I know what you’re thinking; overused green leaves and a pair of abstract hands lovingly cradling a globe, right? Think again, because environmental typography, as in typography that actually exists within a real environment, might just be one of the more unique ways to communicate an idea.
What was once considered a simple tool in the designer’s toolbox has since found its place as a well-respected art form. As the public interest in beautiful, well-formed typography grows, so does the demand for type that thinks outside of the box and the computer screen. The ephemeral nature of environmental typography, as well as the required effort expended in its construction, elevates the conceptual value of a design and can make it stand out to the discerning client. The applications of environmental typography are wide-ranging, from book covers to posters, and even corporate branding.
1. Sabine Dowek
Environmental typography adds level of self-awareness to a conceptual design that could otherwise fall flat. In the image above, Sabine Dowek has used pills to spell out “Life” for a piece that the New York Times published on the dangers of overusing vitamin supplements. Not only does this image suggest the undertones of the article with the broken pills, but it also uses the word ‘life’ (the english translation of vitamin’s root word ‘vita’) to playfully contrast the content of the article with the purported benefits of taking vitamins.
2. Derek Munn
In his whimsical styrofoam cup typography set, designer Derek Munn was inspired by a childhood memory to create baseball related phrases in the fence of a baseball diamond. He planned out the construction first using graph paper.
3. Stephen Doyle
Now this must have taken a while. In this series designer Stephen Doyle used tape to create anamorphic messages throughout Riverdale Country School in the Bronx for a New York Times article entitled ‘What if the Secret to Success is Failure?.’ The article centers around the educational philosophy that students should be encouraged to develop certain character traits that enable them to deal with failure rather than evaluating their education based on test scores. I love the idea that these concepts were not just Photoshopped onto the photograph. The students were actually interacting with these ideas as the images were being created.
4. Andrew Byrom
In his cover for the winter 2012 UCLA Extension catalog designer Andrew Byrom used a typeface of his own creation called St. Julian to create typographic furniture that students could interact with. The dappled sun and outdoor setting casually communicates the atmosphere of UCLA Extension and the fact that this catalog is for the winter quarter just playfully underscores that major selling point of the campus.
The branding for UK-based environmental design firm Sculptivate is an excellent example of how environmental typography can be used in more traditional arenas. Design firm Root created this eye-catching look by cutting a stencil, and then pushing different colored pieces of Play Doh through the hole that remained. The final product was used across multiple platforms, creating a unified brand identity that is anything but boring.
6. Nate Imhoff
When LA based designer Nate Imhoff decided to illustrate conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, his main goal was to use as little Photoshop as possible. The works in this project range from the simple brilliance of using a phone to display a warning about technology, to painstakingly crafted messages made out of noodles.
7. Stefan Sagmeister
No post on environmental typography would be complete without including the renowned designer Stefan Sagmeister. Sagmeister has consistently pushed the boundaries of environmental typography, even going so far as to have an intern cut the details of an AIGA lecture into his skin and use his own body as a poster. This guy is not messing around. He lives, breathes, and wears design on his skin.
In his book ‘Things I Have Learned in my Life So Far’ he typographically illustrates lessons that he has learned through life, design, and being human. His realization about obsession is illustrated using 250,000 eurocents and took more than 100 volunteers 8 days to put together. The dude puts his money where his mouth is.