Environmental type installations; can typography ever

be considered as art, and does this affect our way of
perceiving public lettering and commercial text?

An exploration into three dimensional typography in
urban environments and art galleries around the world.

1

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations …………………………………………………………Pg. 3-7
Acknowledgements ..………………………………………………………Pg. 8
Introduction …………………………………………………………………Pg. 9-11
Chapter 1: Archaic Type …………………………………………………..Pg. 12-21
-Historic Context .…………………………………………………..Pg. 12-14
-Modern application of historical methods ………………………Pg. 15-21
Chapter 2: Type in Art .……………………………………………………Pg. 22-32
-Flat installations……………………………………………………Pg. 22-27
-3D installations………………………………………………….…Pg. 28-32
Chapter 3: Type as More.…………………………………………………..Pg. 33-40
-Architectural ……………………………………………………….Pg. 33-35
-Memorial……………………………………………………………Pg. 36-38
-Commercial ………………………………………………………..Pg. 39-40

Chapter 4: Digital Type …………………………………………………….Pg. 41- 45
-Digital installations ………………………………………………..Pg.41-44
-The future ………………………………………………………….Pg. 45
Conclusion …………………………………………………………………..Pg. 46-47
Appendices ………………………………………………………………….Pg. 48-54
Bibliography …………………………………………………………………Pg. 55-60
Progress Map ……………………………………………………………….Pg. 61- 73

2

ILLUSTRATIONS


Figure 1. Mosley James, (1963) The inscription in situ [Photograph: Black and white
shot of Trajan’s column from below, with partial view of the inscription] Available:
http://www.codex99.com/typography/21.html (Accessed 22/06/15)
Figure 2. Yoder, Greg (2011) Park Avenue Shoe Store sign [Photograph: Restored
hand painted sign of a shoe store on Park Avenue, Lancaster] Available: http://
gregyoder.com/2011/12/old-hand-painted-signs-around-town/ (Accessed 07/10/15)


Figure 3. Buncic Jasna, (2010) The National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing [Photograph:
outside the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery, London, type has been carved
into the wall, design by Michael Harvey] Available : http://www.fotolibra.com/gallery/
674577/the-national-gallery-sainsbury-wing/ (Accessed 22/06/15)
Figure 4. Davies, Rhianna (2015) The National Gallery staircase frieze [Photograph
inside the National Gallery, at the top of staircase with inscription starting at Raphael]
Figure 5. Kindersley, Richard (2009) Canning Town Underground, [Photograph: On
staircase facing concrete inscription wall, A Public Arts Commission designed and
created by Richard Kindersley] Available: http://www.kindersleystudio.co.uk/site/wpcontent/uploads/2009/10/canning-town-concrete-01-476x620.jpg (Accessed
06/07/15)


Figure 6. Why Not Associates (2001) The Cursing Stone, Carlisle [Photograph:
Inside Millennium Subway, facing The Cursing Stone, created by Gordon Young,
typography by Why Not Associates, implementation by Russel Coleman] Available:
http://www.whynotassociates.com/wp-content/uploads/
Cursing_Stone_01_MEDIUM.jpg (Accessed 29/08/15)
Figure 7. Paula Scher (2004) NJPAC environmental graphics program [Photograph:
side of the theatre, displaying painted typography surface designed by Paula Scher]
3

Available: http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2004/paula-scher-pentagram-new-york
(Accessed 07/10/15)
Figure 8. Bread Collective (2012) The Walls Have Ears [Photograph: One of the
mural displays in Hackney Wick, reading: Mint Creams] Available: http://
www.breadcollective.co.uk/the-walls-have-ears-olympic-site-murals-hackney-wick/
(Accessed 07/10/15)
Figure 9. Boa Mistura (2012) Luz Nas Vielas (Light In The Alleyways) [Photograph:
Available: http://www.boamistura.com/luz_nas_vielas.html (Acessed 10/10/15)

Figure 10. Norbert Miguletz (2010) Circus © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
[Photograph: Circus installation covers the rotunda of the Schirn Kunsthalle in
Frankfurt, image captures side of wall and ceiling] Availbale: http://artobserved.com/
2011/01/go-see-%E2%80%93-frankfurt-barbara-kruger%E2%80%99s%E2%80%98circus%E2%80%99-at-schirn-kunsthalle-through-january-30-2011/
(Accessed 02/09/15)
Figure 11. Kruger, Barbara (2012) Belief + Doubt [Photograph: Inside the Hirshorn
Museum, Washington DC with Barbara Kruger’s Belief + Doubt installation]
Available: http://artobserved.com/2012/08/washington-dc-barbara-kruger-beliefdoubt-at-the-hirshorn-museum-through-august-27-2015/ (Accessed 10/10/15)
Figure 12. Kruger, Barbara (2010) Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney On
Site [Photograph: Image from adjacent building looking down on installation, 2010]
Available: http://whitney.org/WhitneyOnSite/Kruger (Accessed 10/10/15)

Figure 13. Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow (1997-2004) Between [Photograph:
Original installation in Foksal Gallery, 1977 by Stanislow Drozdz] Available: https://
en.mocak.pl/in-between (Accessed 19/09/15)

4

Figure 14. J Mayer H, (2011) Rapport [Photograph: View of entrance hall installation
by J Mayer H for the Berlinischen Galerie] Available: http://www.jmayerh.de/97-0Rapport.html (Accessed 10/10/15)
Figure 15. Yoko Ono,(2014) Earth Peace [Photograph: Street view of billboard
installation in Folkestone] Available: http://www.folkestonetriennial.org.uk/artist/yokoono/ (Accessed 30/09/15)
Figure 16. Totya Hu (2006) LOVE [Photograph: LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana,
on the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan, NY] Available: https://
commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LOVE_sculpture_NY.JPG (Accessed 30/09/15)

Figure 17. Kimpton, Laura (2012) Ego [Photograph of alight EGO at Burning Man
2012, Black Rock Desert, Nevada] Available: https://ignitechannel.com/stories/artistinterview-with-sculptor-laura-kimpton/ (Accessed 11/10/15)
Figure 18. Studio Vollaerszwart (2009) Evergreen [Photograph: Seat letters covered
with artificial grass at the Thij College in Oldenzaal, NL] Available: http://
www.vollaerszwart.com/88203/735664/projects/evergreen (Accessed 15/10/15)

Figure 19. Brossa, Joan (2008) Walkable visual poem in three phases [Photograph:
in the foreground is the 3rd phase: “3. Destruction”, 1984, sculpture by Joan Brossa
next to the Horta Velodrome and Labyrinth in Barcelona, Catalonia] Available: https://
upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Poema_visual_(destrucci%C3%B3)__Joan_Brossa_-_Barcelona.jpg Accessed (08/10/15) 


Figure 20. Love-Spain, Jaume Plensa (2012) Nomad [Photograph: Nomad in the
Yorkshire Sculpture park, England, in 2007] Available: http://40.media.tumblr.com/
tumblr_llrinlMIIJ1qkx931o1_500.jpg (Accessed 15/10/15)
Figure 21. R & R Studios (1996) M [Photograph: Architectural letter ‘M’ sculpture
outside Riverwalk Station, Miami] Available: http://www.rr-studios.com/ (Accessed
28/10/15)
5

Figure 22. Gollings, John, (2001) The Marion Cultural Centre [Photograph: Street
view and side views of the cultural centre, at daytime and night, South Australia]
Available: http://openbuildings.com/buildings/the-marion-cultural-centre-profile-3154#
(Accessed 15/10/15)
Figure 23. The New England Holocaust Memorial (no date) [Photograph: Views of
the etched glass memorial walls, and two tower structures from below, Boston, US]
Available: http://www.nehm.org/photo-gallery/ (Accessed 21/10/15)
Figure 24. Martin, Manuela (2014) Monumento Victimas 11-M, Madrid [Photograph:
View from inside the monument, looking up through the dome to read the text]
Available: http://www.designcurial.com/news/typography-in-architecture-4285057/
(Accessed 21/10/15)
Figure 25. Serviceplan (2010) BMW LightWall, Hamburg Airport [Photograph:
Billboard reflection in situ, flat view from afar and perspective view] Available: http://
www.serviceplan.com/en/case-details/bmw-lightwall-1618.html (Accessed 21/10/15)
Figure 26. MacPherson, Angus (2007) Campbells soup: Hunger installation
[Photograph: ‘Help hunger disappear’ in a grocery store in Canada, images of full
display and after user interaction] Available: http://adsoftheworld.com/media/ambient/
campbells_soup_hunger_installation (Accessed 21/10/15)
Figure 27. Popp, Julius, (2002) bit.fall, [Photograph: Network based digital
installation using water droplets to form the word ‘processing’] Available: http://
www.goethe.de/ins/ee/prj/gtw/aus/wer/pop/enindex.htm (Accessed 14/11/15)
Figure 28. Sanborn, Jim (2004) A Comma, A, [Photograph: Copper installation at
night with projected words shining on plaza in front of library, and on adjacent
building, University of Houston, TX] Available: http://jimsanborn.net/hires/First.jpg
(Accessed 14/11/15)

6

Figure 29. Rooij, Gert-Jan van (2013) LUST: Type/Dynamics [Photograph:
Installation view with visitor. Information opens up when visitors are near to the wall,
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam] Available: http://lust.nl/#projects-5525 (Accessed
14/11/15)

7

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to start by thanking all of the ‘Theory and Context’ team at
Ravensbourne, as their support throughout this process has been invaluable. In
particular, Sally Waterman and Eti Wade for being there whenever I had questions in
the early planning stages, and later in the production of the writing.
My primary research has been crucial for this project as I was tackling a very
subjective question. I would like to thank Elaine Tribley, Johanna Drucker, Daniel
McGhee and Luke James for taking the time to answer my questions; they were all
helpful and insightful responses.
I would also like to thank the team at Pentagram for hosting the Paula Scher talk in
April, and for generally being supportive of my inquiries into this line of study.
Lastly, a big thank you goes to all my friends and family who supported me
throughout.

8

INTRODUCTION

Lettering is everywhere. From the first minutes of life, when a label stating our
name is clipped around a tiny wrist, to our final resting place, a headstone or
memorial book, it is lettering that quite literally scores the alpha and omega of
our lives (Haslam, 2011, p.6)
This dissertation examines the innovative use of typography in three dimensional
spaces. To clarify; the installations inhabit a dynamic space where people live and
life flows, as opposed to printed typography, where letters lie on the static space of a
page (Saccani, 2013, p.19). The focus throughout is primarily on contemporary
practise, as the number and range of typographic installations has grown
exponentially in the past three or four decades (Heller and Ilic, 2013, p.10).
A major figure in the study of this discipline, Jock Kinnier writes:
If public lettering was just a larger size of type there would be little to interest
us. Yet, quite apart from the question of the extra dimension, there are
obviously a host of different relationships to be explored. Buildings and
people, rather than pages, are the frame of reference, and sometimes even
the sky and open fields. (Kinnier, 1980, p.72).
The lead question tackles difficult concepts, as defining art is extremely subjective.
“The definition of what is art changes from generation to generation” (Heller and Ilic,
2013, p.10). The oxford dictionary definition is ambiguous and open to interpretation:
“[Mass noun] The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,
typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be
appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (Oxford Dictionaries,
website, no date).
What complicates this study is the significant lack of research; very few have
addressed typography that was not part of a sign or commercial message, and little
is published about the role typography plays in public spaces intended for interaction
(AbiFares, 2010, p.8). Nevertheless I will highlight factors that can lead to
9

typographic installations being seen as art, or argue for them not being considered
art. Additionally, I aim to evaluate how our perception of these typographic
installations as art can alter the way we view everyday public lettering and
commercial messages.
The dissertation is split into four chapters: Archaic Type, Type in Art, Type as More
and Digital Type, and within these are smaller sections of text that categorise
examples. These examine a wide range of global sources, as my lead question has
an explorative aim.
Chapter 1 briefly outlines two relevant pivotal points in history for environmental
typography; Roman inscriptions and 16th century sign painting. Following on from
this, I look at the revivals of these archaic typographic methods in contemporary
settings, and how their historic roots can have an impact on meaning/audience
reaction.
Chapter 2 focuses on environmental typography in art, split into two-dimensional
examples (lettering on flat surfaces), and three-dimensional examples (sculptural,
often free standing); artists such as Barbara Kruger, Stanislaw Drozdz and Robert
Indiana are referenced. This chapter also explores the different way artists use
language, and the resulting impact on their work. Examples include single word
installations, isolated letters, whole phrases and even numbers.
Chapter 3 regards the concept of type being used as something more than
language, but not being overtly recognised as ‘works of art’. The main categories of
lettering in this are architectural, memorial and commercial, each addressing
different purposes in various public spaces. 

Chapter 4 examines digital installations, and how their format influences our regard
of them in comparison to the aforementioned physical lettering. I also explore into
the future of this practise and the possibility of digital technologies replacing
traditional methods.
The examples used throughout this dissertation are only a select few from the
hundreds to choose from, and many others could have fit into the writing
appropriately. The chosen examples are most suited to the ideas expressed in the
text, a way of visually explaining each concept. Most of the examples have a focus
10

on the integration of text and language in the urban environment to enhance spaces
or engage the public, either in the rejuvenation of delinquent spaces or the creation
of spectacular landmarks (AbiFares, 2010, p.14).

11

CHAPTER

1

ARCHAIC TYPE - Historic context
In order to fully understand what the term ‘environmental typography’ means today,
and why it has increased so dramatically in contemporary environments, we first
need to outline the historical context of the practise.
It has been argued that typography for signage and lettering in the environment only
began at the dawn of the first century A.D, when the Roman Empire addressed the
issue of communicating on a mass scale. Lettering
began to be used to mark political and historical
events, indicate road names and street numbers,
which was believed to help rationalise cities while
promoting language skills. (Berger, website, 2014)
These Roman examples of lettering are referred to
as ‘monumental inscriptions’; they were intended
for permanent display and were therefore usually
executed in lasting material such as stone or metal
(Puhvel, website, 1974). It is also thought that the
Romans inscribed in stone for a glorified effect on
its viewers; a way to demonstrate the massive
power of the Roman state (Young, website, 1987).
“The Romans were the first people to devise

Fig. 1. The inscription in situ, (1963)

monumental inscriptions as we know them,
Western civilisation can never repay that debt” (Bartram,1975, quoted in: Heller,
2013, p.11).
One of the most revered examples of an inscription using Roman capitals is at the
base of a war monument in Rome; Trajan’s column, C. E. 117, [see Fig. 1] (Graphic
Design History, website, 2012). Many people consider this work to represent the
resolution of the latin letterform, with several type designers using it as a prototype
for derivative designs, such as Edward Johnston, Eric Gill and Carol Twombly
(Graphic Design History, website, 2012).
The flowering of signage during the Roman era was short-lived, however, and
the collapse of the empire reverted typography back to its key use in religious
documents. It was not until the 15th century that typographical innovation
12

resumed with the development of the printing press and moveable type.
Advances in metalworking and woodcarving led to the rise of commercial
signage, with a mix of pictograms and simple messages. (Berger, website,
2014)
“Painted lettering on shop facias did not develop until the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries”. (Haslam, 2011, p.30) Up until this point, where literacy levels were rising,
pictograms were used as a broader communication method. (Haslam, 2011, p.30)
Sign painting was essentially a form of advertising, and in the nineteenth century,
with consumerism and trade becoming ever more important, commercial displays
were in much higher demand. (Gregory, website, 2013) It even came to a point
where the intense need to promote wares, along with the ease of posting words
anywhere; led to buildings that were
besieged by ads [Fig .2] and therefore
strict laws were passed to limit or
localise postings. (Heller and Ilić 2013,
pg. 74)
It is thought that the most widespread
and immediate method for writing on a
building is by painting, as the great
virtue of painted letters lies in their

Fig. 2. Park Avenue Shoe Store sign (2011)

legibility. (Saccani, 2013, p.19)
A painted word always has a better chance of being legible from an acute
angle than most constructed or modelled characters. Nineteenth century sign
painters got the best of both worlds by giving their letters pretend returns and
shadows, so that they were enriched without a loss of legibility - Peter St John
(Saccani, 2013, p.19)
However, “As the need for mass production grew, the use of hand techniques such
as painting and carving gave way to industrial processes such as casting.” (Baines
and Dixon, 2003, p.98)
13

The development of technologies over the centuries has made construction and
production of tangible letters possible; contemporary production methods allow us to
generate type of any size, on virtually any substrate (Heller and Ilić 2013, p.10)
(Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.7). The number of typographic shrines, monuments and
sculptures designed for function and folly has grown exponentially in the past three
or four decades; large letters designed to be experienced are appearing in the most
surprising places, on, in and around buildings, along roadways, littered throughout
landscapes, and affixed to anything that will hold them. (Heller and Ilić 2013 p. 10)
Arguably, the advances in technology cannot be the sole reason for the rise in
environmental lettering in recent years. The expansion of graphic design beyond the
confines of the page has also made an important contribution; this was undoubtedly
the result of artistic experimentation in the post-war period, using language as a
visual material, and most importantly, translating concepts into typography. (Saccani,
2013, p.9) “Graphic designers trained in two dimensional work are trying their hands
at three-dimensional expression”. (Hunt et al, 1994, p.9) The rise could also be due
to the practice’s multidisciplinary nature, and the amount of varied creatives
engaging in the topic today, including the work of letterers, sign-writers, graphic
designers, artists, architects and engineers. (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.7)

14

CHAPTER

1

ARCHAIC TYPE - Modern application of historic methods
With all of these developments since the first Roman epigraphy examples, it’s
surprising that inscription methods are still being utilised in a modern environment; it
seems that the practise of placing lettering in relief on or around buildings has
experienced a revival of sorts. (Heller and Ilić 2013, p.128)
Artists and designers, not bound by a single medium, style, or purpose, have
been imprinting letters, words and statements on the physical and visual
landscape in a form that might best be called twenty-first-century epigraphy,
and doing so, have added to the charm of otherwise stolid structures. (Heller
and Ilić 2013, p.128)

Fig. 3. The National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing (2010)

The immediacy of this inscription technique
makes the lettering for buildings architecturally
sensitive, something that is hard to achieve
with signs that are physically attached to the
structure. (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p. 106) An
excellent example of this is at the National
Gallery, London; typographer and designer

Fig. 4. The National Gallery staircase
frieze, 2015

Michael Harvey was commissioned in 1989 by
architect Robert Venturi for the exterior wall and staircase of the Sainsbury Wing,
[see Fig. 2 and Fig. 3] (Harvey, 2013, pg.3). “The names of some of the Renaissance
masters run along a frieze which begins way above your head with Duccio and ends
at your feet with Raphael” (Baines, website, 2002). These inscriptions, particularly
the frieze above the staircase inside, are so in-tune with the architecture, that they
become almost invisible.

15

Perhaps the greatest difference between this kind of lettering, and the typographic
installations this dissertation focuses upon, is the attention they demand from their
audience.
In contrast to this, Robert Kindersley’s installation
at Canning Town underground station, London, is
of a much more playful, experimental nature [Fig.
5]. The inscriptions ponder the history of the area,
once a shipyard; carved into concrete, a difficult
material to work with as it’s texture gives
unpredictable results compared to traditional
materials, such as stone. (Saccani, 2013, p.172)
“The text forms waves and curls, coiling around
itself or creating diagonal lines, evoking the
movement of the waters ploughed by the
legendary HMS Warrior (the first warship with an
iron hull)” (Saccani, 2013, p. 172). The application
Fig. 5. Canning Town
Underground (2009)

of inscription, unlike Harvey’s frieze, contradicts
any historic references by using unconventional
curved typography, and straying away from the

typical roman styling of type. In addition, Kindersley probably wasn’t aiming for a
hand-crafted aesthetic, reminiscent of the stone carving of the Romans, but instead
his work is suggestive of the modern production methods that allow for further
freedom of typographic layout.
The installation was commissioned by Britain’s Public Arts Commission; so the
purpose for the work is fundamentally different to Harvey’s inscriptions. Kindersley
also designed this work for a very different audience; commuters passing by every
day. (Saccani, 2013, p 172)
The decorative element will obscure the message, which is about local
history, and with this intentional obscuring, the message will not immediately
yield up the words, but over many visits to the station people will slowly

16

decipher the writing. In this way interest in the piece will be prolonged,
hopefully for many visits. (Kindersley, 2011, quoted in: Saccani, 2013, p. 324)
It could be argued that this difference in meaning and effectiveness of
communication is what makes an environmental typographic installation like this art,
and not simply public lettering. This work is an example of: “Strange juxtapositions of
new and old being an integral part of the contemporary landscape” (Baines and
Dixon, 2003, p.9)
Another urban example that can
demonstrate unconventional
inscription is from Why Not
Associates, a London based
design studio who often
collaborate with the artist
Gordon Young for environmental
work. ‘The Cursing Stone’ and
‘Reiver Pavement’ [Fig. 6]
courted negative reactions, and

Fig. 6 The Cursing Stone (2001)

gave rise to something of a furore (Saccani, 2013, p.17)
The installation was created in 2001, situated in the Millennium subway, its aim to
create a cultural connection between Tullie House Museum and Carlisle Castle
(Saccani, 2013, Pg. 282). “In 1525 the Archbishop of Glasgow put a curse upon the
Border Reivers, in an attempt by the Church to stop violence by the robbers and
sheep rustlers who terrorised the borderlands between England and
Scotland.” (Heller and Ilić 2013, p. 177)
Even before completion, the stone was called ‘a shrine for devil worship’ by local
churchmen, and blamed for local disasters (Heller and Ilić 2013, pg. 177). “Attempts
were even made to have it destroyed but, despite protests, the stone remains in its
original position.” (Saccani, 2013, pg.17) As Why Not Associates have pointed out,
this incident underlines the strong impact a typographical installation can have on a
community: ‘We think the project proves that you can only create really powerful

17

graphics if you have strong content.’ (Why Not Associates, 2004, quoted in: Saccani,
2013, Pg. 282).
The reactions of audiences could also be a factor that defines an installation as art,
as typically public lettering like wayfinding is designed to be emotionally detached,
“We are so used to seeing typographic signs in the environment they are easily
ignored or taken for granted” (Heller and Ilić 2013, p.15) Generally wayfinding signs
are spatial instructions, placed only where they are needed. (Mollerup, 2005 p.8)
Therefore, environmental lettering that does not provide information in the traditional
signage sense, and instead invokes powerful audience reactions, could be
considered as self expression instead.
In a similar fashion to these inscription methods being revisited in modern
environments, so too are painted letters on surfaces, “renewed interest in covering
buildings with bold typography” (Heller and Ilić 2013, p. 74) Pentagram partner Paula
Scher’s 2000 NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Centre) project raised public
awareness of the theatre, and created a lively neighbourhood landmark [see Fig 7]
(Heller and Ilić 2013 p.74). Scher was commissioned by the president of NJPAC to
create a new image for the centre, but within the limits of a very small budget.
(Saccani, 2013, p.226).

Fig.7. NJPAC environmental graphics program (2004)

18

It was common practise in Victorian times to paint the sides of theatres with
information about the performances and plays. You can see the faded
lettering to this day on the sides of theatres in Covent Garden in London. Paula Scher (Sacccani, 2013, p.329)
In a recent talk at Pentagram, Scher explained her divergence into environmental
graphics; “3D space exploration was something I had never done before, it was
about doing something that wasn't expected of me, so yet another way of rebelling
against conformism” (Scher, Presentation talk, 2015). In this example, Scher has
rebelled against most conventional signage systems, creating a very memorable
piece that undoubtably stands out in contrast to surrounding typographic messages.
It is evident that old hand painted signs have deep nostalgic appeal, which explains
the work of British design studio Bread Collective (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p. 75). Their
typographic mural, ‘The walls have ears’ (2012), was intended to help clean up an
unloved street in Hackney Wick, based on the history of the industrial area, using
vintage vernacular style lettering [Fig. 8] (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.99). “We like
everything we do to have a hand crafted feel, giving the work a more human and
tactile quality” (Kirkup, website, 2014).
Fig.8. The Walls Have
Ears (2012)

19

This work is another example of typography being used for expressive purposes
rather than functional wayfinding or traditional labelling. “Arts ability to engage and
strengthen a sense of coherence within a community has become evident to
many” (AbiFares, 2010, p. 10).
Audience reactions have been positive, with comments being made about “passing
through the area in the 1970s and smelling all the smells from the industries, both
pleasant and unpleasant, or about their parents or grandparents that worked in the
factories” (Bread Collective, website, 2012). The typography here works directly with
the environment, the words become a tangible physical entity in the landscape,
contributing to its personality and unique identity (Saccani, 2013, p.11).
This kind of lettering can challenge our perception on the purpose of public text, as it
does not advertise a product, or give the audience instruction; but instead
decoratively ponders the historic context of the environment in a visually engaging
manner, much like Robert Kindersley’s inscription, and Why Not Associates’ cursing
stone.
Lastly, looking at modern appropriation of painted letters in environments, an
example can be found in the work of Boa Mistura. The multidisciplinary art collective
is based in Madrid, a group of five artists who focus on graffiti art as a means of
community building (Huffington Post, website, 2012). Boa Mistura have been
referred to as ‘Anti-Banksy’, as their method is out in the open, creating artwork with
direct support from local communities who will benefit and feel well represented by
the work produced (Bramucci, website, 2015).
The collective has several projects that are relevant to this discussion, but I was
drawn to their 2012 'Light In The Alleyways' [see Fig. 9] in Brazil due to their
combination of traditional painting methods, and contemporary anamorphic
manipulation. This means flattening the perspective from a single point
(anamorphosis), so that the letters become distorted if viewed from any other angle
(Bramucci, website, 2015). “The concept was to create new environments within the
maze of narrow and winding streets that connects the alleys through bright chromatic
interventions and typographic illusions.” (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.75). Several
different words are used in this series, beauty, strength, love, tenderness and pride;
20

“For us, these words were qualities we’d seen reflected daily by the families we’d
come to know in Vila Brasilândia” (Bramucci, website, 2015).
This work is similar to Bread Collective’s vision with ‘The walls have ears’; we can
see that environmental typography is being used to uplift run-down communities,
essentially using art as a tool for change (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.75).
This can indicate a perspective shift for type in our urban environments, as
messages are being
used to positively
reinforce a sense of
community, and not
just label, instruct or
advertise.

Fig.9. Luz Nas Vielas (Light In The Alleyways) (2012)

21

CHAPTER

2

TYPE IN ART - Flat installations
This chapter examines 2D work created by artists, and further on, 3D sculptural type,
in both gallery and urban environments. Notably the examples in this chapter are all
considered art, either ‘installation art’ in gallery settings, or ‘public art’ outdoors.
A clarification that rang true about the concept of type being considered art, was by
Steven Heller, a renowned art director, critic and graphic design author; “A typeface
is not art, but typefaces are used to create art. Artists are treating typography as a
medium for expression, like oil paint and watercolour, pencil and pastel, marble and
clay.” (Heller and Ilić, 2013, pg.178) Also agreeing with this line of thought about how
type is considered art, Daniel McGhee from Why Not Associates mentioned that
“Lots of artists use typography in their art – so does this mean that typography can
be considered another medium like paint, or granite? Yes, I think so.” (McGhee,
email, 2015) Type can be part of art and its graphical and visual properties can be
used as part of the material codes of a work. (Drucker, email, 2015)
Text is nothing new to art - Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Kurt Schwitters, Hannah
Hoch, Marcel Duchamp, and many other early twentieth-century artists
included disjointed fragments of printed pages in their works. Sixties Pop Art
appropriated commercial brands and logotypes, while Fluxus and other
conceptual art movements blurred the boundaries between art and text (Heller
and Ilić, 2013, pg. 178)
Barbara Kruger is considered one of the artists who cast typography in a leading role
rather than a side player in art. (Heller and Ilić, 2013, pg. 178) Having worked as a
graphic designer, art director,
picture editor, and artist, she
has a firm understanding of
typography’s place in her art.
(www.pbs.org) “Much of her
text questions the viewer about
feminism, classicism,
consumerism, and individual
Fig. 10. Belief + Doubt (2012)

22

autonomy and desire, although her black-and-white images are culled from the
mainstream magazines that sell the very ideas she is disputing.” (www.pbs.org)
Kruger’s work is intimidating in its disregard for the conventions of art as a framed
canvas on a wall; she has managed to pave the way for typographic artworks to
flourish in virtually every environment. (Heller and Ilić, 2013, Pg. 178)
The question arises over what differentiates Kruger’s practise to that of designers, as
at least on a superficial level she is utilising typography, space and image to promote
a set of ideals, much like a designer would. Kruger explains why she doesn't see
herself as a designer in an Interview in 2013;
BOLLEN: But you've been such an influential artist on design. You're almost a
designer's artist of sorts. You've revolutionised graphic design.
KRUGER: I think that designers have an incredibly broad creative repertoire.
They solve. They create images of perfection for any number of clients. I
could never do that. I'm my client. That's the difference between an artist and
a designer; it's a client relationship. And so, to me, it's not a hierarchical order;
it's not like artists are better than designers, but it is a particular
instrumentality, which makes for a difference. (Bollen, website, 2013)
We can see from Figures 10, 11
and 12, that Kruger’s art often
only uses typography; with the
message being the point of
artistic focus. For example, in
her installations ‘Belief + Doubt’
in Washington, ‘Whitney on Site’
in New York and ‘Circus’ in
Germany. “Visitors will walk upon
her words, be surrounded by
Fig. 11. Circus (2010)

walls of her words, ride on
escalators covered with her words” (Rosenbaum, website, 2012).

23

Perhaps the intention of Barbara Kruger’s type installations (aside from their clear
messages about society), is to get people to engage with public lettering more.
In an increasingly digital world, virtual words are becoming weightless, the more
words wash over us, the less we understand them, Barbara Kruger rematerialises
words, so that we can read them closely, deeply (Rosenbaum, website, 2012).
Although Kruger has produced many successful public artworks, she distances
herself from this definition:
I should say that I feel uncomfortable with the term public art, because I’m not
sure what it means. If it means what I think it does, then I don't do it. I’m not
crazy about categories. I’m an artist who works with pictures and words.
Sometimes that stuff ends up in different kinds of sites and contexts which
determine what it means and looks like. (Kruger, 1997, quoted in: Saccani,
2013, p. 254)
From this we can see that
Kruger believes her work with
type is just a material, like her
imagery or colour use. It also
shows us that the placement
of her artworks, whether in a
gallery or on the street should
not redefine the work as
something else, like public
lettering; Kruger strongly
believes her work is still art

Fig. 12. Whitney On Site (2010)

wherever it’s placed. These views are interesting, as it
shows that the artist is more concerned with the meaning that her words incite in
relation to each environment, rather than the typographic arrangement being viewed
as particularly artistic. Kruger's installations are an example of Daniel McGhee’s
explanation; Lots of artists use language and the spoken word in their art, so
typography can be considered the physical embodiment of this (McGhee, email,
2015).
24

In a completely different example that does rely on typographic arrangement over
meaning; Stanislaw Drozdz’s 1977 installation in Poland [see Fig. 13] shows how
letters can be introduced as a metaphor for something else, in this case a fly flitting
around and landing in different places. Drozdz saw letters dislocated in space yet
uniform in composition. (Heller and Ilić, 2013, Pg. 204) This kind of artwork is called
‘Concrete poetry’, pioneered by Drozdz himself, it emerged as an artistic genre in
1953; concrete poets create poems in the shape of visual compositions formed with
arrangements of letters and typographic signs that do not follow any semantic or
syntactic relations (Monod-Gayraud, website, 2014). “The increased interest from the
art world in the possibilities of words in art continues the traditions of concrete poetry
which have flourished since the 1960’s” (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.101).

Fig. 13. Between (1977)

A more contemporary example of this concrete poetry can be seen from designer J
Mayer H, who created an installation for the Berlinischen Galerie’s ten-meter high
entrance area in 2012 [see Fig 14] (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.192). Data security
patterns are printed on the floor and walls, creating a flickering effect that transforms
the space into a playful scenario with interconnected forms and structures. (H Mayer,
website, 2011).
25

Fig. 14. Rapport (2011)

We can see from studying these
two concrete poetry examples in
contrast to Kruger’s lettering that
words with one meaning, single
letters without, and even phrases
with a whole host of meanings
can all be perceived as art if the
artist visually engages the
audience in an innovative manner
that differentiates the typography from everyday commercial and public lettering.
“Can a typeface, or even a single character from a typeface be considered art? I
think here you start getting in to the territory of ‘where is the line between what is art
and what is design?’ – [There is] no straightforward answer to this” (McGhee, email,
2015)
A different viewpoint on this matter, and in argument with Heller and McGhee, was
by Elaine Tribley. She is a local artist specialising in environmental installations and
signage, and had interesting thoughts in response to this question: To what extent do
you believe type (on its own) can be viewed as a piece of artwork? Her response
was:
Fully, the impact of just one word can be enormous, the important thing is how
the artwork is executed, take for example Yoko Ono's recent installation at the
Folkstone Triennial last year, just two words black on white 'Earth Peace' but
printed on a huge billboard poster on a site amongst the back roads of the
town. So easy to walk past the message becomes almost subliminal lodging
into your subconscious, it works because it's both very much like an
advertisement but also very much not - there's nothing to buy here but there's
everything to lose, that's an artwork. (Tribley, email, 2015)
However, even though works like this are essentially art, and theoretically any letter
or word can be used as an artistic tool, some audiences may not be able to see past
the simple reading or presentation. “Since type and lettering are quotidian and linked

26

to commerce, it is often difficult to understand the artistic merits of artworks that are
entirely driven or composed of type and typography” (Heller and Ilić, 2013 pg. 178)
It may seem obvious in an art gallery when an installation is supposed to inspire and
provide thought provoking concepts, but Yoko Ono’s example [Fig 15] demonstrates
the opposite of that. “I'm very much interested in the idea that you can use text and
known visual mediums to pass on a message which won't reach everyone that sees
it, many people will walk past and not recognise what they're seeing is not quite right
- as will they when they walk past the Yoko Ono piece.” (Tribley, email, 2015)

Fig. 15. Earth Peace (2014)

27

CHAPTER

2

TYPE IN ART - Sculptural 3D installations
It comes into question whether the particular methods involved with type installations
can aid the general recognition of a piece of art. For example sculptural typographic
installations inhabit a more dynamic space, where people live and life flows
(Saccani, 2013, p.19). “Many outdoor typographic experiences revolve around
perceptual dislocation derived from planting large letters, words or statements in
unlikely environments” (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.14).
Fig. 16. LOVE (2006)

“The leading paragon of typographic
sculptural monumentality is and always
will be Robert Indiana’s 1964
‘LOVE’ [Fig .16] (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.
179) The composition consists of four
letters making up the word in a square
field, with the ‘o’ tilted at a 45 degree
angle (Saccani, 2013, p.152). There is a
debate over the classification of this work
being art, and its interpretation of
meaning demonstrates how sometimes
linguistic words being used as art can
confuse; “Full of erotic, religious,
autobiographical, and political

underpinnings—especially when it was co-opted as an emblem of 1960s idealism—
LOVE is both accessible and complex in meaning” (Wye, 2004, website) However,
some feel the ambiguity of meaning led to an unsuccessful artwork, “LOVE was full
of deep personal meaning, but Indiana's intentions were lost on both fans and
critics.” (Wilde, online article, 2010) ‘Love’ became so popular as an affectionate
logo, that parodies and false copies soon flooded the market, and what was
assumed to be a huge financial success for Indiana was instead a drain on his
artistic career; “Many art collectors and critics dismissed him as a sell-out, and some
major museums stopped collecting his work altogether.” (Wilde, online article, 2010)

28

Most will be familiar with this work, but few the artist behind it; Indiana’s ‘Love’ is
probably the most popular, misunderstood, typographic sculpture in the world.
Taking this approach at
converting a single word into a
typographic sculpture, other
artists have adopted this
technique but added a further
depth that ‘Love’ was missing. For
example, Laura Kimpton’s ‘Ego’ in
Nevada, where the sculpture was
set on fire for an annual
celebration. [Fig. 17] (Heller and
Ilić, 2013, p. 191) The installation
was sculpted out of wood and framed with plaster cast pans,

Fig. 17. Ego (2012)

trophies, and religious relics to represent ego, which would then be
burnt down to see what remains; “The thinking was that not all of the artefacts would
burn, and there would be tokens to take home from the playa when the embers
cooled” (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p. 191). This well considered artistic intention
combined with thought provoking showmanship is possibly what makes the
environmental typography in this case, into a piece of fine art.
A contrasting single word sculptural installation, encouraging interaction rather than
consideration of meaning, is Studio Vollaerszwart’s ‘Evergreen’ [see Fig. 18]. The
‘public art’ piece was commissioned by Thij College in Oldenzaal (NL) to be an
engaging space for secondary school children to relax and socialise in (Studio
Vollaerswart, website, 2009). Oversized letters, spelling out the name of the project,
form a 20-metre circle covered in artificial grass, and provide an outdoor seating
area solution for students (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p. 61). This unusual manner of
engaging with physical letters is refreshing and can remind us that letters in our
environment can be playful and not just an onslaught of mixed messages. Simply
put, works like this can ‘visually enrich our experience of letterforms and the
environment’ (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p. 103).
29

Fig. 18. Evergreen (2009)

Remaining with the theme of sculptural works, but comparing examples that don’t
pragmatically spell out a word or phrase (similar to the aforementioned concrete
poetry examples), Joan Brossa’s first urban visual poem [Fig. 19] is completely
different to the examples I have looked at so far.
The walk-though Transitable Visual Poem consists of a path divided into three
parts, marking the stages of life; birth, life with all its events and pauses, and
death. — It is impossible to see the three stages of the poem all at the same
time; they can only be discovered by visiting them one by one. (Saccani,
2013, p. 64)
‘Birth’ is a sans serif 12m high letter
A, ‘The road: pauses and
intonations’ are represented by
punctuation marks lying at random
intervals throughout the sloped
park, and ‘Finale’ is the broken
remains of another letter A. (Baines
and Dixon, 2003, p. 157). Part of
the success of this piece is the
Fig. 19. Walkable visual poem in three
phases (2008)

30

interaction and discovery of meaning; it demands the viewers participation as you
have to walk through it to understand it fully (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p. 157). Due
to the location of this work, it’s not seen by the masses of tourists who flock to the
Catalan capital, but the peacefulness of the place enhances its strong poetic impact,
which in turn make it incredibly memorable (Saccani, 2013, p. 64).
An alternative approach at
making a typographic
sculpture be recognised as art
is to distort the use of letters to
form another shape other than
a word. For example, Jaume
Plensa’s ‘Nomad’; a 27-foot
hollow human form, made up
of a latticework of steel letters
[Fig. 20] (Heller and Ilić, 2013,
p.223). His similar public
works are frequently displayed
in urban environments as
Plensa finds public spaces
interesting locations for art; he
mentions in an interview that
“In public spaces a kind of
direct relationship between
people, who have not sought it,

Fig. 20. Nomad (2012)

and the artists comes to life” (Sansone, online article, 2010).
This kind of environmental typography fits the description of Phil Baines’ ‘lettering to
enliven’; “The lettering does not have to fulfil a utilitarian role but can simply exist as
art and contribute to the quality of a space” (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.101).
Plensa suggests that language, spoken or written, goes beyond providing a
simple mission of communication, but can also be assimilated into a sort of
envelope, which covers the matter and energy that forms our being, he says;
31

“Such bricks, letters have the potential to construct, they enable us to
construct a thought” (DeMoney, website, 2007).
This concept of language going beyond its pragmatic purpose is very poetic, and it
shows in his work that Plensa can really express himself through his unique
manipulation of type. “My parents were people surrounded by books, always
reading, so I really grew up with the image of text, and I use it a lot in my
work.” (Jaume Plensa Interview, video, 2011) It could be argued that because this
kind of work contains no lexical meaning, and only incorporates single letterforms; its
more easily accepted as art because its not using such an everyday tool in the
expected way.

32

CHAPTER

3

TYPE AS MORE - Architectural
This chapter looks into examples that aren't strictly classified as art, but also serve
another purpose other than to visually communicate a message. This section
focuses on three dimensional installations, how type is used on/in buildings and
sculptures for more than a simple communicative purpose.
R & R Studios created such an example in 1996, simply called ‘M’; a concrete
structure that stands on its own, but also serves as the entrance to the Riverwalk
Station, Miami [see Fig. 21] (Saccani, 2013, p.234). “The aim of the project is to
come to grips with the concept of art in public spaces from the point of view of
architecture, seen as the most public of art forms” (Saccani, 2013, p.234). This
installation was designed to create a new symbol for the station, and more generally,
the whole city of Miami, so it’s understandable why the designers chose to work in
such a large format;
When three-dimensional typography is rendered large, its architectonic impact
is even more impressive— and physically much more enduring— than
temporary scrims, banners or posters affixed to similar platforms (Heller and
Ilić, 2013, p.128).

Fig. 21. M (1996)

33

In this piece in particular, it is easy to identify parallels between architects work, and
fine artists, as both manipulate scale, colour, material and placement to enliven an
environment in a particular way. Possibly the only difference would be that R&R were
working to meet a client brief.
Architectural typography is rarely anything other than physical attachments of type to
a structure, but there are innovative examples arising where the buildings are
constructed almost entirely out of letterforms and words. The Marion Cultural Centre,
South Australia [Fig 22] is such an example, completed by the architect group Ashton
Raggatt McDougall in collaboration with Phillips Pilkington Architects (PP + ARM).
Drawing inspiration from nineteenth-century architectural lettering, where words were
displayed on the main facade to give importance to public buildings, the word
‘Marion’ is integrated into the architecture and surrounding environment (Saccani,
2013, p.36). This example is interesting because the shapes of M, A and R are fully
integrated within the architecture of the building, a fragment of the letter A for
example, cuts through the entire construction, determining the internal spaces of the
centre (Saccani, 2013, p.36). Phil Baines believes this influence of type on
architecture is a negative development; “Type has come to dominate. And where
strong architectural traditions once fed typeforms, the influence is now the other way
around - to the detriment of the practise”, but in this example it’s hard to be negative
about its unconventional typographic labelling, which has led to a much loved
community area and landmark. (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.100)

Fig. 22. The Marion Cultural Centre
(2001)

34

Letters and words are something that both visually challenged and visually
savvy clients can understand. And this is at least one reason for architectural
typography’s growing popularity in some surprising venues — (Heller and Ilić,
2013, p.129)

35

CHAPTER

3

TYPE AS MORE - Memorials
Memorials are a form of environmental typography, but as well as communicating the
fact behind a series of deaths, they also promote emotional and reflective
engagement, much like a work of art could.
In these memorial records of war and atrocity the great power in the simple
expression of an individual name is perhaps felt only by those who have lost
loved ones, but the power of the expression of names or numbers en masse
is intense and further testimony to the resonance words can have in our
environment. (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.102)
Similar lettering that was once used to declare a victor in war, is now being used in a
less partial spirit, mourning the equal loss of hundreds of thousands of individuals
(Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.102).

Fig. 23. The New England Holocaust Memorial
(No date)

An example of this kind of lettering, is the
Holocaust Memorial in Boston, 1999 [Fig. 23].
The project was initiated by a group of
Holocaust survivors living in Boston, sponsored by over 3,000 individuals and
companies, and designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz (The New England
Holocaust Memorial, website, no date). The memorial records the identification
numbers of inmates etched into glass walls (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.170).

36

The Memorial is designed around six luminous glass towers, each reaching
54 feet high, and each lit internally from top to bottom. The number six has
many meanings here: the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust; the names
of the six main death camps; a row of memorial candles; and the six years,
1939-1945 (The New England Holocaust Memorial, website, no date).
The memorial not only communicates the factual information about the historic
event, but the site offers a unique opportunity for reflection on the meaning of
oppression – and freedom – and on the importance of a society’s respect for human
rights (The New England Holocaust Memorial, website, no date). What is moving
about this piece, is not the physical execution, but the simple act of recording, in this
case by numbers not names, of the millions of lives taken:— “It serves to remind us
again of the resonance that text alone can achieve” (Baines and Dixon, 2003, p.170)
Another memorial that utilises the quantity of lives lost is The Monument to the
Victims, by Studio SIC and Buj + Colon, 2007 [see Fig. 24]. The monument
commemorates the 191 victims of the terrorist bombings of March 11, 2004 in Madrid
(Saccani, 2013, p. 110). The 36 ft glass cylinder has thousands of messages of
condolence made in the days after the attacks inscribed on the inside of the tower

Fig. 24. Monumento Victimas (2014)

37

(BBC News, 2007, online article). “Located in front of the Atocha railway station, the
scene of one of the attacks, the monument was presented with the motto ‘Light
dedicates a moment of the day to every missing person’. (Saccani, 2013, p.110).
Visitors can read these messages from a space below the dome, and also the
names of the victims on the entrance wall (Saccani, 2013, p.110-111).
This memorial was not simply a way to honour the dead; the design of the sculpture
was “the expression and the sense of Spanish society after the attacks”, — GilFournier, as well as an attempt to convey the “immateriality” of those feelings and
“make them eternal” (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.104). In many ways, examples like this
are works of ‘public art’, even though it was not the intent; as Steven Heller phrases
it ‘art is a consequence, not a goal’ (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.129).

38

CHAPTER

3

TYPE AS MORE - Commercial
Another interesting area on this concept of type being used as more than a
message, is in the many examples of commercial lettering. Understandably,
commercial lettering was bound to mimic this essence of fine art eventually, as their
message must ‘read against and in contrast to the product signs with which it
competes for attention’ (Drucker, 2001, p.). But do these explorations into the subtle
methods of advertising cloud our appreciation of typographic installations?
One such example is BMW’s 2010 Light wall ‘Reflection’ in Hamburg Airport [Fig.
25]. The project, by Serviceplan, was to develop an idea for the BMW M3 Coupé
billboard; their concept was all about ‘exceeding limits’, and their billboard design
exceeded the physical limits in the space provided (D&AD, website, 2011). The
reflection of the billboard on the floor doubled their media space, and doubled the
attention for free (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.121). This shows how manipulating
typography for different environments, while using surprising techniques, can
generate a lot more attention for advertising campaigns. Although examples like this
may be visually engaging and clever, it still has a commercial message inside, urging
us to buy from a company; the visual rhetoric of advertising has a much greater
effect than the subtler means of persuasion available within the rhetorics of fine arts
(Drucker, 1998).

Fig. 25. BMW LightWall (2010)

39

Fig. 26. Campbells soup: Hunger installation (2007)

Perhaps a more subtle example of advertising within an environmental typographic
work is Campbell’s ‘Help Hunger Disappear’, 2008; created to raise awareness of
food banks, the display was interactive in that participants literally made the sign
disappear by removing cans of soup [see Fig. 26] (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p.53). “The
Campbell’s team spelled out the word ‘hunger’ with 12,000 cans of tomato soup,
then participants were invited to give the tins to the needy, via a nearby Canadian
Association of Food Banks truck” (Maddever, website, 2008). This installation has a
noble concept, however it is clearly a form of advertising as ‘consumers were also
given vouchers which call for Campbell to donate a can of soup to food banks in
return for each purchase of a Campbell’s product’, this is manipulating the audiences
drive to ‘do good’ whilst spending money in store (Maddever, website, 2008)

40

CHAPTER

4

DIGITAL TYPE - Installations
Following on from this investigation into the various production methods and effects
of physical typography, it seemed necessary to broadly mention the parallel practise
of digital installations. I only touch on this topic as the nature of the area is too
diverse to ever be adequately represented; however the brief exploration highlights
important relationships between digital and physical type.
The rise in digital type design has made it easier for anyone with access to the
creative tools necessary to work with fonts; “Digital type design has opened up a
specialist craft to anyone who wants to give it a go.” (Dennis, 2012, article) This
means that producing large installations comprised of type, has become easier than
ever before. Paula Scher mentioned; “Computers are an amazing tool for
environmental graphics, as it lets you visualise space accurately” (Scher,
Presentation talk, 2015).
Examples so far have been chosen for their three dimensionality, and physical
presence in an environment. Digital installations in some cases
are just as tangible as physical lettering, for example Julius
Popp’s ‘Bit.Fall’ [Fig
27]. The artist
invented a device
that controls falling
streams of water to
create temporary
words and images;
programmed to scan
the internet and pull
out popular phrases
(Heller and Ilić,
2013, p. 187). The
words are not
permanent, but
nevertheless have a
41

Fig. 27. bit.fall (2002)

physical quality that is only made more fascinating due to the process; “The viewer is
able to experience digital processes sensually, as an analog sculptural
installation.” (www.goethe.de)
Jim Sanborn is another artist that uses digital technologies alongside typography.
‘A Comma A’, was commissioned for the M.D. Anderson Library, University of
Houston, Texas in 2004 [Fig. 28] (Heller and Ilić, 2013, p. 224).
The lettering in this work arguably has a more physical nature than that of Popp’s
processed words, but uses technology to create a more impactful ambience at night;
Made mostly of copper and bronze, the sculpture is comprised of snippets of
poems, novels and prose from languages from all over the world. At night, a
built-in projector will shine light through the sculpture, reflecting the text onto
the library’s exterior walls. (Vasquez, 2004, online article).
This demonstrates how digital installations can manipulate the audiences’
perception; as the viewer has to read letters in their environment that aren’t
physically there, but have every appearance of being. “The light-emitted words are
thrown every which way, attaching themselves to the ground and buildings like an
infestation of abecedary insects” (Heller and Ilic, 2013, p.180)
Fig. 28. A Comma, A, (2004)

42

Until the 20th century, virtually all processes of creating lettering were static - the
calligrapher’s pen, the letter-cutter’s chisel and the printer’s impression all left an
indelible mark on vellum, stone or paper. (Haslam, 2011, p.224) “The invention of
film, the cinematic camera and television liberated lettering, enabling it to move
across the screen.” (Haslam, 2011, p.224)

Fig. 29. Type/Dynamics (2013)

LUST studio in the Netherlands has an excellent example of this kind of digital
installation, although used in a gallery environment rather than an outdoor space.
Part of the exhibition Type/Dynamics in Amsterdam, the installation represents the
continuous stream of information readily accessible to us, with floor to ceiling data
morphing into words, letters and sentences that transform into larger typographical
formations as time goes on [see Fig. 29]. (Fulleylove, online article, 2015) This use
of digital technologies creates a sense of movement that is gaining popularity in the
design industry; “Time-based typography is no longer a novelty with a limited
application in film title sequences, it has matured into a discipline.” (Woolman, 2005,
p.6)

43

The three digital examples above should be considered works of art due to their
consideration of form, material and process, in conjunction with overall meaning and
symbolism from their chosen typography.
Throughout history, technology has provided artists with new tools for
expression. Today, these two seemingly distinct disciplines are interlinked
more than ever, with technology being a fundamental force in the
development and evolution of art. (Gever, online article, 2012)
However, digital production also means typographic installations can be created
quickly, and by anyone with an inclination to, “A huge concern is that, as a result of
so many new tools and techniques, we may lose our sense and ability to evaluate
what is great art”. (Gever, online article, 2012)
To which one could argue, did we ever have an ability to evaluate great art?

44

CHAPTER

4

DIGITAL TYPE - The future
In researching each physical installation example, it was hard not to question the
future of it all; will screens and digital technology replace physical lettering?
From the professionals spoken to about this, there were mixed opinions on whether
or not the future would solely become digital signage.
Johanna Drucker, (art critic and scholar), seemed in favour of the opinion that digital
signs were the future, although saddened by this belief:
Sadly, I do think we are going the way of digital signs. I hate the light from them
and find them unaesthetic and soulless. The pure pleasure of making letterforms
made me think about how dreadful the digital signs are. (Drucker, email, 2015)
On the other hand, Daniel McGhee and Luke James (both specialised creatives in
this area), seemed open to the idea that physical typography has a place beside
digital displays; that the two have the capability to co-exist in our future:
I disagree that the future will be only digital – it has to be both. As long as
buildings and public spaces are made of stone, brick, steel, wood, etc, then I
think public lettering will also exist in the physical world, using these same
materials. (McGhee, email, 2015)
I believe there is the scope for the two to co-exist. Digital screens are flexible and
have the potential to convey numerous messages where as physical signage is
suited to more permanent opportunities. In all aspects of art and design the
question is often posed about new technologies and whether they will push out
more traditional approaches - this rarely happens and the two often find their own
space within their particular field. (James, email, 2015)
It would be comforting to think that physical work is a necessity; “Even with advances
in delivery and display technology, we are still humans with the same sensory inputs:
sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.” (Woolman, 2005, p.7) The constant supply of
digital text in our lives requires us to adapt to new conditions, although the basic
principle of how we read still remains the same. (Woolman, 2005, p.7)
45

CONCLUSION
While the questionable future of this practise may be hard to conclusively predict,
many other conclusions can be drawn from my exploration.
One of the main observations from studying this topic was the clarification of the
difference between lettering and type; as I had been unconsciously categorising
them as the same thing. Baines and Dixon offered an intriguing explanation that
stayed with me throughout the working of this dissertation;
Type is an industrial product capable of duplication and automation, while
lettering is a one-off, created for a specific purpose and capable of
responding to the demands of scale, material and surroundings in quite a
different way. —Baines and Dixon (quoted in Saccani, 2013, p.23)
This can explain the wide differences between projects; each installation is utterly
unique because they are all responding to completely different environments and
purposes, with producers varying in creative backgrounds.
The answer to my lead question is yes and no.
Environmental typography can be considered as artwork for many reasons. For
example, it could be due to the use of language (Barbara Kruger), it could be due to
a placement in a gallery (Drozdz), the reactions from audiences (Why Not Associates
and Bread Collective), the physical journey (Joan Brossa), the popularity (Robert
Indiana), the scale or physicality (R&R, Juan Plensa) or even just the way the creator
has made it different to other messages in our environment.
On the other hand, my exploration also shows how some typographic installations
are hard to view as artwork, even though they may share similarities to fine art
installations. I have found that method alone cannot create an artwork; Michael
Harvey’s inscriptions are beautiful, but the content only labels a physical space. I
have learnt that too much emotional meaning can often keep a work from being seen
as art; for example The New England Holocaust Memorial. In addition, it seems that
physical scale on its own and impressive displays of type struggle to be categorised
46

as art because they are fundamentally lacking a meaningful concept (BMW light wall
& Campells ‘Hunger’).
This double sided conclusion can also show us how unclear our perception of
typographic installation is. We understand commercial lettering. We understand the
need for way finding and labelling buildings. But tell an individual to discriminate
between a piece of public lettering, commercial text and fine art, and suddenly we
don’t really know what we’re looking at anymore. This could lead to audiences
looking for alternative meanings in typography that just aren't there, or completely
missing any subtle artistic messages.
In the last chapter I questioned the future of this practise, and looked into the
possibility of digital technologies replacing traditional methods. However, Luke
James (Bread Collective) and Daniel McGhee (Why Not Associates) both believe
that technology and traditional practise can co-exist together, and this is supported
by the existence of all of the examples collected for this dissertation (the majority of
which required some form of digital technology in order to produce).
It’s the ‘ephemeral’ vs the ‘permanent’; similar to the print vs digital argument in
publishing, a physical installation made of stone or steel has the potential to last
hundreds/thousands of years whereas the lifespan of a screen based installation
would rarely if ever compete with this. (McGhee, email, 2015)

47

APPENDICES
Appendix 1:
Tribley, Elaine (2015) Public environmental artist, email to Rhianna Davies, 17th July
1.) I recently walked past your Witham bridge project, and was curious at the method
of how you created the letter indents; how did you create this piece, and do you often
experiment with permanent materials like this?
The lettering is created by shot blasting the concrete, it's a fairly dangerous process
where micro plastic balls are fired through a nozzle/gun so needs an experienced
person in full protective gear. For this job Lazenby in Yeovil undertook the blasting on
site and the parapets were then transporting to site and installed by the construction
company.
The majority of my work is within public art so materials need to be permanent, this
particular bridge has a life of over 100 years.
2.) How do you go about choosing a typeface for your installations?
I try where possible to include the choice within the history and context of the work.
The Witham text and typeface background is as follows:
Horace Walpole the 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797), was an
English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and politician. He is now largely
remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, and for coining
the word ‘Serendipity’. In 1749 he wrote ‘what pleases me most in my travels was Dr.
Sayer’s parsonage at Witham ... one of the most charming villas in England. ‘There
are sweet meadows falling down a hill, and rising again on t’other side of the prettiest
winding stream you ever saw.’ To further echo the words of Walpole the text flows
with them and the suggested river, and is set in a typeface of the same era, Caslon.
The typeface Caslon was designed by English gunsmith and typeface designer,
William Caslon I (1692–1766) in 1722. It is cited as the first original typeface of
English origin. The Caslon types were distributed throughout the British Empire,
including British North America. Caslon’s types were immediately successful and
used in many historic documents, including the US Declaration of Independence.
After William Caslon I’s death, the use of his types diminished, but saw a revival
between 1840–80 as a part of the British Arts & Crafts Movement. The Caslon
48

design is still widely used today. For many years a common rule of thumb of printers
and typesetters was “when in doubt, use Caslon,” particularly if no typeface was
specified. Several revivals of Caslon do not include a bold weight. This is because it
was unusual practice to use bold weights in typesetting during the 18th century, and
Caslon never designed one.
3.) You have studied as a fine artist, yet use typography in your work much like a
graphic designer would; why and how do you manage this?
I have always had an interest in graphic design and studied the subject before fine
art, although not at degree level. I've been through periods of trying to be a little
more organic (messy) within my work but always return back to a more graphic
approach, I would say my art practice very much operates on the line between fine
art and graphic design.
Typography naturally falls into this. I struggled with medium when first studying fine
art and found myself returning to the 'safety' of text when producing work, this has
continued throughout my career with some major exhibiting work and public artwork
being text based.
4.) To what extent do you believe type (on its own) can be viewed as a piece of
artwork?
Fully, the impact of just one word can be enormous, the important thing is how the
artwork is executed, take for example Yoko Ono's recent installation at the Folkstone
Triennial last year, just two words black on white 'Earth Peace' but printed on a huge
billboard poster on a site amongst the back roads of the town. So easy to walk past
the message becomes almost subliminal lodging into your subconscious, it works
because it's both very much like an advertisement but also very much not - there's
nothing to buy here but there's everything to lose, that's an artwork.
5.) In your opinion, what differentiates an innovative public lettering sign from a fine
art installation that uses type?

49

See above! when utilising text for an artwork the consideration always still remains
with the context not the sale or the direction, but it can be fun to play around with
these ideas. Enchanted Wood is a piece of work I created for an exhibition back in
2008 where the brown tourist sign was used with the words 'enchanted wood' but
they directed people through the gardens of the exhibition grounds to the busy A
road which dissected the land and an area about to be developed where the woods
once stood, instead of the wood you come to a dead end with a large yellow road
sign saying 'enchanted wood closed' and no entry sign and traffic cones.  All of these
signs were ones we see everyday but there was now a context to the message. I'm
very much interested in the idea that you can use text and known visual mediums to
pass on a message which won't reach everyone that sees it, many people will walk
past and not recognise what they're seeing is not quite right - as will they when they
walk past the Yoko Ono piece.
Appendix 2:
Drucker, Johanna (2015) Author/ art critic, email to Rhianna Davies, 1st October
Have you ever read my piece, "Signs of Life, Spaces of Art"? It might be helpful to
you. I do not have a copy on my computer, so can't send it. Also "Language in the
Landscape"?
1. In your opinion, do you believe that type on its own can be considered as art?
Can you explain why you think this?
I'm not sure type by itself can carry enough conceptual weight to be art. For
something to move from craft to art it needs to be able to bear within it some ideas,
expression, imagination, or critical reflection. Type can be part of a work and its
graphical and visual properties can be used as part of the material codes of a work,
but simply by itself? I'm not sure. Usually when a work is typographic and a work of
art at the same time, the words it is expressing are an integral part of its meaning
and message.

50

2. Some individuals I have spoken to believe the future of environmental typography
and public lettering is going to be digital. (Screens instead of physical sings). To what
extent do you agree?
Sadly, I do think we are going the way of digital signs. I hate the light from them and
find them unaesthetic and soulless. But that is just me. I was sitting and painting an
illuminated letter yesterday as a gift for someone and thinking about what a pleasure
it was and how perhaps in some future phase of my life I will just sit and paint in that
way and give the letters to whoever wants them. Not now, of course, too busy, but
the pure pleasure of making letterforms made me think about how dreadful the digital
signs are.

Appendix 3:
Scher, Paula (2015) Graphic Artist, Presentation talk at Pentagram with Rhianna
Davies present, 15th April (I transcribed a few select phrases from Scher’s talk)
“3D space exploration was something I had never done before, It was about doing
something that wasn't expected of me.”
“Environmental graphics was a relatively new area in the 90’s, before that everybody
was still creating flat 2D graphics and sticking it on the wall”
“was yet another way of rebelling against conformism”
“It started by being commissioned to design the outdoor posters for a theatre, and
then being hired by 3 theatres at once because they thought I was a theatre
designer. That gave me the opportunity to explore more architectural work, and the
scale of my typography applied to a building.”
“Computers are an amazing tool for environmental graphics, as it lets you visualise
space accurately”
“My early environmental work was about making something physical, as my stuff at
Pentagram was increasingly more digital. So I thought, I wonder what happens when
I put my paintings in a 3-dimensional space and get people looking at them that way”

51

“space exploration and environmental graphics is now just another form I use to
express myself, much of the content is still the same, but presenting it in a different
way”
“drawn to the scale of environmental graphics because it was exciting, a different
way of working”
“architects have the skills available to produce environmental graphics thats often
better than what you can do, because they’re better at visualising space than
designers”
Appendix 4:
McGhee, Daniel (2015) Designer at Why Not Associates, email to Rhianna Davies,
13th October
1. In your opinion, do you believe that type on its own can be considered as art? 
- Can you explain why you think this?
Short answer… yes, I think it can.
But I suppose your question is open to interpretation.  What does ‘type on its own’
mean? 
More questions/thoughts come to mind...
• Lots of artists use typography in their art – so does this mean that typography can
be considered another medium like paint, or granite? Yes, I think so.
• Lots of artists use language and the spoken word in their art – so could typography
be considered the physical embidiment of this? Again – yes, I think so.
• Can a typeface, or even a single character from a typeface be considered art? I
think here you start getting in to the territory of ‘where is the line between what is art
and what is design?’ – no straightforward answer to this.  Although one of the
examples Jake and I showed you the other day – the project by Emil Kozole http://
emilkozole.com/Project-Seen – is, I think, a typeface which ticks the box of also
being ‘art’.

2. Some individuals I have spoken to believe the future of environmental typography

52

and public lettering is going to be digital. (Screens instead of physical sings). To what
extent do you agree?
Short answer…i disagree that the future will be only digital – it has to be both.
To expand a bit:
As long as buildings and public spaces are made of stone, brick, steel, wood, etc,
then I think public lettering will also exist in the physical world… using these same
materials.
A physical installation of typography (or any kind of physical installation) does a
completely different thing to one which is projected, or displayed somehow digitally.
Its the ephemeral Vs the ‘permanent’ – similar to the print vs digital argument in
publishing… but taken to the extreme… a physical installation made of stone or steel
has the potential to last hundreds/thousands of years… the lifespan of a screen
based installation would rarely if ever compete with this. It would be interssting to
see some actual figures on the longevity of digital public installations.
Anyway – there are some thoughts – hope they make some sense!
Good luck with the dissertation.
Best,
Daniel.

Appendix 5 :
James, Luke (2015) Designer at Bread Collective, email to Rhianna Davies, 30th
October
Hi Rhianna,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
We have answered the questions below - hope it is of use.
Many thanks,
Luke

53

1. In your opinion, do you believe that type on its own can be considered as art?
Can you explain why you think this?
Yes of course. Art can be defined by anything that can be appreciated for its beauty
or emotional power. Typography has the potential to fit this criteria so can
unquestionably be called art.
2. What role does location play for typographic installations?
Location is key. The most successful typographic installations consider their
environment. They may compliment or conflict with their immediate surroundings but
if the environment is considered then the installation has the potential to be much
more powerful and impactful.
3. Some individuals I have spoken to believe the future of environmental typography
and public lettering is going to be digital. (Screens instead of physical signs). To what
extent do you agree?
I believe there is the scope for the 2 to co-exist. Digital screens are flexible and have
to potential to convey numerous messages where as physical signage is suited to
more permanent opportunities. In all aspects of art and design the question is often
posed about new technologies and whether they will push out more traditional
approaches - this rarely happens and the 2 often find their own space within their
particular field.

54

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Books:
AbiFares, Smitshuijzen Huda (2010) Typographic Matchmaking in the City, Khaat
Books
Baines, Phil and Dixon, Catherine (2003) Signs; lettering in the environment,
Laurence King Publishing
Berger, Craig M (2005) Wayfinding, RotoVision
Harvey, Michael (2013), Twelve Letters On a Grand Scale - The Sainsbury Wing
Inscriptions
Haslam, Andrew (2011) Lettering; a reference manual of techniques, Laurence King
Publishing
Heller, Steven and Ilić, Mirko (2013), Lettering Large, The Monacelli Press
Hunt, Wayne, Rosenthswieg, Gerry, LaBrecque, Eric (1994) Designing and Planning
Environmental Graphics, Madison Square Press
Kinnier, Jock (1980) Words and Buildings: The art and practise of public lettering,
The Architectural Press
Mollerup, Per (2005) Wayshowing, Lars Muller Publishers
Saccani, Anna (2013) Letterscapes, Thames & Hudson: SHS Publishing, Rome
Woolman, Matt (2005) Type in Motion 2, Thames & Hudson
Papers:

55

Drucker, Johanna What is Public about Public Art? Available: http://
www.johannadrucker.com/pdf/What_Is_Public_About_Public_Art.pdf (Accessed
02/10/15)
Drucker, Johanna, Public Texts, Public Readings Available: http://
www.interkultur.eca.ed.ac.uk/textandcity/session_textinthecity_s5.html (Accessed
02/10/15)
Drucker Johanna (2001) Signs of Life, Spaces of Art, Graphic Design and Reading,
Allworth Press, NY anthology pp. 31-50 Available: http://
www.interkultur.eca.ed.ac.uk/textandcity/documents/Drucker_signsoflife.pdf
(Accessed 02/10/15)
Drucker, Johanna (1998) Language in the Landscape, Landscape Magazine, p. 7-13
Available: http://www.interkultur.eca.ed.ac.uk/textandcity/documents/
drucker_figuring.pdf (Accessed 02/10/15)
Videos:
Jaume Plensa Interview (2011) Produced by Culture Street [Online video, 03.31]
Available: http://www.culturestreet.org.uk/channel_artist.php?channel=art&id=2
(Accessed 12/10/15)
Playing with Space and Light (2009) Olafur Eliasson, TED [Online video, 9.36]
February 2009 Available: https://www.ted.com/talks/
olafur_eliasson_playing_with_space_and_light?language=en#t-57011 (Accessed
02/10/15)
Articles:
Dennis, Tom (2012) ‘Typography: the digital revolution’, Computer arts collection;
Typography, Vol 01, Part 02, Future Publishing, Pg 67-82

56

Online articles:
BBC News, (2007) Madrid memorial for train victims Sunday, 11 March 2007 [Online]
Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6439825.stm (Accessed 21/10/15)
Bollen, Christopher (2013) Barbara Kruger, Interview Magazine , Thursday 28
February [Online] Available: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/barbara-kruger#_
(Accessed 29/08/15)
Bramucci, Steve (2015) Street Art Collective Boa Mistura Takes Us On A Trip Around
The World, Uproxx; Life [Online] Available: http://uproxx.com/life/2015/06/boamistura-street-art-tour/ (Accessed 10/10/15)
Fulleylove, Rebecca (2015) LUST’s typographic installation visualises the
information surrounding us, It’s Nice That, Friday 26 June [Online] Available: http://
www.itsnicethat.com/articles/lust-studio (Accessed 14/11/15)
Gever, Eyal (2012) Technology and art: Engineering the future, BBC Entertainment &
Arts, 4 October [Online] Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainmentarts-19576763 (Accessed 14/11/15)

Huffington Post: Arts & Culture (2012) Boa Mistura Uses Graffiti To Connect
Communities [Online] Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/17/boamistura-graffiti-_n_1345702.html (Accessed 10/10/15)
Jaquemet, Nour (2015) Text-based ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ installation redefines
art, Columbia Daily Spectator, February 26 [Online] Available: http://
columbiaspectator.com/arts-and-entertainment/2015/02/26/text-based%E2%80%98if-these-walls-could-talk-installation-redefines-art (Accessed 02/09/15)
Kirkup, James (2014) Getting to Know; Bread Collective [Online] Formfiftyfive
Available: http://formfiftyfive.com/2014/04/getting-to-know-bread-collective/
(Accessed 07/10/15)
57

Monod-Gayraud, Agnes (2014) Stanisław Dróżdż, Culture [Online] Available: http://
culture.pl/en/artist/stanislaw-drozdz (Accessed 10/10/15)
Rosenbaum, Ron (2012) Barbara Kruger's Artwork Speaks Truth to Power
Smithsonian Magazine, Available: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/
barbara-krugers-artwork-speaks-truth-to-power-137717540/ (Accessed 02/09/15)
Sansone, Barbara (2010) The Poetics Of The Intangible. A Conversation With Jaume
Plensa, Digicult [Online] Available: http://www.digicult.it/digimag/issue-057/thepoetics-of-the-intangible-a-conversation-with-jaume-plensa/ (Accessed 12/10/15)
SKIN - Pavilion of Knowledge (No date) Web Guides: Architype Review, Volume 6.4
[Online] Available: http://architypereview.com/project/skin-pavilion-of-knowledge/
(Accessed 18/10/15)
Vasquez, Leticia (2004) Art that speaks for itself enlightens new sculpture, University
Of Houston Today News, June 28th [Online] Available: http://www.uh.edu/uhtoday/
2004/06jun/062804sanborn.html (Accessed 13/11/15)
Wilde, Megan (2010) How 'LOVE' Nearly Ruined Robert Indiana's Career,
Mental_floss, July 23 [Online] Available: http://mentalfloss.com/us/go/25276
(Accessed 30/09/15)
Wye, Deborah (2004) Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern
Art [Online] Available: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/68726?locale=en
Accessed (11/10/15)
Websites:
Baines, Phil (2002) Web Guides: Public Lettering [Online] Available: http://
www.publiclettering.org.uk/BritishLibrary.php Accessed (04/10/15)

58

Berger, Craig (2014) Web Guides: Sign Media [Online] Available: http://
www.signmedia.ca/environmental-graphic-design-the-history-of-typography-andsigns/ (Accessed 04/10/15)
http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/barbara-kruger (Accessed 29/08/15)
Bread Collective (2012) Web Guides: The Mural Is Finished! [Online] Available:
http://www.breadcollective.co.uk/blog/the-mural-is-finished (Accessed 07/10/15)
D&AD (2011) Web Guides: Reflection – The BMW Light Wall [Online] Available:
http://www.dandad.org/awards/professional/2011/typography/18916/reflection-thebmw-light-wall/ (Accessed 21/10/15)
DeMoney, Charlotte, (2007) Web Guides: La Grande Nomade d’Antibes by Jaume
Plensa, Petanque & Pastis [Online] Available: http://
petanqueandpastis.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/08/la-grande-nomad.html
(Accessed 12/10/15)
http://www.goethe.de/ins/ee/prj/gtw/aus/wer/pop/enindex.htm (Accessed 13/11/15)
Graphic Design History (2012) Evolution of the Roman letterform, Available: http://
www.designhistory.org/Handwriting_pages/Evolution.html (Accessed 22/06/15)

Gregory, Richard, (2013) Web Guides: Letters Potent - Signwriting and Civilisation
[Online] Available: http://www.signpainting.co.uk/lettering/victorian.htm (Accessed
07/10/15)
H Mayer, J (2011) Web Guides: RAPPORT. Experimental Spatial Structures. [Online]
Available: http://www.jmayerh.de/97-0-Rapport.html (Accessed 10/10/15)
Maddever, Mary (2008) Web Guides: Campbell’s helps hunger disappear [Online]
Available: http://strategyonline.ca/2008/07/01/upfrontbrilliant-20080701/ (Accessed
21/10/15)

59

Oxford Dictionaries (no date) Web Guides: art [Online] Available: http://
www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/art (Accessed 22/10/15)
Puhvel, Jaan (1974) Web Guides: Encyclopaedia Britannica [Online]. Available:
http://www.britannica.com/topic/epigraphy (Accessed 22/06/15)
https://segd.org/blog/wayfinding-and-playfinding (not used yet)
Studio Vollaerszwart, (2009) Evergreen [Online] Available: http://
www.vollaerszwart.com/88203/735664/projects/evergreen (Accessed 11/10/15)
The New England Holocaust Memorial (No date) [Online] Available: http://
www.nehm.org/the-memorial/ (Accessed 21/10/15)
Young, Karl (1987) Web Guides:The Roman Alphabet in its Original Context,
Available: http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/TextBackHome/Roman.htm (Accessed
22/06/15)

60

PROGRESS MAP
Ideas started with my personal
interests and experiences
Books
Considered book design
because I am interested in
editorial and the physical
form of books. History of
book cover design?
However I didn't want my
dissertation to be dry and
repetitive of other
students’ investigations,
so kept this idea to the
side whilst I explored other
possibilities.

‘Artist’

Designers role
My work experience
last year made me
inquisitive into the
role of designers in
industry, however I
struggled to think of
where else I could
go with this area.

Fine art has been a hobby of
mine throughout the duration of
my course, so naturally I notice
parallels between the two
disciplines. I am interested in the
concept of what differentiates
artists from designers, and how
sometimes our practises merge
into each other without intent.

This concept made me think about
installations and design for spaces ( I
have always found this area fascinating)
What is an installation; and how
successful are they?
Compare and contrast of installations; their
methods, meaning, success and reception. Took
out several books based on installations and
space design, including one on Olafur Eliasson.

Interested in graphic design being
used in innovative places, mediums
and formats.
An opportunity to explore and find out whats
happening in the modern world of design.

Typography in spaces around us

Anamorphic Type
Historical and
contextual place?
Why has anamorphic
type recently become
more popular in
contemporary design?
Is a focus primarily on
anamorphic type too
repetitive and simple?
Not sure I will remain as
passionate throughout
compared to a wider
topic within typography.

Found relevant designers who practise
anamorphic typography; Bread collective,
Boa Mistura, Doyle Partners…

Environmental
How is type being used
differently in spaces
today? Signage, way
finding, commercial
advertising, sculpture…
Found a relevant book
on type installations “Letterscapes” Thames & Hudson
which gave me a great
starting point to
research.

61

Looked into experiencing some of these
typography installations myself, so started
researching any exhibitions or places to visit.
Unfortunately some examples I found were
located in other countries.

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

From my relevant book research I started
compiling a list of people I could contact
regarding my dissertation, either for
interviews or specific questionnaires.











“Letterscapes” - Thames & Hudson

Development of a lead question:
I started phrasing some lead question
examples and thinking about what I wanted to
investigate specifically. I struggled with this
area because the questions I came up with
weren't communicating what I wanted to
answer, I had difficulty with the wording.

Why Not Associates
Bread Collective
Boa Mistura
Doyle Partners
Barbara Kruger
Joan Brossa
R2 Design
Sagmeister & Walsh
Elaine Tribley
Richard Kindersley
FA+
Caruso St John

(Underlined examples are
people I am really
passionate about
contacting; I feel their
work is particularly
relevant or thought
provoking). I think that
contacting the larger
studios may be a difficulty
for my research.

Purchased the book
‘Lettering Large’
because it questions the
application of large type
to artistic sculptures and
installations. The authors
see letters as presences
in an urban landscape,
capable of standing on
their own as branding,
sculpture and
architecture.

E.g.
“How do graphic designers make type interactive?”
“How do type installations engage an audience and to
what extent do their designers consciously produce
secondary meaning?”

Visit to Portugal during enrichment week
gave me a first hand insight into some of
these environmental typography
installations. It also made me more
interested in the area of way finding and
signage, and how designers are thinking
of innovative methods to inform their
audience.

Some
photographs
taken whilst in
Porto.

Started preliminary research
into the history and context
of environmental typography;
starting with epigraphy.
62

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies
Further development of my lead question, I
wanted my topic to question the concept of
art a little, and how changes in type can be
linked to artistic influences.

Book on
innovative
way finding
and signage.

“To what extent is typography in spaces
becoming more of a fine art practise?”
“How are designers using fine art installation
methods to revolutionise public lettering?”
Current Lead Question:
”Environmental type installations; can
typography ever be considered as art, and
how does this effect commercial lettering?”

Started drafting some
questions to Elaine
Tribley in an email; she considers her work
to walk the line between graphic design
and fine art, even though she has no
qualifications in design. I specifically want
to ask her about her Witham Bridge
design (as this is local to me) and her
motives behind it.

With having a clearer idea of my lead
question, I then started to think about
chapters and how my dissertation would
be structured. Below are some chapter
ideas that I wish to explore.
• History and the birthplace of physical
typography (Romans, epigraphy,
Mussolini)
• Type used in art (Kruger, Drozdz, Picasso)
• Way-finding and signage - the shift
between something purely informational,
and something inspiring and attractive.
• Architectural role in environmental
typography
• Innovative methods for environmental
type, how artists like to explore different
materials and forms in a similar way.
• Future for public lettering

I remembered that we should only really
have 3-4 chapters in our dissertations, so
have grouped my chapter ideas into
sections. See opposite.
63





Introduction
Chapter 1: Historical context
Chapter 2: Information and architecture
Chapter 3: Methods and public lettering
Conclusion

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

Began Primary Research

Emailed Elaine Tribley with some
questions about her work on 22/06/15:
this was my email, and she responded
on 17/07/15:

Went to a talk by Paula Scher titled
‘MAPS’ - held at Pentagram, she
spoke about her typographic style
and environmental graphics projects

Hi there, my name is Rhianna Davies; I am a third year
Graphic Designer studying at Ravensbourne University,
London. I am contacting you in the hopes that you might
have a few moments to spare to answer some of my
questions.

These were some notes I took:
Paula Scher talk, Pentagram, 15th April 2015
“3D space exploration was something I had never done
before, It was about doing something that wasn't expected of
me.”

I am writing my dissertation on environmental type
installations, how they can be considered as art, and how
these displays are affecting commercial lettering. Your
work is actually extremely relevant for this topic, and I was
hoping for a local artists viewpoint (which would be you; I
live in Essex).

“Environmental graphics was a relatively new area in the
90’s, before that everybody was still creating flat 2D graphics
and sticking it on the wall”

1.) I recently walked past your Witham bridge project, and
was curious at the method of how you created the letter
indents; how did you create this piece, and do you often
experiment with permanent materials like this?

“was yet another way of rebelling against conformism”
“It started by being commissioned to design the outdoor
posters for a theatre, and then being hired by 3 theatres at
once because they thought I was a theatre designer. That
gave me the opportunity to explore more architectural work,
and the scale of my typography applied to a building.”

2.) How do you go about choosing a typeface for your
installations?
3.) You have studied as a fine artist, yet use typography in
your work much like a graphic designer would; why and
how do you manage this? 

“Computers are an amazing tool for environmental graphics,
as it lets you visualise space accurately”

4.) To what extent do you believe type (on its own) can be
viewed as a piece of artwork?

“My early environmental work was about making something
physical, as my stuff at Pentagram was increasingly more
digital. So I thought, I wonder what happens when I put my
paintings in a 3-dimensional space and get people looking at
them that way”

5.) In your opinion, what differentiates an innovative public
lettering sign from a fine art installation that uses type? 

I hope these questions aren’t too philosophical for you!
Thank you so much for your time, and I hope to hear from
you soon. 

“space exploration and environmental graphics is now just
another form I use to express myself, much of the content is
still the same, but presenting it in a different way”

Best wishes,

“drawn to the scale of environmental graphics because it
was exciting, a different way of working”

Rhianna Davies

“architects have the skills available to produce
environmental graphics thats often better than what you can
do, because they’re better at visualising space than
designers”

Visited the
National Gallery in
London, seeing
the inscriptions by
Michael Harvey.

Relevant book:
Twelve letters on
a Grand Scale,
book about the
Sainsbury Wing
inscriptions by
Michael Harvey.
Includes
inscriptions

64

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

4.) Fully, the impact of just one word can be
enormous, the important thing is how the artwork is
executed, take for example Yoko Ono's recent installation at
the Folkstone Triennial last year, just two words black on
white 'Earth Peace' but printed on a huge billboard poster on
a site amongst the back roads of the town. So easy to walk
past the message becomes almost subliminal lodging into
your subconscious, it works because it's both very much like
an advertisement but also very much not - there's nothing to
buy here but there's everything to lose, that's an artwork.

Responses from Elaine Tribley, Received on 17th July
1.) The lettering is created by shot blasting the concrete, it's a
fairly dangerous process where micro plastic balls are fired
through a nozzle/gun so needs an experienced person in full
protective gear. For this job Lazenby in Yeovil undertook the
blasting on site and the parapets were then transporting to
site and installed by the construction company.

5.) In your opinion, what differentiates an innovative public
lettering sign from a fine art installation that uses type?

The majority of my work is within public art so materials need
to be permanent, this particular bridge has a life of over 100
years.

See above! when utilising text for an artwork the
consideration always still remains with the context not the
sale or the direction, but it can be fun to play around with
these ideas. Enchanted Wood is a piece of work I created
for an exhibition back in 2008 where the brown tourist sign
was used with the words 'enchanted wood' but they directed
people through the gardens of the exhibition grounds to the
busy A road which dissected the land and an area about to
be developed where the woods once stood, instead of the
wood you come to a dead end with a large yellow road sign
saying 'enchanted wood closed' and no entry sign and traffic
cones.  All of these signs were ones we see everyday but
there was now a context to the message. I'm very much
interested in the idea that you can use text and known visual
mediums to pass on a message which won't reach everyone
that sees it, many people will walk past and not recognise
what they're seeing is not quite right - as will they when they
walk past the Yoko Ono piece.

2.) I try where possible to include the choice within the history
and context of the work.
The Witham text and typeface background is as follows:
Horace Walpole the 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 –
2 March 1797), was an English art historian, man of letters,
antiquarian and politician. He is now largely remembered for
Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, and for
coining the word ‘Serendipity’. In 1749 he wrote ‘what pleases
me most in my travels was Dr. Sayer’s parsonage at
Witham ... one of the most charming villas in England. ‘There
are sweet meadows falling down a hill, and rising again on
t’other side of the prettiest winding stream you ever saw.’ To
further echo the words of Walpole the text flows with them
and the suggested river, and is set in a typeface of the same
era, Caslon. The typeface Caslon was designed by English
gunsmith and typeface designer, William Caslon I (1692–
1766) in 1722. It is cited as the first original typeface of
English origin. The Caslon types were distributed throughout
the British Empire, including British North America. Caslon’s
types were immediately successful and used in many historic
documents, including the US Declaration of Independence.
After William Caslon I’s death, the use of his types
diminished, but saw a revival between 1840–80 as a part of
the British Arts & Crafts Movement. The Caslon design is still
widely used today. For many years a common rule of thumb
of printers and typesetters was “when in doubt, use Caslon,”
particularly if no typeface was specified. Several revivals of
Caslon do not include a bold weight. This is because it was
unusual practice to use bold weights in typesetting during the
18th century, and Caslon never designed one.
3.) I have always had an interest in graphic design and
studied the subject before fine art, although not at degree
level. I've been through periods of trying to be a little more
organic (messy) within my work but always return back to a
more graphic approach, I would say my art practice very
much operates on the line between fine art and graphic
design.
Typography naturally falls into this. I struggled with medium
when first studying fine art and found myself returning to the
'safety' of text when producing work, this has continued
throughout my career with some major exhibiting work and
public artwork being text based.

Purchased book on Designing
Environmental graphics, different, more
commercial viewpoint instead of artistic
installations. More way finding information.
65

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

Other books to look at: ‘Signs; Lettering in
the environment’, ‘Wayshowing’,
‘Wayfinding; Designing and implementing
graphic navigational systems’ and
‘Typographic match making in the city’.

Started writing first History chapter,
using research so far.
Also made bullet point plan on what
each chapter could include. Such as:
CHAPTER 2: People producing
environmental type for purposes other
than to inform.
- Architectural examples
- Complex/innovative way finding to
better engage with a very distracted
audience.
Compare similar work done by artists, and
considered art, to designers environmental
work considered design. How do they
differ? Or is it just another labelling system
of society.
-Anamorphic type - popularity is rising due
to its surprising, playful nature? Very
different to standard lettering as it
abstracts letter shapes from any other
perspective.
CHAPTER 3:
Digital installation examples, talk about
how text is becoming less physical, more
virtual - text messages/ facebook/
internet….
-Advancement in technology led to new
typography installations; discuss artists/
designers/projects
The future of lettering; all digital billboards?
No physical signs anymore? - Easy
enough to imagine. Less constraints if
digital, scale/colour/message….
This questions if we have enough faith in
our technology to stray from our naturephysical signs and sculptures been
around for ages. Suppose physical type
then would become a form of art?
Similarities to book design and the
possibility of digitalising print completely.

66

Possibly need to refine my question a
little; make it even more specific or add a
tag line/descriptor below lead question.

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

Looking over what I have written so far, its
easy to see that my structure isn’t quite
there yet. I have too much that I want to
say that the sections are easily going to
become ‘waffly’.

Emailed Johanna Drucker, an art critic,
to discuss the idea of type installations
being considered art, and the future of
lettering. (My dissertation tutor advised
me it would be good to have the
thoughts of a relevant art critic and
scholar).

KEEP YOUR WRITING CONCISE.

Aim to have a first draft written by the
18th October, complete with
introduction, conclusion and references.

This was her response:

Re-worded my lead question a little to:

Rhianna,

Environmental type installations; can
typography ever be considered as art, and
does this effect our way of perceiving
public lettering and commercial text?

Have you ever read my piece, "Signs of Life, Spaces of Art"?
It might be helpful to you. I do not have a copy on my
computer, so can't send it. Also "Language in the
Landscape"?
I'm not sure type by itself can carry enough conceptual
weight to be art. For something to move from craft to art it
needs to be able to bear within it some ideas, expression,
imagination, or critical reflection. Type can be part of a work
and its graphical and visual properties can be used as part
of the material codes of a work, but simply by itself? I'm not
sure. Usually when a work is typographic and a work of art
at the same time, the words it is expressing are an integral
part of its meaning and message.

An exploration into environmental typography in
urban environments and gallery spaces around
the world.

Emailed Phil Baines in regard to his
public lettering website, and if he
would answer the same questions as
Johanna Drucker. (His opinion is more
from a graphic design viewpoint).

Sadly, I do think we are going the way of digital signs. I hate
the light from them and find them unaesthetic and soulless.
But that is just me. I was sitting and painting an illuminated
letter yesterday as a gift for someone and thinking about
what a pleasure it was and how perhaps in some future
phase of my life I will just sit and paint in that way and give
the letters to whoever wants them. Not now, of course, too
busy, but the pure pleasure of making letterforms made me
think about how dreadful the digital signs are.

Also, emailed similar questions to both
Daniel McGhee and Bread Collective
for more varied responses. As of yet, I
have not had any replies back. - I only
did this for more direct answers for my
dissertation; finding relevant secondary
research is proving harder than I
thought.

Good luck!
JD

During the writing of my
dissertation, I am constantly finding
new and perhaps more fitting examples of
‘ET’, and am therefore having to go back
and edit my illustrations quite a lot. I will
keep a bank here of illustrations in order,
and how they are linked in the text.

67

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

List of illustrations in order within text, and how each cluster
of images is related. This page shows CHAPTER 1.

History in
chapter 1;
Roman
epigraphy and
hand-painted
lettering i.e.
revolutionary
moments in
environmental
typographic
history.

Inscription
methods being
used today,
chapter 1;
three
contemporary
examples.

Hand-Painted lettering methods
being used today, chapter 1;
three contemporary examples.

68

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

List of illustrations in order within text, and how each cluster
of images is related. This page shows CHAPTER 2.

2D type
being used
in art, starting
with Barbara
Kruger

2D type
being used
in art;
examples of
concrete
poetry,
where words
aren’t used
for linguistic
interpretation

2D type being used in art; Below is an
example of an installation in an urban
space, not a gallery.

3D type being
used in art;
examples of one
worded
sculptural pieces
being used in the
environment.

69

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

List of illustrations in order within text, and how each
cluster of images is related. This page shows the end of
CHAPTER 2
Received an email response from Daniel
McGhee from Why Not, 13th October
1. In your opinion, do you believe that type on its own can be
considered as art? 
- Can you explain why you think this?
Short answer… yes, I think it can.
But I suppose your question is open to interpretation.  What
does ‘type on its own’ mean? 
More questions/thoughts come to mind...
• Lots of artists use typography in their art – so does this
mean that typography can be considered another medium
like paint, or granite? Yes, I think so.
• Lots of artists use language and the spoken word in their
art – so could typography be considered the physical
embodiment of this? Again – yes, I think so.
• Can a typeface, or even a single character from a typeface
be considered art? I think here you start getting in to the
territory of ‘where is the line between what is art and what is
design?’ – no straightforward answer to this.  Although one
of the examples Jake and I showed you the other day – the
project by Emil Kozole http://emilkozole.com/Project-Seen –
is, I think, a typeface which ticks the box of also being ‘art’.


2. Some individuals I have spoken to believe the future of
environmental typography and public lettering is going to be
digital. (Screens instead of physical sings). To what extent
do you agree?
Short answer…i disagree that the future will be only digital –
it has to be both.
To expand a bit:
As long as buildings and public spaces are made of stone,
brick, steel, wood, etc, then I think public lettering will also
exist in the physical world… using these same materials.

Chapter 2 continued: 3D type being
used in art; examples of letters being
used to create something other than
literal words.

A physical installation of typography (or any kind of physical
installation) does a completely different thing to one which is
projected, or displayed somehow digitally. Its the ephemeral
Vs the ‘permanent’ – similar to the print vs digital argument
in publishing… but taken to the extreme… a physical
installation made of stone or steel has the potential to last
hundreds/thousands of years… the lifespan of a screen
based installation would rarely if ever compete with this. It
would be interesting to see some actual figures on the
longevity of digital public installations.

Need to figure out where to place
relevant primary research, as in many
ways its the most important research for
this kind of exploratory dissertation.

Anyway – there are some thoughts – hope they make some
sense!
Good luck with the dissertation.
Best,

70

Daniel.

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

List of illustrations in order within text, and how each
cluster of images is related. This page shows CHAPTER
3; which I am re;ordering as I write.
Type being used as more than
message; memorials below trigger
emotional and reflective response.

Type being used as more than message;
architectural examples above show
integration into buildings, and the
enlivenment of an area.

Type being used as more than message;
commercial messages above, replicating
installation feel, but selling product/company.
71

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies
Looking over what I have written so
far, I feel like the style is too choppy; I
use too many visual examples that
the writing doesn’t have smooth
transitions from one point to another.
It’s almost like a mash up of mini
essays all in one?

Started on my introduction and
conclusion in order to think about what
the whole dissertation is talking about. Is
harder to write a conclusion as there is
no simple answer to my lead question.

Received an unexpected email
response from Luke James, Bread
Collective on 30th October. — Can
I find a place to add some of his
views? They are an interesting
contrast to some that I have
already collected.

One way to fix this is to re-evaluate
the structure.
Another is to remove certain
examples, and instead write for
longer about something else.
This kind of writing is difficult,
because there hasn't been much
research to base any theories on, I
am essentially just quoting ideas from
other authors.

1. In your opinion, do you believe that type on its
own can be considered as art? 
- Can you explain why you think this?
Yes of course. Art can be defined by anything that
can be appreciated for its beauty or emotional
power. Typography has the potential to fit this
criteria so can unquestionably be called art.

At formative stage: Handed in the first
full draft, three chapters, 7,800 words.
Feedback was really positive from this,
my tutor said in my feedback that the
writing was competent, my structure
made sense, and had extensive relevant
research that was used appropriately
with references. Eti thought that my
writing had a good style and was
generally an interesting topic.

3. What role does location play for typographic
installations? 

We discussed the word count; I felt that
I could write another chapter on the
future/ digitalisation of environmental
lettering and Eti encouraged me to finish
the job. It wouldn’t negatively effect the
essay if I were to add more, as long as it
made sense in the broader sense of the
dissertation question.

I believe there is the scope for the 2 to co-exist.
Digital screens are flexible and have to potential to
convey numerous messages where as physical
signage is suited to more permanent opportunities.
In all aspects of art and design the question is
often posed about new technologies and whether
they will push out more traditional approaches this rarely happens and the 2 often find their own
space within their particular field. 

I am therefore going to add another
chapter, and bring the total word count
up to about 9,000 words.

Location is key. The most successful typographic
installations consider their environment. They may
compliment or conflict with their immediate
surroundings but if the environment is considered
then the installation has the potential to be much
more powerful and impactful. 
2. Some individuals I have spoken to believe the
future of environmental typography and public
lettering is going to be digital. (Screens instead of
physical signs). To what extent do you agree? 

72

Progress Map
Rhianna Davies

List of illustrations in order within text, and how each
cluster of images is related. This page shows CHAPTER
4; a new section that I am still in the process of writing.

Digital technologies being used to
create typographic installations in a
TOTAL WORD COUNT AFTER
ADDITIONAL CHAPTER: 8,930

Reading through what I have
written - refining, rephrasing and
cutting parts out.
Getting others to read through the
dissertation to make sure there are
no obvious errors, and that it reads
cohesively.

Arranging the layout and format of
the dissertation; adding all of the
appendices, references, image
references…
Create a contents page showing
where different topics are discussed
and outlining the key themes in each
chapter
Write a short acknowledgements
section to show gratitude for help
Add progress map to the bottom of
the dissertation file.

73