Hello Dear Internet,
After a two week break from all things secret-projecty, we’re back.
This week I have a Secret Project to share from my friend Mia, who just happens to be living in my favorite city (Rome) and who just happens to be a designer, and just happens to be adorable.
Mia is working on her portfolio website, but for now, you can see her work here
Tipografia: Type in the Eternal City
Rome, Italy is home to some of the most wondrous sights in the world and thus draws in people from all walks of life. With hundreds of storefronts lining the city streets and attracting locals and tourists alike, tipografia(typography) not only needs to attract this general audience, but also communicate an idea clearly. While environmental signage plays a crucial role in consumer culture; found type, such as graffiti, also plays an important role, in that of urban counterculture. As you can imagine, there really is a wide range of type that spans this ancient city. After much recreational research throughout my time here, I have observed a few common threads of tipografia, both good and bad, sophisticated and ridiculous, that I would like to share with you.
For such a classic city, I find it interesting that sans serif type is such a popular choice for most. What is sans serif type you may ask? It basically means that the letterforms do not have ‘feet’ on the endings. For example, arial or verdana are both commonly used, while a typical serif type would be Times New Roman. In general, sans serif fonts give off a more modern or current feel, while serif fonts have more of a traditional or formal appeal. Here, almost all street signage appears in serif form. In fact, the AS Roma soccer team is the only Italian team to have a serif typeface on their uniforms which I think says something about this city and staying true to their roots. However, the aesthetic or trend of sans serif type lives, too!
Traditional serif type on a typical Roman street sign.
Helvetica is another example of sans serif type. It is a common go-to font for most designers, and widely used by many. Even Italian establishments are using it! Il Pagliaccio is a restaurant in the center and it literally means The Clown.
Another example of sans serif type. Please note, Vino + Olio shops are extremely common in this city, one sees them just as often as they would a Starbucks in Seattle.
More evidence of sans serif in one of the oldest piazza’s in Rome.
Contrasting the order and refinement of well treated type and signage, the art of graffiti has an equally memorable presence. This city is completely covered with this found type, as it appears almost everywhere including: building exteriors, bridges, subways, and even churches. Anywhere there is a plain surface, a graffiti artist sees an opportunity to create. With that said, generally graffiti takes on many visual forms and is intended for all audiences. Some forms are simply for artistic or conceptual expression, while others reek of political messaging. The beauty I have found in graffiti is that it does not have to be legible or even readable in order to be appreciated, as its primary function is not labeling a business, but rather articulating an idea or making a statement.
A typical graffiti street illustration.
Pace, meaning Peace, is a popular term in Italian history as well as graffiti language.
A nice example of clean, legible graffiti effectively sending the message: Gabriele Vive, meaning Gabriele Lives.
And lastly, for the potpourri category, I would like to leave you with a few examples of what I like to call unexpected type. This is when the type chosen may or may not fit the subject matter and/or audience it was intended for. This happens more often than not! After all, every typeface has its very own personality and exudes a certain feeling in the end.
This can be found on the side of a garbage truck.
Is this a toystore or children’s boutique maybe? No, it is your neighborhood’s grocery store.
One may think at first glance that this is some sort of a salon or clothing store, but this is actually an electronics repair shop.
Type exists not only for aesthetic purposes, but for the communication of ideas, grand or small. Type is both powerful, yet demanding in that way, especially here in this ancient city, because it must be functional first, while still maintaining a certain degree of attraction. A typical Roman is exposed, or bombarded rather, with the presence of type the second they step outside; as he or she is greeted with a visual overload of various type manifestations. In this environment, I would say there is a certain pressure for type to truly stand out amongst its competitors. Business owners and graffiti artists alike, need to be thoughtful about the visuals they are creating in order to be noticed, or even remembered. With that said, there is a long road ahead for improvement, but I do believe the Romans are up to the challenge.