Generative Distortion

I have been distorting typefaces  through controlled iterations. This relates to the work I had done in Unit 1 on generative systems. I am interested in how far a typeface could be systematically distorted and still retain its identity and, more interestingly, how it might still communicate its ‘meaning’.



My initial visual tests distorted, in controlled iterations, different typefaces, to see what would happen if familiar faces such as Helvetica or Times Roman are thickened by adding strokes around their body or put through various filters in Photoshop. The results were both predictable and surprising: a typeface loses its identity as soon as it is altered. ‘Blurred Helvetica’ is no longer Helvetica, ‘Fat Times New Roman’ is no longer Times New Roman because all the elements that make that typeface look like that typeface – and carry its ‘meaning’ disappear (although some traces remain) as soon as it is changed. However, some of the changes that occurred were surprising: Times New Roman looks like an Egyptian slab serif when it is ‘fattened up’. More interestingly, certain words take on a ‘spiky’ appearance; this transformation, however, is not consistent with other similar typefaces: Baskerville, for example, does not behave in the same way as Times New Roman and Garamond behaves differently again.

On the advice of Paul, I researched other people who had manipulated typefaces. Caroline Fabès www.carolinefabes.com has systematically manipulated Times New Roman and Akkurat to create new glyphs that share the same number of pixels as the original typeface but re-arranges the pixels in one of four different ways. She has called her new typefaces ‘Times New Ramon’ and ‘Akkruat’ an in-joke reference to the source typefaces. Similarly, Norm (Manuel Krebs and Dimitri BruniI) have created new typefaces including Normetica (2000) and Replica (2008) that are a response not only to ideas of neutrality, looking at ‘neutral’ typefaces such as Helvetica and Univers, but also to the technology available to create typefaces.

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