Saturday, October 11, 2014

Typography Around the World

Typography can be defined as the art or process of printing with type. However, it is not just about type on a page. It can be representational of a vast variety of subjects, and even emotions.

All over the world, people have been using typography as a way to “brand” their country. It becomes part of their National Identity. A nation’s branding is a way of creating individuality, and reinforcing their culture and imagery. National branding can also be a way to advertise their country’s positive attributes (such as WWI & WWII propaganda), or used as a way to organize the country itself (such as how England branding the Underground, or the use of Helvetica for street signs). There is even a ranking of the top 25 Country Brands, at From Germany to Japan, typography is an integral part in how a country represents itself. These representations can be shown through street signs, advertisements, storefronts, products, post cards, and more.

But how do countries form typographic styles?
In a typeface, the specific letters refer to the verbal characteristics of that certain language. These characteristics of the verbal language can also affect the actual appearance of those letters. Since every country has it’s own unique language, it makes sense that they would have their own way of writing this language, and their own style of expressing the letters. Typography therefore becomes an important role in a nation’s brand; it expresses a country’s language and personality as well. Typography is almost more important than imagery and color for a country, because it is specifically linked to the people of that country on a deep level.

Arabic calligraphy is a great example of how typography can be so vastly different. There are multiple styles of Arabic calligraphy. Some are just linear styles, where others are made into unique art forms. Animals, fruits, and decorative elements are the most prominent. This form of calligraphy is very prominent in Arabic culture, and is thus a huge factor in their cultural branding.

Germany on the other hand uses calligraphy in a completely different way, and has actually been a factor of a turbulent time in Germany’s history. Antiqua, a roman type style, gained favor in Catholic regions of Europe, while Protestants in northern Europe favored the Germanic Gothic typestyle, Fraktur. Most often Antiqua was used for scientific and learned works and Fraktur was for literary works. However, many authors would favor a certain font, and there were a few debates on which font should be used more. Hundreds of years later the Nazi party used blackletter as a representation of Germany in their propaganda posters.

In Britain, typefaces were designed for utilitarian purposes and have become a huge proponent to their national brand. The London Underground was started in 1913, and used Johnston Sans for the signage. Imperialist expansion was growing, and Edward Johnston, the creator of Johnston Sans, used his typeface as a backlash against German design. When finished, the successful branding of the London Underground was a reassurance to the English that the British Empire would survive the war.

From these three examples, we can see how influential typography is to not only a nation’s branding, but to a nation’s history as well. Type embodies both the physical and mental notions of certain time periods.

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