I was asked by Design Society of Kenya to talk about the importance of finding ones individual style and connecting it to the community and sustainability as a way of ensuring lasting impact.
Today, I shall share with you my evolution journey. Of how I fell in love with typography, and as a consequence perhaps (without boring you with the complexity of it all) enlighten you on the importance of Typography today.
Obviously, I read my notes from the beautifully designed iPhone interface. Indeed these treasured gadgets are taking over from free hand writing. Regardless of having admitted this, I feel strongly that, from a basic level, lettering is the mother of typography.
So, what is Typography?
It’s simply, the art and technique of arranging type to create written language that is legible, readable, and appealing to display.
First to start, there is a scientific aspect – that involves a complex system. One must understanding certain principles such as spacing (leading & kerning), know different typefaces and their appropriate use, for example one needs to make considerations on which san serif or serif fonts work best for a specific application, the use of ligatures, rectifying widows and orphans etc. All these principles we must learn to excel in typography.
But first, a little story about my journey…
It all started in kindergarden. My mom kept a nursery report book of mine and showed it to me when I was older, it read, “Teresa is shy but loves drawing”.
In primary, I used to sell Christmas cards that were all designed and painstakingly reproduced by hand for every issue. I would get glitter pens, wedged markers, beautiful good quality nib pens, ensuring that they had consistent flow of ink to write the headline and body messages in the cards.
Then in high school, at about 16 years of age, I developed an interest in calligraphy and pestered my dad to give me money to acquire my first set of pens. They had to be the best calligraphy pens that money could buy. I remember they were Windsor and Newton 6 pc calligraphy pen set and a bottle of original Indian ink.
I loved them so much, the paper wrapper of the pen set broke, but I still kept the set in it’s original box – up till they somehow got lost while I was at campus.
On campus, Prof. Harvey Brown (the late) taught us the Helvetica. We had to write the alphabet on a blank piece of paper. Basically copy the font A-Z, 0-9 over and over again till we memorized it by heart. We did this diligently for a whole semester. I thought it was an interesting exercise and for the first time I started to recognise the order in type. It was my first true encounter that I was cognitively being introduced to type. Officially. I recall clearly during a rare exhibition, admiring one of our lecturers then, Dr. Lilac Osanjo’s elegant “flamingo font” that was beautifully produced and hoped that one day too, I would perhaps create my own custom font type. She now is the chair of The School of Design at the University of Nairobi.
Right through college and into my first job, i continued to calligraphed for every event I could sneak off to do, even at times when I was meant to be on duty. I did endless wedding invitations and dozens of sports certificates.
Meantime I was perfecting my typography in a little creative Agency that shaped me to be who I am today. Thanks to working at Capital Colours, I was equipped with the basic typography knowledge. These tasks honed me for my next career phase.
Jason Bruckner ( a former Creative Director) at Scan Group called me to his office when I was a novice at the agency to write some lettering for a Tusker ad. I was over the moon!
I took on the project – pro bono – because I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how to charge for the work. For that one job, I went through a whole rim of A4 cartridge paper (Windsor and Newton 😆) bought 4 different widths and point shapes of black pens, several sheets of tracing paper and 3 nights of toil. I was fabulously happy when I saw the billboard weeks later. That was my reward.
Because of my excellent hand lettering, to date, I still am asked by our MD, Tomas, to always address our tender submission envelopes. I’m sure the procurement team always take guesses on who does the writing on the envelopes.
Today, computers have taken over. This meant that as I became an accomplished graphic designer, I now started to sketch in the head, and execute, on Adobe Indesign/ Illustrator. Moreover, I’d realised that long periods of lettering and calligraphy helped me build a solid understanding for type. Helping me craft communication in half the speed and with double the impact. Moreover, with time, I became more fluent in understanding the language of typography. Soon I could recognise different type of fonts and even started associating certain typefaces to a certain voice/tone. A strong, loud, serious, playful, decorative, distinguished font etc.
Logo design briefs also became easier and more enjoyable to craft. Panic attacks reduced. I developed a logo for Game Changer that plays on negative space. It’s still is my personal favorite logo that Ive ever designed. I used Gotham to design their identity. I repurposed a basic modern San serif font and gave it new meaning in GCs mark. One that said “ we are pieces of a puzzle 🧩 and together we make the whole”.
Now, I immediately know when and which of the many type faces would be appropriate font for a specific website design or whether writing a headline in a specific serif font will make things elegant and feminine or masculine and bold.
You start understanding how to combine fonts and the language of typography. So much so, that whenever I encounter poorly designed communication, I immediately know most of the time it’s associated to the typography used.
The use of many font types on one piece of communication has never made for effective communication. Sadly, most Kenyan graphic designers fall into this category of “type-busterizers”. The worst is that no thought is put to it. In fact there is a ridiculous over reliance of automatic/default font selection that’s available on the machines that are used, with the hope that choosing appealing font is enough. Well it isn’t. Typography is about crafting.
Novice creatives should start designing by just using only one font on an entire piece of communication. And if they have a second font choice, to use it sparingly. Only for emphasis. Rule #1 is: Good typography should fly solo.
Shop Nanjala’s logo is designed by my hand. Totally original. Old fashion calligraphy. I’m a sucker for letter writing and when designing my brand what was important then, was the authenticity of it which was my ultimate priority. It needed to be hand drawn. Something that I didn’t want to be replicable. That’s why the “j” has an “apostrophe” instead of a “dot”. Yes, I have filed a 3D trademark registration over the mark, which is rare in these parts – as a consequence I was honoured by KIPI and received a certificate of recognition for the trademark during last years WIP Day.
On sustainability – Nothing is more profound than being asked to do the brand refresh for Safaricom Twaweza. Seven Brands London team were awarded and spearheaded this project.
Safaricom, is a highly complex brand. 30 million plus subscribers. A brand that has multiple audiences and has segmented Kenya’s demographic into different classes. Seven Brands were tasked to create visual synergies across all their assets which was fluently articulated in a Safaricom Twaweza brand guide. This involved refreshing identities, articulating co-branding standards, logo sizing on communications and we even did simultaneous shoots that represented all their demographic segments. The one font, Monserrat, a beautiful San serif font was used across all her communication. One font. So yes, it is possible. The project took 6 months and as a consequence Seven Brands were requested to take the other local agencies and stakeholders through the brand guideline with Safaricom appointing Seven as their brand guardian.
They say, a good brand guide should serve a company for 5-10 years or even more before another review. Now that’s sustainable impact.
So when I look back, I realized that I developed a mastery in lettering, then draftsmanship then now I’m growing my appreciation for and fluency of typography. I’ve come full circle.
Therefore, mine is to implore young designers to develop an insatiable desire to understand what work is put into creating a good piece of communication and especially that type consideration is of utter importance. Outside the visual cues, typography plays a fundamental role in the branding/ packaging of any product. Look around you. Type is everywhere. We need to comprehend type in-depth to even attempt UI design, design for wearable gadgets that embed AR/VR, Road signage, on-site wireframes, on Mobile apps, children or adults books, Braille, pictographs, publications etc
To graphic designers, I suggest you seek inspiration, from issuu.com and scan through their magazines, for typography, go onto monotype.com, study how UI and UX designers interprete fonts online, use live texts, whether for web or phone devices. Look at premium packaging standards. Break a box of a new iPhone and study it manual, pick an annual report in the lobby of some company you are visiting. Look carefully at designer perfume bottles and look at how type is used to enhance and communicate key messaging. Then memorize it by heart. Apply it in your creative work as therein are practical examples of golden standards of design and typography principles. Be sure to master them. Then bend the rules to create fresh but relevant solutions for your customers.
Keep a journal. Write letters, draw, sketch. Feel the swing of the pen, the smell of ink, the smudge of ink and guess what. You are sharpening your eye hand coordination. Or you may just strike an epiphany.
Get good. Get really good. Then develop some type. Trademark it. Sell it to monotype.com or to some type foundry. Or at least use type properly? Do you proud. Do Kenya proud. Go public. Publish. Yes you must publish your work so that you can inspire others and the next generation of designers.
*This speech was delivered by Shop Nanjala founder, Teresa Lubano at the Typography Kenya Exhibition on 29th March 2019 at the Cheche Gallery at Kenya Cultural Centre incorporating Kenya National Theatre. The event was organised by Design Society of Kenya.