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S TAT I C AUTHORIT Y PUBLIC TYPOGRAPHY


PUBLIC TYPOGRAPHY

CALEB NEWBERG


P R E FA C E

1

I . T H E M E S S A G E : T H E G UA R D

4

I I . E N V I R O N M E N TA L I N F L E C T I O N

14

I I I . A RT I C U L AT I O N T H R O U G H D E S I G N

24

CONCLUSION

34


D O N ’ T D O T H A T.


E V E R Y D AY, we encounter messages and instruc-

Humans are driven by instruction, but motivated to choose our own path, to be inde-

tion from a number of sources, some more lasting than

pendent. Don’t Do That signs can be appreciated for their importance in regulating the

others, some more important than others. We live in an

public, but there’s an interesting scope of levels of importance each sign inherently has.

era of information overload, where we encounter more

Some of these signs have serious consequences if not obeyed and others are basically

meaningless than meaningful information. Our public

inviting you to risk it. Are we motivated enough to obey messages telling us what not

spaces are packed with signs telling us to stop here, go

to do? What if these messages are as impersonal as they are abundant? One might think

there, park here, look there. It comes as no surprise that

public signage is emotionless, impartial and boring, but when examined closely, these

we’re a society who gets easily irritated and pissed off...

signs take on an unintentional personality through their environmental, syntactical,

and I’m not even touching on the plethora of advertising

and typographic characteristics. They have character after all.

and media clutter present in our everyday lives.


“The emphasis on standardization and uniformity demanded of many of the signs is replaced by a far greater concern with site specificity and individuality of expression.� PHIL BAINES


CHAPTER I

T H E M E S S A G E : T H E G UA R D


C O N S I S T E N C Y. Public signage is remarkably consistent in appearance and tone, and even more so when it comes to Don’t Do That signs. The consistency comes as no surprise, because we need to be able to easily recognize something of importance. This consistency trains us to link caution and importance with loud, capitalized, sans-serif type and bold design elements–those that are commonly seen with these signs. Don’t Do That signs overlook a public space and have an important purpose: to warn and intimidate people in attempt to prevent them from doing something they shouldn’t be doing.


Find me the words no, don’t, or only in a serif font on the street and I’ll give you a Snickers.


This laundromat at the corner of 19th & Louisiana in Lawrence, Kansas has an awesome, vintage appearance but is littered with Don’t Do That signs.


T H E G UA R D . Don’t Do That signs serve as the protectors of their territory, unafraid and unwilling to back down. Their personified, hardknock attitude forms an interesting dynamic with their flat, stagnant and unreactive reality. After reading the sign, it’s up to the person to decide whether or not they can prove the sign wrong.


“In addition to directing and instructing us in our wayfinding, public lettering can contribute to the way we identify, and to some degree, respond to the places and spaces we visit.� PHIL BAINES


CHAPTER II

E N V I R O N M E N TA L I N F L E C T I O N


H O N E S T Y : T H E B E S T P O L I C Y. Don’t Do That signs are interesting through their consistency, formality, and candor. They’re also interesting in their disguise as boring, oft-ignored, and one-dimensional messengers. At first lifeless, their character awakens through the environmental wear-and-tear they endure. A sign with battle scars and age marks stands proud and gives its message a hint of emotion. The added texture acts as confirmation that the sign exists as part of its environment. There’s a certain appeal to the infinite possibilities of deterioration a sign can go through, whether it be from mother-nature or mankind, making each sign as unique as a fingerprint.


This dumpster warning label takes on a completely new personality because of it’s environmental damage. Notice how it speaks more viciously and honestly.


“Textures in our environment help us understand the nature of things.” ELLEN LUPTON


LOCALE. The message of the sign is also influenced by its location: whether it’s attached to a post, a wall, a dumpster, or the ground, the context and stationing of a Don’t Do That sign matters. It’s interesting to note whether the environment intrudes on the sign’s space, allowing the sign to be part of its environment rather than appearing as intruder. There’s something hip about finding interest in things most don’t. So call me a hipster.


This Don’t Do That sign interrupts you on your way through the gate. Even though it’s attached to it’s own post, it feels as part of its enviroment because of the bent corners, as if it got in the way of the gate itself.


There’s something hip about finding interest in things most don’t. So call me a hipster.


CHAPTER III

A RT I C U L AT I O N T H R O U G H D E S I G N


KEEPIN’ IT SIMPLE. The physical nature of the sign to the designer can be likened to a canvas to the painter. It has fundamental qualities of composition, line, texture, and shape. Many signs speak through symbolic language, such as no parking signs, no smoking signs, pedestrian crossing signs, and so forth. There’s an interesting limitation to these symbolic Don’t Do That signs in that they’re confined to the “crossed circle” when speaking as symbol. It’s a universally understood representation meaning no, and certainly succeeds in doing so. Will this symbol live on forever? Could it be changed or modified?


Notice how the signs read differently when they’re in all caps compared to lowercase. All caps shouts at the reader, is less friendly and more demanding. Lowercase speaks in a voice more contained, polished, and polite.


“Much can be learned and gained from a critical and theoretical discussion and understanding of graphic design and typography.” – PAU L TO S H


There are many subtle characteristics that typography,

Most of these signs utilize bold lines to compliment the bold all-caps letters, as it’s

design, and language give these signs that the average

more striking and more noticeable. All of the elements are centered positionally on

person wouldn’t think twice about. Yes, most people

the sign as a means to keep it balanced. There isn’t much attention paid to the spacing

notice that these signs have big, bold, capital letters, but

of elements and nitpicky organizational details since they’re not intended to be ana-

they might not understand why. There are conscious

lyzed for longer than a glance. As mentioned earlier, symbol and shape are arguably

decisions that come into play for the way these signs are

the most important fundamental aspect of these signs because they’re universally

treated typographically and in a sense of design.

understood and recognizable without any extra input.


We see a recurring theme of reds and blacks dominating the color scheme of Don’t Do That signs. In their surrounding environment, these colors help the sign stand out, distinguishing it from nature and emphasizing its importance.

The physical nature of the sign to the designer can be likened to a canvas to the painter.


T H R O U G H O U T history, mankind has used letter and symbol to share and communicate their messages. Things are no different today, as public signage remains a prominent example of the strategy behind symbol and language. Public signage and especially Dont Do That signs have become a distraction in a society overflowing with information. These signs serve a purpose but are often neglected to the average viewer. People dont seem to have time anymore to appreciate subtle humor and beauty found in mundane, everyday objects. Don’t Do That signs have an intriguing interplay between being boring in their design and purpose but charismatic and interesting based on their typographic, environmental, and syntactical characteristics.

Maybe next time you’ll look at that road sign differently.


SOURCES

ELLEN LUPTON &

JENNIFER NICOLE PHILLIPS, Graphic Design: The New Basics

PA U L T O S H , T h e U n c u l t u r e d W o r d : Ve r n a c u l a r T y p o g r a p h y & I m a g e P H I L BA I N E S & C AT H E R I N E D I XO N , S i g n s : L e t t e r i n g t h e E n v i r o n m e n t

W R I T T E N , D E S I G N E D & P H O T O G R A P H E D B Y: C A L E B N E W B E R G

SHOT WITH: CANON 40D, 28-135MM LENS

T Y P E FA C E S U S E D : L E I T U R A & N E U T R A

Created for Professor Patrick Dooley’s class, Designer As Author, at the University of Kansas, Fall 2012



Static Authority