What’s all the hype about lettering?
by Rod Sawatsky
Hand lettering has been resurfacing as a widespread and explosive trend in recent years. Interest has always existed to use custom lettering for high level brands and A-list products like book covers and movie titles, epitomized beautifully in the work of Tim Girvin. Girvin made huge ripples in the design world of the 1980s with his application of calligraphy expertise to the world of branding and package design. Here are some examples of his work:
His work represents what I would call a “higher form” of lettering that requires deep knowledge of both typographic forms as well as historic calligraphy. There is a great degree of craft precision involved with this work. Since the 80s, demand for this kind of work diminished greatly with the maturing of computing technology and the sophistication of design software. Beautiful fonts designed by calligraphers and typography experts were available to everyone at relatively low cost. And they were, indeed, beautiful. Fewer people felt the need for custom solutions for headlines, brands, or titling.
Today, though, there seems to be an explosion of interest at every level of society in the handcrafted work of artisans. In contrast to the disciplined work of the Girvin’s, there is now a much broader range of interest in the more casual, less refined side of handwritten forms. For some, the more quirky and unique the better, to the point where legibility may be sacrificed for style.
One of my favorite lettering artists of late, Pokras Lampas from Russia, uses the phrase Calligraffiti to describe his forms of abstracted writing on walls, canvas and even the human body.
So, where does all this new interest come from?
I believe the pursuit of technology, with all the efficiency and automation it offers, has done little to connect with the soul of humanity. Human-to-human contact fills life with many small but meaningful interactions. Warm greetings, personal stories, inspiring reflections, sincere empathy, laughter and humor are all part of it. As more and more time is spent interacting with technology, our creative interaction with the physical world is diminished. Hand lettering puts soul back into visual communication and reminds people there is a person behind the message. As I think about this, an unexpected example comes to mind…the hilarious and psychologically penetrating work of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. This reaches back a few decades into my youth. How can you separate the unique style of illustration and hand lettered copy from the stories themselves? They are part of a whole package representing a human being’s engaging reflections on childhood and human psychology. The hand lettered title fits that world and becomes synonymous with all it represents. I see the hand drawn title and immediately recall his genius humor.
Advertising is recognizing and benefiting from this encouraging trend to humanize our environment. It pays respect to the widespread cynicism towards the “expert” world of corporate business that conducts its operations behind closed doors: the old order. It has become a part of the language used to tell the story, “We are human beings like you,” and to illustrate the belief that transparency is key to building public trust and loyalty from consumers.
Two great examples of Pivot clients that are incorporating hand lettering in their advertising stories are Audix and Moapa Valley. The combination of image, copy and hand lettered headline treatments are visually engaging and emotionally resonant.
At Pivot we’re proud of our ability to offer custom illustration and hand lettering to our clients, to help them stand out with a unique voice in their industries. To conclude, here are a few ideas of contexts where hand lettering can be a great fit:
- Adding warmth or human appeal to a headline in an ad or newsletter.
- When an image is hard to find or too specific, illustrate with words (where photography plays a much smaller role or none at all).
- Statements or quotes on posters in your office that reflect your corporate culture and values.
- Product giveaways like T-shirts or mugs, with a statement that has broad appeal.
- A seasonal greeting card or thank you card, perfect for a personal touch that shows care.
- Ready to take it to next level? Fly us out to decorate a wall in your office!