Week 2: Literature Review and other Projects


  • Alec Dudson lecture
  • Ben Evan James lecture
  • Font li Bierut
  • Vernacular Typography
  • Lightboxes and Lettering – Project by Rendezvous Lettering
Font li Bierut, a project curated by Dr. Nadine Chahine

First, I want to take a look at a typography project started in the past few months to raise money for people living in Lebanon whose lives were devastated in the wake of the explosion. Dr Nadine Chahine started Font Li Bierut to raise money for the city through an IndieGoGo appeal:

“The blast that rocked Beirut on August 4 resulted in more than 177 fatalities, 6000 injuries, with an estimated 300,000 people left homeless. The scale of the blast is unlike anything Beirut had seen in its turbulent history and Lebanon is already suffering from near economic collapse, a banking and currency crisis, and the pandemic. To show support and solidarity for the people of Beirut, the international type design community has come together to create a typeface that would raise funds to support the victims of the blast and the reconstruction efforts.”

The typeface Li Beirut has more than 300 glyphs drawn by 157 designers from all around the world and “includes decorative isolated Arabic letters and Latin capitals as well as Arabic numerals and a few symbols, all in one font file, together symbolising the solidarity of the international community with Beirut and its people.”

At first, I thought, why international type designers? Why not local ones? before realising that everyone would be suffering and not in a place to contribute to a project like this whilst trying to rebuild their lives. I would like to involve the local people in my project, because although we are in the midst of a pandemic and people are suffering, the community are looking for ways to improve their area and forms of entertainment!

“The Lebanese people are suffering from massive financial difficulties with 50% of the population now under the poverty line. Small businesses are under strain, especially given the pandemic, and now with the blast many people are destitute.” The charities being supported are Plan International, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger. Chahine decided to print the goods in Beirut to support a small businesses, rather than printing elsewhere, and despite the shipping costs. She says of her decision “it meant a lot to be able to print at home, and for people around the world to get postcards that say: printed in Beirut. This way we show support to local businesses, and send the message that no matter what happens, Beirut carries on, and its renowned presses will not stop. Not for war, and not for explosions. Beirut lives on.”

As a potential contributor, I appreciate her stance to support the local businesses because work will help the communities around them. This gives me food for thought for my project: I want to support those around me as much as possible and that means local presses too. It might be expensive to print locally, but it will go back into the local economy.

On the other hand, the gifts given to the backers are being bought by people around the world, rather than the local people. Beirut is in desperate need of funding, and although Walthamstow has its problems, it is not in an emergency situation. I’d like my project outcomes to be able to be enjoyed by the local community as much as they contribute to the community.

Lightboxes & Lettering by Rendezvous Projects

Carrying on with the theme of local resources, I am recalling an exhibition that I visited as research for GDE720 History and Futures. Lucy Harrison and Rosa Ainsley of Rendezvous Projects started a project called Lightboxes and Lettering that focussed on people’s experiences of working in the printing presses of East London in the pre-digital age. It involved collecting oral history interviews, visiting local history archives, mapping out past and present presses, running workshops with volunteers to introduce people into ways of printing.

The area included a huge swathe of East London, including my borough Waltham Forest and the Olympic Park area which has seen huge changes over the past 20 years. In my project I would concentrate much more on just Walthamstow as I think this is more manageable.

In their own words: “The project explored how the printing industry has changed with the arrival of digital technologies, and how newer processes have transformed the everyday lives of print workers. Volunteers were engaged in oral history interviews with current and former employees, and in digitising archive material collected from existing and private collections. Members of the public took part in artist-led workshops, using some of the processes and exploring the archive material uncovered by volunteers. The project culminated in 2020 with an exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery, a publication, and an online exhibition on this website.”

It’s great to see a local project in my area of interest so that I can see the scope, outcomes and schedule of what will be reasonable in the time period. I think I need to be more realistic with my outcomes, but that will come in a different post!

Stuart put me onto Typography Summer School, run in several international cities and set up by Fraser Mudderidge

Verncular Typography http://blog.vernaculartypography.com/2020/03/21/signs-of-the-coronavirus-in-new-york/

I referenced Vernacular Typography for the last module because it has a flavour of what I want to achieve with my collaborative tool: documenting typography in all its everyday form. I love the way that she has found ways to keep the blog up-to-date from the pandemic signs to protest placards.

I like the blog section of the website as it is much more what I have in mind, however the instagram feed and shop show a much more curated selection of image. While that’s fine as that is what Molly Woodward intends, I want the outward facing parts to be truly what Walthamstow represents rather than what I find the most aesthetically pleasing. How can I make results of workshops appear live so that everyone’s ideas are included?

From @vernaculartypography on Instagram

I do like how she descibes her project:

  • All over the world, there are cities and towns that retain their rich traditions of vernacular signage. Unfortunately, the fate of these typographic havens is being threatened by the uniformity of corporate advertising, which ignores and subverts local history and tradition.
  • Vernacular Typography is … dedicated to the documentation, preservation, and promotion of vanishing examples of lettering in the everyday environment. It seeks to explore, protect, and support the typographic environment in cities around the world
  • All over the world, beautiful examples of vernacular lettering are in danger of being replaced by disposable signs that represent large global corporations.
  • Typography is a powerful marker of regional identity and has a remarkable ability to capture the local character of a particular time and place.
  • Unfortunately, in some places globalization has all but erased the local typographic heritage. Cities that once had a unique typescape now look like they could be anywhere in the world.
  • The goal is to as many images of endangered local signage before it disappears altogether; create an archive to document and share those images; and work to revive the tradition of creating new, original lettering in the built environment.

She also describes her work more as vernacular lettering than vernacular typography and I want to adapt this phrase as it describes my aims. At university I studied Old and Middle English and works such as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, of which some are written in vernacular language of the time. So, it’s close to my heart.

It’s at this point I reach the actual lectures! Ben Evan James in Academic Creative Practice gave some really good advice, even though I am not aiming for a PhD in Graphic Design.

Sometimes I have got stuck, and even though I feel more focussed now I need to keep up the momentum. Writing down issues can help us see new connections (and new problems!) and at an MA level, we are unlikely to build an entirely new ladder. However, we can look to see what ladders are out there and help to build a new rung. My research and contacts for Week 3 have expanded to look at projects in the area and in the same-ish discipline.

He suggested that just after a project we should write down answers to questions such as:

  • What did I do?
  • Why did I do it?
  • What remains unresolved?

To gain a full understanding of how the project went. This kind of self-evaluation I do try to do continuously through projects and can understand how answering the questions at the end can push you further forward.

Evans James also said to signpost throughout a report by using headings, chapters, and devices such as Firstly, Secondly, and to make sure that the writing is accessible. Even studying English at BA level I have found some resources out there have befuddled me so much that I put them down. However, some academic writing is dense because it wants to include as much as possible within a word count, so there is a balance between filling out to make it readable and getting a full depth within the words.

Evans James also suggested that the writing style should be critical and analytical rather than descriptive (like this sentence) and I do agree. Part of the reason that I’ve avoided doing CRJ in recent modules was because I felt that I was just spouting off what the lectures said, but now I think that I’ve found a balance that evaluates the context in which a source is found.


One thought on “Week 2: Literature Review and other Projects

  1. Pingback: Week 2 Overview – Anna Robinette

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