As a lover of all things hand-lettered, this was the the talk that I was most excited about seeing on my first day at TYPO 2012. And Hanif Kureshi did not disappoint.
A little background on Hanif Hureshi before we start; Hanif is a designer currently working in the New Delhi office of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy. Born in India, as a child Hanif always wanted to work as a street painter, often working with the painters in on his school holidays.
Handpainted signage: a dying medium in India
Hand-painted signage is a craft embedded in the visual culture of India, with it's bold, intricate and highly skilled brushstrokes. Sadly, due to the rise of the vinyl, or ‘flex’ signage designed with the standard computer-based programs (“always pirated, never bought!”, according to Hanif), the culture of hand-painted signs in India is rapidly vanishing into obscurity.
Hanif opened his talk with a short film, which engaged in a discussion with artists working in the traditional hand painted medium, along with those who had converted to using computers to print vinyl, or ‘flex’ signs. Citing reasons such as cost efficiency (a hand painted sign costs between R200 – R400), and time (a computer generated sign is designed in an instant, and can be printed within a day) the visual landscape of landscape is rapidly filling up with cheap, badly designed flex signs, who's colours fade rapidly in the sun.
The project: Hand Painted Type
To preserve the rich visual culture of hand painted signage, Hanif started the Hand Painted Type project. Street painters can participate and have their fonts digitized (and immortalized), and then can be purchased via the website. The artists receive 50% of all money from sales of their font.
An interesting challenge that faced Hanif when converting the fonts was how to deal with letterforms that consisted of layers of multiple colours, often up to 9 (in a street painter's opinion, “the more colours, the better!”). Hanif dealt with this by abandoning the idea of italic, bold etc., and instead using ‘layers’ as the different members of the font family. The user can then layer family members on top of each other, adding / removing details, color, etc, as required.
Although quite a serious character on stage, Hanif injected a great sense of humour into his talk, promoting some genuine ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments. In particular, hearing the debate between two digital sign ‘designers’ argue for Arial over Helvetica (the reason being that Helvetica never worked properly), was enough to prompt the audience to burst into laughter. His anecdote about his naivety as a young motorbike plate designer also brought the audience to near tears; “not knowing the names of fonts, we would refer to fonts by the page number in the book” (‘the book’ being Typelog, a Lettraset knock-off). “For example, Brush Script was on page 14, so we called it by the name ‘Page 14’”.
I was lucky enough to speak with Hanif briefly after the talk, who was a fantastically humble and friendly, and spoke a little more about his project. Don't forget to visit the project website www.handpaintedtype.com, where you can download a fully functional free version of the beautiful Painter Umesh font. Hanif's own website can be found at www.hanifkureshi.com.
Here is the film shown in Hanif’s talk:
Video from www.handpaintedtype.com