Graphics Purple Pin
There is no such thing as a New Zealand typeface by Alt Group and Klim Type Foundry
Creative directors: Dean Poole, Kris Sowersby
Design director: Janson Chau
Client: Klim Type Foundry
And what do we think of when we think of New Zealand? The indigenous Māori culture? Sweeping green valleys? Snow-capped mountains? The deep blue waters of the Pacific? Our unique collection of flightless birds? The rugby? Something else entirely?
This is what New Zealand designer Kris Sowersby wanted to explore in his exhibition showcasing the typeface National (which has no relation to the political party), which has been adopted widely across New Zealand since it was first released in 2007.
Showcased at Auckland’s renowned Objectspace gallery From June 29 to August 4 last year, the exhibition was an examination of the 10-year period between the release of the typefaces National and National 2. It asked whether the letterforms have been integrated into our design culture during the decade when New Zealand as a nation was searching for a way to define its “design language.”
As the exhibition website itself posits:
“It’s on the front cover of the Anthology of New Zealand Literature and in the New Zealand Fashion Design encyclopedia. It’s there every time you pass a Z petrol station or a Westpac billboard. It’s at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Christchurch Art Gallery, and throughout the branding of Victoria University. It’s on everything at Xero. It’s the face of newzealand.com for New Zealand Tourism. It’s even been pulled into politics by the Green and Labour parties. When we want to say “New Zealand”, we seem to reach for National.
“Typefaces give form to the alphabet. They function as carriers of information, selected and circulated through labour, capital and culture. We encounter letterforms daily, but most of the time we are oblivious to their origins or craft. While typefaces have personas and create atmosphere, their characteristics seldom point back to their place of origin or their maker.
“Yet it is through use that typefaces become meaningful to people – and not just to designers. When a typeface is used intensively within a community of practice, over time it can become a signal for that community’s values. That typeface might say things about who belongs to that community and what they represent. Working with photographer Alistair Guthrie There is no such thing as a New Zealand Typeface asks questions about the relationship between typography and place, text and landscape, and ultimately identity.”
Judges said Typeface was a simple but brilliant piece of work that creates a conversation about New Zealand identity and uses design in its broadest sense, and used a multidisciplinary approach that made it stand out from the rest.
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