VERNACULAR TYPOGRAPHY: Fonts that still define us

By Elena Horrillo. April 30, 2012

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If we walk down any street in any city and we examine its shop windows, street names or bright signs, it will be hard to find a distinctive element that tells us where we are. The language of the neon lights or signs could be a good clue but, beyond that, the distinctive traces that were shaped with typography died as multinational companies grew and standardized all symbols.

For that reason, graphic designer Molly Woodward, with the support of the New York Foundation Artspire, set out to identify, document and preserve everyday typographies from cities all over the world. For Woodward they are an important indicator of regional identity and local nature. The project is called Vernacular Typography and after 10 years she has collected more than 5000 images from more than 10 countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, England, Japan, Spain and mostly the United States, and especially New York. From the Big Apple she has gathered fonts from graffiti, neon signs, stamps, watches or traffic lights. The site even includes a section for grammatical errors. Nevertheless, Woodward wasn’t satisfied with just researching and vindicating local typography, she also intends to add value to these cultural symbols and has started working with several communities to preserve the signs that are still kept and to create new ones that continue looking after the fonts of each town or city.

To finance the project she is accepting donations and has created exclusive merchandising for those who want to contribute to the cause. There are postcards, notebooks, pens and pencils. With them and on them, the fonts we use will be as unique as those gathered in this project.

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