Typography: Kontrapunkt -or- Danish Pharmaceuticals, German Design Schools, and Me (and Railways, Too)

It is always a frisson experience when you’re walking through a museum and, unexpectedly, from around the (usually) white corner, you are faced with a familiar piece of work you love, but have never seen in person. This unique experience can happen the other way around, too.

Kontrapunkt is an independent brand and design agency, with offices in Copenhagen as well as Tokyo. A very un-indepth search for fonts and some almost random clicking quickly brought me to their page for a typeface designed for pharmacies. ‘Pharma’ is a well crafted typeface, which becomes apparent from the get-go. Their presentation of it includes process sketches and to-the- point explanations for the design. This contemporary typeface cites 15th century apothecary bottles and a 1932 Bauhaus typeface as influence. That tingle up the spine. In a small, hidden-away hall in the bowels of the art museum I work at, I came across such Bauhaus lettering the day earlier. The new- found typeface’s letter lineage was directly from the ink-and- paper examples in that small intestine of a corridor. They are the work of Herbert Bayer, and his ounces of ink from 80 years ago have the weight of lead in designer’s imagination’s today, without paper-weighting their progress. More than fun coincidence, it is the seepage of one good design into others, regardless of time and geography. It is refreshing to see directly how integrated and far reaching design can be.

Now just fun coincidence (on the surface; a sign of a good design firm and the global reach of design today, really); a link on the ‘Pharma’ page led to another well-done typeface, ‘Via.’ I also work with a team on a proposal for a Copenhagen rail station rehabilitation. This is the font the station uses, along with all the others in Denmark, tradition sensitive ‘Danish g’ and all. Looking past this bias (like one might have for someone in the family), it is a legible, distinctive font that is presented in a light, crisp way, again. The friction on metal scream undercutting the whooshing air-mass bass of a slowing train emanates from speakers while colorful letters flip-book flash and expand on screen and slow to a halt. Literal? Yes. But Kontrapunkt clearly designs their works from conceptual roots, past precedents, and a solid process. This is what their presentation highlights. Perceived as a dime-a- dozen multitude of stationery, black tools on a page to some, typography becomes a vibrant, evolutionary expression in the hands of this design house.

A third typeface, ‘Heart’ for the Herning Museum of Art, further exemplifies this approach. Graphic shapes of shirt patterns and the museum building inform the curves, while another slide states

Our eyes are made to follow the lines and see the letters by completing the shapes

in a sort of medical physiology meets design concept understanding. They seem to have a firm grasp on their field. For all the designing and defining, the ‘heart’ font also expresses Kontrapunkt’s embrace of imperfection and living design; graffiti flanking their font, methods of application ‘open to accident.’ They also see typography from an interdisciplinary stance, describing it earnestly as 2-D architecture. The surprisingly sculptural form of some of the sketches show these aren’t flower petal words; they’re not delicate or there just to look pretty, they don’t wilt when scrutinized.

The typefaces I came across on their site stand as examples of craftsmanship in typography and design based identity. Throw in the personal connections and their underlying implications, and it is a reinvigorating experience. Not the frisson of familiarity, meeting design you’ve seen in facsimile before, but one stemming from the freshness, depth, and reach of all types of good, contemporary design, typography and others.  It’s not having to worry so much about the liveliness and worth of it all anymore.

Their custom type page, including two free typeface downloads at bottom of left bar, and links to other great work:

http://www.kontrapunkt.com/en/cases/#5

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Cover Illustration & Design: Worth Anything You Want

It always catches my interest when good design makes it’s mark in areas that might not typically be associated with it.  When someone mentions investment strategies and economic outlooks, exciting design doesn’t often flash effortlessly into mind.  Worth Magazine’s Design Director Dean Sebring and Illustrator Brian Stauffer disregard those preconceptions with one of the most attractive magazines being published.  Brian’s illustrations communicate a concept with a balance of crispness and texture, with geometry and color leaving tool marks.  The interior is likewise elegant and cohesive.

Another example is the Alex Miles Younger cover design work for ‘Anything You Want’ (by Derek Sivers). It is a book about starting multi-million dollar companies and entrepreneurship, but the cover throws aside any imagery of green paper for a yellow sun and genuine happiness at the beach.  Or maybe he’s trapped? Though far from Ben Franklin above the shoulders, this boy’s head could be more metaphorically complex than at first glance. It goes further; there is no title, no author, no blurb about the book anywhere on the front cover (though there is that publisher’s domino icon). It all seems like smart design (and hence business) to me.

When business and design take risks together, there can certainly be rewards.

http://www.brianstauffer.com/

Animated reading from ‘Anything You Want’:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m27W83ZSVX5O9O/ref=flash_player_2_preplay

http://unozip.com/about/

Typography: ‘I’

Tim GemperlineCinnamon is good for your memory.  So is learning something new.  And when you go out searching for one thing, you’ll invariably fall into a few others. Such is the case in my mission to be exposed to a new word each day.  While learning what ‘alembic’ means (anything that transforms, purifies, or refines) I fell into an interesting article on why the personal pronoun ‘I’ is capitalized in English, unlike in any other language.  So, why is it?

Good Typography.  The spindly letter ‘i’, left to speak for itself between two spaces, fends better as a robust, majuscule ‘I.’  It simply looks better. Typographers adjusted to changes in language that brought about the pronoun and evolved the written version of it, just as ligatured letters propagated with printing technology.  The author calls this ‘a silly reason,’ but if you ignore that one sleight against design, the article explains the history quite concisely and well:

http://hotword.dictionary.com/whycapitali/

Graphics and Art and Typography: Sonnenzimmer Studio

Born from the active Chicago design and screen-printing scene and created by Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi, Sonnenzimmer developed in 2006 as an in-house screen-printing and art studio with a unique aesthetic. A microscope slide backlit by an aurora borealis can swath a poster, or black and white squares and sketching sitting solidly above minimal typography may confer the concept. At times confining chaos in strokes and blobs, at others celebrating white space and typography, Nick and Nadine create compelling prints. A gig poster from this duo stands out refreshingly.

The connections are planned, the boundaries thought out, but, beyond that, they are organic; like a city springing up from nature, or a city being ceded to nature. Maybe neither. That’s the success of their work; it creates an immediate impact and impression, but keeps your eye while your brain engages and explores it past that initial interaction.

Their prints interact (with the medium, collaborators, message, and viewer) like few others have, too. A particular favorite of mine, promoting the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation and done in collaboration with another artist, manipulates color, content, and offsetting across the print run, creating an animation. Nick and Nadine have a clear talent and love for the craft, and it shows in the wide range of work they’ve done.  In the dynamic back-and-forth between abstractions and text, color and composition, Sonnenzimmer stands at the forefront of contemporary printmaking.

Oh, and their site is nice, too:

http://www.sonnenzimmer.com/archive/
http://chicagoprintersguild.org/