History & Futures – Week 2: Story Told

Reflection on Week 2 Lecture & Resources

Cymru: A Typeface for Wales

In this week’s lecture, Colophon Foundry discussed the process of creating a custom typeface for the Welsh government which would help to promote the country, as well as acknowledging its rich history, whilst being cautious to avoid creating something clichéd. As someone from another Celtic nation (Scotland), with its own unique and phonetically-based language (Scots Gaelic), I was curious to see how they approached this project. Much like Gaelic, Welsh text is often paired with an English language translation alongside it.

Custom digraphs for use in Welsh. Image via Smorgasbord.

Colophon Foundry collaborated with Smorgasbord Studio in Cardiff, where they worked with a native Welsh speaker. I think this was crucial to the success of the project, ensuring they had a deeper understanding of how the language is used and therefore could tailor the glyphs within the character set to provide support for all the diacritical marks and digraphs that are unique to Welsh, such as the ones shown in the image above.

Viva Mexico

Watching the video clip and listening to the 99% Invisible podcast of Lance Wyman discussing the process of creating a design for the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968 provided a compelling insight into designing an identity for a host city, his approach to the Olympic brand and the volatile politics of Mexico at the time.

It’s clear that as well as resulting in some iconic designs, it was a pivotal moment for Mexico – one that put them on the world map.

Mexico ’68 logo. Image via 99% Invisible.

I enjoyed hearing about how the design was developed by researching South American visual culture – for example the traditional Huichol textile art created by embedding colourful strands of wool into a wax board. I think it was really important that the designers involved local artists to get their interpretation of the Mexico ’68 identity in this style – being both respectful, inclusive and collaborative.

Lance Wyman also talked about the design in the context of what was happening in contemporary art at that time – it’s clear to see the influence of Bridget Riley’s work and the Op-Art movement in general on the final design with its bold, hypnotic graphics and parallel lines. It was really interesting to see the wide variety of applications the designers used the identity in – everything from murals, exhibition stands, balloons, staff uniforms, signage and sports stadia. The concept clearly lent itself well to being used in multiple formats, with a seemingly endless variety of permutations and colourways giving maximum flexibility.

Different applications of the Mexico ’68 identity. Image via 99% Invisible.

Ryman Eco Font

I found the idea of creating a font that’s designed with sustainability in mind an intriguing concept. It’s a unique approach to creating a typeface, but given the fact that the world’s resources are finite, there is merit in pursuing this line of thinking. The thought that when printed, the letter forms use the minimum quantity of ink needed for the job is pleasing but also a carefully considered, conscious use of materials.

Ryman Eco type specimen poster. Image via Ryman Eco.

Visual Research for Workshop Challenge

Whilst working on creating my custom type, I looked at Celtic letterforms to get a sense of some historic, traditional styles used in Scotland and gain inspiration for different approaches to typography.

I took another look at the Old Gala House metalwork sign to get some more detailed shots as a visual reference to work from.

I also thought the decorative Art Nouveau style typography shown below could be another useful visual reference point.

Art Nouveau influenced lettering on a local tattoo parlour window.

Workshop Challenge

Following on from last week when I gathered examples of typography from my local area, I started to hone in on the details that really inspired me, and that also really said something about the character of the place.

Some initial sketches of lettering based on found type.

There are some beautiful decorative elements in Galashiels that caught my eye too, like this sinewy, ornate, Art Nouveau style arm on a park bench in the centrally-located Bank Street Gardens. I intend to use some of this detailing as a visual element in the type that I develop, to provide a contrast to some of the more rigid letterforms. The patina of lichen (and perhaps paint splatters?) on the black are quite reflective of the town’s decline – it was once a busy industrial area and flourished as a boom town due to the textile trade in the 19th century – so I like the idea of showing this imperfection and the changes over time on my type, for example with texture, or by giving it a distressed appearance.

I wanted to try different methods of producing letters, so for the letter G, I took inspiration from the Old Gala House gate with letters cut out of metal in a blackletter-style font. I created a cardboard stencil and experimented with different ways of using this, also being quite particular to avoid making it look too clean or perfect, because the sign itself is slightly rough around the edges, as well as having rusted over time.

Stencil I made for the letter G.
Sketching out ideas for assorted letters.
Experimenting with the “G” stencil.
Interesting shadows cast by the stencil.
Trying different ideas such as layering with a stencil.
Developing letterforms.
Figuring out the placement of letters.
The “S” shape was developed from the park bench wrought ironwork design.

After some deliberation, and a feeling that I could have explored so many different avenues for a creative solution, I settled on this version of the typography:

Example showing the typography in use.

Reflection on this week

In creating my custom type for Galashiels, I wanted to visually show the deep history of craftsmanship in the town. To do this, I created lettering inspired by historic type and decorative designs, whilst aiming to create something that could still look modern. The styles are mixed up, which I feel is reflective of the different influences on the people and architecture of the place over time.

Another aspect I tried to introduce was a slightly worn or distressed feeling, to hint at the fact the town has seen many changes and a noticeable decline since its heyday as an industrial boom town at the heart of the Scottish textiles industry in the 1800s. It felt appropriate that the lettering isn’t pristine, as Galashiels has a slightly “weathered” feel about it.


99% Invisible. 2017. ‘Mexico 68’ [podcast]. Available at https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/mexico-68/ [accessed 02/02/2021]

Creative Review. 2018. ‘The CR podcast episode 14: Making, changing and documenting places’ [podcast]. Available at https://www.creativereview.co.uk/the-cr-podcast-episode-14-making-changing-and-documenting-places/ [accessed 02/02/2021]

Galashiels History Committee and Ettrick & Lauderdale District Council. 1983. Galashiels: A modern history. Galashiels: The Border Telegraph.

Grey London. 2014. ‘Dan Rhatigan on Ryman Eco.’ Available at https://rymaneco.co.uk/about.html [accessed 01/02/2021]

Pickett, Jan. 2017. Decorated Lettering. Tunbridge Wells: Search Press.

Smorgasbord Studio. 2021. ‘Cymru Wales.’ Available at https://www.smorgasbordstudio.com/work/cymruwalestypeface/ [accessed 03/02/2021]