Die Neue Geotypografika Redux

Feb. 20, 2008 MCAD/AIGA Lecture


Above: Copenhagen, Denmark.

Kommentar: Here is a brief synopsis and extension of important issues from my lecture from Feb. 20, 2008. My my sincere thanks again to Tom Garrett, Design Chair at MCAD and the AIGA Minnesota for allowing me this wonderful opportunity.

I was most grateful for the generous audience, which helped me relax and which I am indebted to. It was comforting to look out and see so many of my students as well,
and I am especially humbled by that. I will try to add more data for your review as it becomes available. For inquiries, please feel free to contact me at erikbrandt (at) typografika (dot) com.

Synopsis: Die Neue Geptypografika
Typographic and graphic viruses and beyond.

What are graphic and typographic viruses? The answers are all around us, always and already. The answers are predictably physical and metaphysical. Consider the inspiring thought experiment The World Without Us by Alan Weisman when viewing the above photo and consider this difficult proposition as well. In essence, do we graphic designers simply produce decorative trash? At the end of the day, in a world with or without us, what will our legacy be? These plastic forms will last thousands of years, but our printed surfaces and digital data?


Above: Sand dune outside Doha, Qatar. Horror Vacui.

Some years ago, my former colleague in Doha, Dr. Jochen Sokoly, introduced me to the concept of horror vacui, as indicative or representative of the traditional Gulf region Bedouin’s fear of emptiness. I was inspired by the perfect encapsulation and explanation for the formerly decorative and colorful historical traditional of regional culture, contrasted sharply by the monochromatic world (literally black and white, women and men) of the region today. (For more, see The Wallpaper Project and related article in Grafik, March 2007.)

Surely we all both benefit and suffer from this same fear of emptiness, hence our constant striving to create and engage with the world. I also posit freely that is why designers are enduringly attracted to hand-made typography and graphic design, we recognize our own hopes and love within anothers projections, even if in a feeble or “naive” hand, more readily than in the clean modern forms of commerce and perhaps contemporary practice in general. Even in the most remote or dense environment, the human hand deserves to inspire immediate self-recognition and reflection.

An essentially existentialist viewpoint echoed in western thought not so long ago, can we create a new orientation based a resolute confrontation of this fear with full knowledge of its impact (see Copenhagen above)? Can we search for new forms that preserve and protect, not simply cover and project?

I am reminded of the visual ecology that Odermatt and Tissi called for in the 70′s, even if they were calling for a visual minimalism. Witness the contemporary urban environment in these cities today and you can see that such ecology seems unlikely (or even necessary?), in the blizzard of images, messages and signs that infest our world. Can the predicted urban population explosion, especially in China and India, sustain and propagate these forms of communication? Can current global conditions offer a window to the future? Can we use these signs as a way to create a new visual vernacular? Or are they simply warning signs?


Above: Dubai, U.A.E. Towering canyon of the new minarets, steeples,
and icons of our time?

These skyscrapers symbolize regional ambition to the Nth degree. Despite an archaic war raging to its North, the optimism of Dubai is a global beacon, despite the plastic nature of this essential replication of economic architecture as symbolized by the world’s great cities. The reality of Dubai is a segregated land where anything is possible, behind certain doors and walls. The city as global market, the global market as a meta-city, nothing new. Seemingly only shifts in economic focus.

Are new forms possible in these environments, or do they remain subject to the same graphic and typographic rules that produced these skyscrapers, mirroring the temples of globalization?


Above: Istanbul, Turkey. Self-Portrait with Helvetica.

It seems reasonable to say that Atatürk’s 1928 romanization of the Turkish written language was an early (or common) example of preemptive strike at adjusting to globalization, the ultimate effect? See above, Helvetica and other forms dominate a language that cries out for the serifs, and elaborate forms and shadows that typify Istanbul’s ancient and modern architecture.

Of course, these changes are nothing new to this city, which has seen its language revealed in so many forms over thousands of years of economic and cultural influence. With what I call the language colonialism of the contemporary lingua franca, Inglés, will we continue to romanize communication vehicles and platforms, or will we revive, protect, and replenish old forms and thereby create new ones? Is English the right language to carry the emotions of the world? Will alternative languages come to dominate the world again?

(See this recent post on the UN Website for an
in-depth discussion of these issues here.)


Above: Fishing boat in Kerala, India.

The Indian middle class is expected to multiply ferociously over the next 15 years.
As new technologies and global influence emanate from this growing region,
what influences will they project from their indigenous or contemporary forms? Hand-painted signs and color dominate the Indian landscape, traditional economies project a human identity, if only in the hand that carries the brush through
the communication.


Above: Panaji, India (once part of a Portuguese colony).

Will western consumer driven businesses redesign their products and target these visual traditions, trends, and then then project them around the world (as contemporary brands have established dominance until today?) On the other hand, the UN warns that the global poverty class is expected to rise as never before, accompanied by an aging world population that now lives longer than before.

(See Geotypografika Interview with Bernard Caniffe here,
and another related recent post here.)

Will our communication platforms simply extend themselves, viral like, as they have until today? Or will we, considering our bent for sustainable practice, develop new platforms as well as new collaborations between languages and cultures?


Above: Hong Kong, China. The megapolis. A simple precept I advocate: Urban Density equals Typographic Density. The visual systems that dominate this city are as dense as the structures and the living conditions that accompany this great city.

The people of Hong Kong seem to navigate these complex structures with sophistication and efficiency; can the old models of visual economy and reduction keep pace with this information superhighway? Why should it? Humans have a great capacity for understanding–is it possible that our visual future will incorporate these challenges and project multiple language platforms? Is the current trend (now almost over?) for decorative illustration in the West a precursor to accepting these new levels of complexity?

See this example of a recent Asahi Shimbun front page. The designers who created this surface are competing in an incredibly competitive market, both physically and metaphysically, they seem to feel confident in this direction (contrast tabloid styles and newspaper front pages from around the world).


Above: Truck type in Doha, Qatar.Evidence of the impact of globalization and typographic and graphic viruses.

Even dead brands, see above, are preserved by the faithful hands of workers in Doha. This is melancholy evidence that identity systems can and do project themselves onto the world, and that people of all cultures can and do embrace them. These simple signs, handmade without great skill but with much love, show that the market has already won the war on whatever, always and forever. It shows what an obligation we have for studying the impact of everything we make, both physically and metaphysically. (More truck type here.)


Above: Shadows of typographic conversion. Istanbul, Turkey.

In the 21st Century, we must seek these vague new forms as a commitment to both the past and the future, not just its embodiment, or new sign. We must consider and try to see the whole world all at once, for that will be the consciousness of future humans, fluent in complex and diverse information sources and projection techniques, fluent in multiple languages and cultures, and caring for them all through their languages. Designers and typographers must reach out to each other to claim these directions now, for the odds are against them. I wonder, what are global projections for the number of graduating design students when compared to urban growth and other massive shifts in global economic focus?

(See this fascinating recent opinion published the BBC, on education children in the age of globalization here.)

We can expect that the world will still want to communicate, what will that look like? Will urban density still equal typographic density? Viruses can be both positive and negative, but who dictates what they look like? What forces act on its projection beyond the pressures of commerce? How do we digest these images and techniques, how will we? How can we move forward, and not just along ?

Die neue Geotypografika ist die alte Geotypografika? The old is new again? Non!
We must seek new form and new language to accommodate our growing world consciousness, or global image of ourselves. The wave breaking all at once, the fish in the corner of your eye.

(More here.)

Some things I forgot to say.
I tried to make reference to a few current projects like el 3arabia dada and somehow, managed to forget our recent work, opolis, our 2007 booklet featuring a poem by Elisabeth Workman and photographs from around the world. Reviewed here
recently by John Latta.

I will, thankfully, have new opportunities to extend these topics in the coming months, and I will be posting updates on those dates soon. My sincere thanks again for all of those who attended, and may I repeat my open call for debate, comment, contribution, and collaboration? With my thanks in advance, feel free to raise contact.

eb (at) geotypografika (dot) com

Servus Freunde!

UPDATE: Full lecture images now available on the Geotypografika Flickr site.

Leave a Reply