, a shopping centre with the standard high street stores you can find anywhere in Britain, a huge contrast to the locally-run multicultural shops on the High Street. The homogenisation of even a small corner of Walthamstow echoes the upward move of neon from seedy to high art in the past century.


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“Millbridge Motor and Cycle Works”

Located just off St James Street, the sign is carefully positioned down on the side of this building to draw customers down the side street. I can’t find any record of this company anywhere, and neither can other archivists, which is a shame! However, the positioning and typography and that the sign still remains are interesting enough.

This sign is at the eastern end of the High Street, near where, in 1870, the Great Eastern Railway opened a station at St James Street. As a result, this end of the High Street developed into a bustling shopping centre where people could shop more locally to their homes and lives.

A few years ago, this end of the high street has had a huge amount of investment poured in. By the end of 2017, £2.9 million was spent on shop fronts, historic building restoration and environmental improvements. Whilst the efforts of historic restoration and environmental improvements are commendable, the money spent on shop fronts has not been met with ridicule.

IMG_20200126_104150The shop fronts now use muted colours with business names displayed in a fine-line all-capital serif font. It’s quite the change from the typographic mishmash at the eastern end of the high street.

Owen Hatherley has been critical of the changes made at the St James’ Street end of the high street, saying that although it is good to have funding for the area, the step to unify the shop signage is an “anally retentive mistake, driven by a total misunderstanding of what makes London interesting”. I have to agree: although the shops would have looked uniform, since four years ago, other businesses have moved in and not kept with the new aesthetic, spoiling the unnecessary original vision.

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Going back to the ghost sign, I have traced over the photo to create a sense of the typeface. The first and third lines are much taller, and span the full width of the painted display. They are the same height, with the kerning and horizontal width of the third line condensed to allow for all the letters. The second line is shorter and has a wider kerning to take up more space with fewer letters. The lines could have been the same height, however, this would have meant the hierarchy would be confused and nothing would have stood out. The difference in height shows that it is a thought-out advertisement rather than a “slapping” of paint on the wall!

This is a very interesting report using the archives housed at Vestry House Museum.


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“This Way Please”

The main transport system takes people into the economic and commercial centre of Walthamstow, with visitor attractions such as the William Morris and Town Hall further away.

When Waltham Forest was the Borough of Culture in 2019, wayfinding signs such as this were painted on walls to help visitors navigate. They are high up on walls and very visible as Hoe Street twists and turns to reveal them.

The grey type is outline in black to enhance visibility, and uses icons of a walking man and arrow as designed by Margaret Calvert to emphasise their use as wayfinding signs.


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“Mall Monster”

An interesting contrast to the neon image. The Mall monster referred to here is the Mall mentioned above, which wants to expand its operations, which would mean cutting down lines of mature trees marking the way to the station. The Mall serves the community, but its large shops profit from it without the same return to the community that the independent local shops along the High Street do. The development would include homes which are unlikely to be affordable for most of Walthamstow’s citizens.

A grassroots campaign started in summer 2018, and this is an unofficial poster following the campaign. Designed a desktop publishing programme, the designer has used a bright yellow background to draw attention, with black-outlined text in Arial. The black ink has separated, the blue component streaks across the yellow, despite the weather-proofing lamination. The designer knows how to draw attention, using caps and increased kerning to emphasise HELP and TREES, though not so much about padding in a box.

We might lament the ability for everyone to create typography with desktop publishing, however, it enables people’s voices and dissent to be heard against powerful lobbies. And that is always worthwhile.


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Food for Everyone

Walthamstow is very multicultural and the High Street is lined with shops with cuisines from around the world. Many people are Muslim and eat Halal food, and shops advertise that they sell products adhering to this cultural practice.

This sign is an example of the bilingual stickers in English and Arabic found in windows and positioned away from notices so that it stands out to passersby.

Deliver a short written description to contextualise and communicate your research into how type design reflects the identity of your location.

Walthamstow is a beautiful mishmash of people and cultures, and the typography I’ve picked shows this: from wayfinding to a museum about William Morris’s pioneering designs to neon art commissioned by a shopping centre to the signs made by locals to campaign and advertise.

Collaborate through group discussions on the Ideas Wall.

Made with Padlet

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