Our weekly look at a favorite new typeface. Share yours with us on Twitter and Instagram @AIGAdesign with #TypeTuesday.
Designers: Vito Bica and Selma Köran
Foundry: Vito Bica
Release Date: April 2016
Back story: How do type designers fight racism? What’s the most powerful weapon at their disposal? That’s something Bica explored with Weltschrift, a typeface he designed to make a statement against racism, specifically anti-Semitism. Bica, who is of German-Sicilian origin, started the ambitious project by researching the work of Guido von List, an early 20th-century Austrian occultist who interpreted the Elder Futhark runic alphabet used by Germanic tribes from the second to the eighth centuries. Von List developed a hexagonal typographic language in the support of Völkism, the revival of 12th-century Teutonic traditions that gained popularity in Germany just before WWI and continuing into the WWII era.
His work, in turn, influenced Nazi typography, including the double lightning bolts of the Schutzstaffel (SS), which maintained the police state of Nazi Germany under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler. Since then, the symbol has been widely adopted by white supremacists. The Nazis commandeered other runes, too, like the Wolfsangel (used as part of the divisional insignia of several SS units, including the notorious “Das Reich” Panzer Division, and incorporated by the contemporary neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations into their logo) and the Tyr (a simple arrow appropriated for the leadership schools of Hitler’s Brownshirts and an SS infantry division).
Instead of letting these marks live on as symbols of evil, Bica’s new typeface gives them new meaning, subverting the Nazi’s approach to iconography by embedding parts of the runic-derived signs into Weltschrift’s letterforms—and then using the typeface to create anti-hate posters. What’s more powerful than owning and reappropriating the language of your oppressors?
Of course, not everyone sees it that way. According to Steve Heller, author of Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State, “The problem with fighting a war against war or designing a typeface against racism or prejudice, at least in this case, is that the same images and symbols the Nazis usurped are used. The Runes were not originally anti-Semitic. The swastika, at one time, had positive implications. But add red and black and [other] aggressive characteristics and the meaning is compromised… the letters remain tied to Nazism.”
Why’s it called Weltschrift? Weltschrift means “World Type” in German, an ironic reference to the title of a 1938 book, German as a World Language, which championed making German the primary language across the globe.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? This typeface is pointy, barbed, aggressive, and all around harsh-looking. It also has kind of a metaphoric narrative quality from the hidden symbols within its characters.
What should I use it for? Its very specific design limits the ways it can be used, but also makes it an appropriate choice for editorial headlines on stories that deal with race and prejudice. Too heavy for running text, this display face is probably best for posters and publications when you feel the need to really shout to get a message across.
Who’s it friends with? Best to keep its companions simple and ultra-legible. The Nazis came to accept Modernist typefaces once they realized that their beloved blackletter fonts such as Fette Fraktur were hard to read in propaganda posters and handbills; by 1935 they were using faces like Paul Renner’s Antiqua and Futura, and Akzidenz Grotesk. Pairing any of these with Weltschrift can be seen as an extra slap at hatred, by using these old choices in direct opposition to the original evil intent.
Wait, there’s more! Bica isn’t stopping at just a typeface; he has plans for a book, Wir sind ein Volk—Kreative gegen Rechts, to be released April 20 in a limited edition of 50 hand bound copies. Sneak a peek here. Additionally, to coincide with publication, there will be what he terms a “grotesque vernissage” at the RATH Factory, the Berlin atelier of photographer Oliver Rath, with dress code in the same colors (black, red, white) as the 26 posters on exhibit, followed by an after-party at a night club. The posters will be displayed throughout the streets of Berlin, and there will be a separate online gallery for creatives who want to contribute their own designs to the project. The second generation of posters will be released after juried review. Bica says,“We’re going to license the typeface when we launch the upcoming book and exhibition. Since the project is non-profit, all earnings from licensing and the sale of books, posters, and event proceeds will be donated to organizations who fight racism.”