GDE720 - Week 1

GDE720 Week 1 : Research

History Revealed – Interpreting typographic vernacular.

We’re back to it and hitting the ground running with a (yay) research heavy week. This is my kind of project and I’m in my research heaven! This module is about reflecting on the history of our local environment and respecting and understanding this past when creating for the future. Recognising the stories, changes and historical events that have shaped our local environment.

This first assignment of complex simplicity sounds more complicated than it is – in recognising the simplicity of messages and visual communication, we’re learning how to tell a story through simple design. As the lecture showed, letters are everywhere, signage is everywherre and has been for years. Eddie Opara was fantastic at showing how he uses textures and irregular dynamics to really bring typography to life, something I’ve not before seen so successfully.

Infographics are now everywhere too, newspapers, social media, print and more – it’s about taking the neceesary data – necessary being the operative word! Refining all the vast information we’ve got and creating simple, easy to read data.

Words have meaning and type has spirit”

Paula Scher

I love Paula Scher – I think everything she does is unique, interesting yet informative and clear. She is the meaning of complex simplicity and I find her work inspiring. Since watching her on The Art of Design, I realised design really can be what you want it to be – by experimentation and sticking with what you love to do, you work can change a city’s identity!

Through this lecture and the workshop challenge, I’ve been in a real history wormhole and loved it – not just looking into the history of typography which we covered in the first module, but the history of cities and countries to create an identity and a clear wayfinding system that defines that place.

A lot of changes to signage is based around the growth of cities (the examples in the lecture were of London and Paris) but I know this is also seen in York – and they still recognise and celebrate York’s rich historical past.

Matt Cohen touched on this a lot – the changes of his city, Winnipeg, over the years has vastly altered not only the city’s landscape but also it’s identity. He’s about obsessed as I am with spotting random Ghost Signs (something I do in every single place I visit – more on that in the workshop challenge). There’s a story beyond the products and adverts here that we just don’t get anymore with our vinyl posters and billboards – that soul just doens’t seem to be there any more, and companies (like Burger King’s rebranding) are seeing this and creating “retro” branding. Signwriting changes with the ages – from just wanting to show locals that your service is there, to adding a call to action and copying this advert across many different places. This all changes with the population of a city, it’s history and the natural evolution of advertising. As he so perfectly put it, Ghost Signs will outlast all our new and innovative advertising techniques.

As cities have developed and population changes taken effect, so have transport links. This has led to a significant shift in city wayfinding and signage and it’s lovely seeing how cities use their pasts to define their future wayfinding services. For example, London Underground was created and as more trains and tracks introduced, the identity became confusing, with stations of the same name, different typefaces, similar colours etc. On the other hand, Paris Metropolitan recognised they need to reflect their signage towards the city’s identity (not including the industrial Eiffel tower which wasn;t originally ceebrated as it is today!). The creation of the Metropolitain identity still exists today as strong as ever and is instantly recognisable. London saw this change and introduced the red circle with the white rectangular signage bar.

London to New York

Monotype were asked to help with the renewing of the signage for TfL. London is seen as a busy city, we’re all rushing around, wanting to get somewhere quicker than yesterday and can’t be hanging around looking closely at our maps. It needs to be clear, obvious and recognisable. Wider spacing gives a ense of space and luxury to help make the transport users feel comfortable. They experimented with the font and kept it very similar, introducing modern necessities such as hashtags and hairline fonts, or fonts for use on apps and technology.

The NY subway design began to take shape based on what had been created with the london underground – recongising it doens’t need to be geographically correct, having simple 90 and 45 degree grids and opening up the central areas is more important. Vignelli recognised he’d made mistakes with this in the past and understood the map doens’t have to be literal. SIMPLICITY is needed within something so complex, but a lot of users wanted more information which led to complicated and messy signage. When completely redoing this, they created the Uni-Marks manual to keep signage and wayfinding universal across the city for ease.


York has a huge historical past and it’s something that’s just taken for granted if we live here. But, I also recognise that York’s past makes for very complicated changes in the city’s identity. It’s mainly recognised as a tourist location and falls into that trap far too often with it’s signage and wayfinding and I feel sometimes it doesn’t respect the city’s past. I LOVED reading The book The Accelertion of Cultural Change; not only was it wonderfully written, but touched on a lot of history that York was involved with. Being a Roman city, we have the walls, we have the achaeological digs, we have the museums and that’s just fantastic. To know I’m in a city where, if they start digging for foundations they’ll probably find Roman remains is quite something. I live near the University here and during their building works, they’ve been delayed so much by Roman Ruins, you can find displays of what they found on most of the walking routes.

Being approximately 3 miles outside of the city, and in a current lockdown, I won’t be able to spend a lot of time walking around the city taking pictures for this project. So I’ve decided to work more locally and look at the village I live in called Osbaldwick. it’s been mentioned in the Doomsday book and I’m hoping to combine the knowledge in Bentley&O’Brien’s book and look back over the shaping of this little village.

I also enjoed reading Baines’ chapters on Signs, Lettering and Environment – I’ve had so many examples before all over the world where I’ve become completely lost because of lack or or poor signage. Driving on the M62 at dusk during 50mph roadworks and realsing the past three exits had no signage at all and I’d just sailed past the exit I needed was frustrating to say the least – I was shocked that they didn’t replace the signage for at least 3 months.

Not only the lack of signage, but the quality of the size, form, contrast and placement makes a HUGE difference to people finding their way around. When driving, they need to be staged at intervals as reminders, and need to be placed at the right point depending on the speed of traffic. How can you achieve that whilst also trying to maintain consistency and identity?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s