I’ve tried lots of different commuting methods over the years – cycling, bus. Even the train. But my favourite has to be the humble walk. I like listening to music or podcasts as I contemplate the day ahead. I also like noticing stuff.
As part of my ongoing commitment to noticing stuff, I decided to photograph some of the things I see on my walk to work.
This is the first thing I see as I turn the corner of my street – the main headline of the Brighton Evening Argus. It usually says something like “BOY HAS HORRIFIC ACCIDENT”. The newsagent was the location of a bizarre event some months ago. I paid for a 60p pint of milk with a five-pound note and the entirely bald man behind the counter gave me my change in five-pence pieces. As I wandered out of the shop with the sizeable pile of coins in my cupped hands, he added insult to injury by saying, “If you take the piss out of me, I’ll take the piss out of you.” I was too gobsmacked to reply, but needless to say I have never returned.
An archetypal British scene – a filthy white van daubed with humorous graffiti. “I wish my girlfriend was this dirty” is a classic of the genre, but to the lower left we can see the words “hoof hearted” inscribed. Embarrasingly, it took me a Google search to get this one. Suffice it to say, all you need to do is say the words out loud. (Worth doing the Google search yourself though, if only for the equestrian links it brings up).
This is a truly awful cafe. My wife and I went once and all I remember is that the vegetables were grey. My full English breakfast was mediocre and my memory of the staff is that they were rude. What grates me from day to day is the sign visible in this picture. It reads “Cafe Open” twenty-four hours a day, despite the cafe keeping regular hours. Incorrect and downright misleading.
This is closed all the time, but is a frequent focal point for my curiosity. I am impressed that a (presumably) profitable business in palmistry can be run some distance from the centre of town. The lady appears to have a good reputation, and in the window are sepia photographs of her reading palms.
Further down the hill is an incredibly sad secondhand toy shop which is permanently closing down. It appears to be run by an old man. The quality of the toys is car boot sale level, but the prices aren’t that cheap. I like the orange typography in the window. The happy and sad toys visible in this shot provide a pleasing contrast. If you look at them both at the same time, it is possible to feel a confusing mix of emotions.
This is The Level, home to alcoholics, drug addicts, students playing frisbee and dog walkers. Quite beautiful on an autumn morning. I once saw a community support officer here telling someone to clean up after their dog. What a miserable conversation that must have been. Someone with zero authority telling someone else to pick up some dog shit. The person was refusing, from what I could tell.
Part of Brighton being a hip and edgy haven for artistic types and wankers is a large amount of authorised graffiti spaces. Here we can see some of the AT-AT walkers from the Empire Strikes Back. But look – they have speaker cones built into them. How hilarious. Obviously, the technical quality of the artwork is quite high, and I wouldn’t pretend for a second that I could create something like this. But something about it leaves me feeling empty. Charlie Brooker has summed up my feelings about 90% of grafitti. Let’s not waste pixels writing about this.
This cafe is the high point of my walk to work. How can this place still exist in 2011? Surely that yellow shop front hasn’t been touched since the 1970s. Beautiful typography. This area of Brighton, around London Road, is frequently dismissed as scummy and crap. That’s what I used to say anyway. But I like it now. Brighton is full of this nauseating artificial whimsy, but London Road is the complete opposite, and all the better for it.
I spent yesterday taking apart the remains of a broken piano which has lived in our shed for the last few months. I glued the keys together with wood glue to make four “panels” of thirteen keys each. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them – one plan was to make them into a flowerpot for the front garden. When I sanded them down a bit I realised they were too nice to leave outside. The rain would reverse all the careful glue-work, and it wouldn’t be long before the wood started to rot. I laid the panels on the kitchen floor and made patterns with them. The square was especially satisfying (this is the “O” in the image above).
I decided to try making the panels into a font (in no small part inspired by this guy). This was all done pretty hastily, more as a way of trying out the concept than anything. It has potential, though I would need to spend a bit more time on it to make it work. Maybe it needs a black background? Watch this space for a refined version.
After designing the shape of the letters, the next challenge for a typographer is getting the spacing right. This is where I start to feel like a real amateur. I did this on a basic sketchbook program, cutting and pasting the characters and lining them up by eye. You can tell by looking at it that it isn’t quite right. The “a” and the “n” in “triangle” create a confusing shape where the serifs touch, almost like a pair of [square brackets].
Overall, I like it, even if the “s” looks unsettlingly like a swastika.
Inspired by my recent reading on fonts, I bought some graph paper at the local art shop and designed a font of my own. It is reminiscent of the popular font Futura but I added a few serifs. Fun times.
This book should have a warning on the front telling you it will ruin your life. What I mean is, it will make you aware of typography, and since typography is everywhere, you will be unable to avoid noticing typography, which is everywhere. This will ruin your life, because you will stop noticing other things for a while (like what the words you are reading actually say), and you will bore and confuse people by telling them how Helvetica is everywhere and that you can now tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial.
I first became interested in fonts when I was a kid and our family got a 486 PC. I don’t know why but I liked the fonts. I wrote out the name of every font in its own font, printed this list out and then put it in a protective plastic sleeve. I figured my family could refer to the font list when using the computer themselves. I don’t think they actually used it, but this categorisation exercise got something out of my system. It also illustrates what a fun-loving kid I was, in between playing games of chess against myself and firing heat-seeking missiles at Gulf cities in F-15 Strike Eagle.
As the book points out, the unstoppable growth of computers and the internet has made interest in fonts something of a common hobby. Maybe not a hobby, but more people have opinions about them. Hatred of Comic Sans doesn’t make you different any more – it makes you normal. Having said that, most people are able to get by without quietly naming all the fonts they see, and then consequently feeling satisfaction or frustration depending on whether they are able to do so or not. It’s getting absurd. I’m one stop short of muttering to myself à la Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Yesterday I found myself looking forward to my next visit to an airport just so I could see Frutiger in its natural environment.
The book goes well in conjunction with Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica, an in-depth look behind the world’s most popular typeface. It contains some brilliant interviews with type designers like Erik Spiekermann, a man whose passion for type earns a self-diagnosis of “typomania”. Here he is in an extended clip from the DVD extras:
Truly the world needs more Erik Spiekermanns.