Generally speaking pretty generally, climate change isn’t the most popular topic for personal graphic design projects; though a solar-powered website and an environmentally-friendly identity system are a couple of recent exceptions we’ve covered lately. That’s why the very elegantly constructed design publication A-Z: Coast to Coast Shore to Shore, from recent Malmö University design graduate Johan Elmehag, has especially piqued our interest.
The book visualizes the geographical impact of climate change through the design of a typeface: each letter is based on a location and is followed by information about how a particular area will be affected by rising sea levels. The project was born out of the feeling that climate change is an overwhelming and abstract topic, one that’s often difficult to address and communicate to readers. Each of the book’s core letters are constructed from the outline of coastal areas based on future projections where all of the world’s ice has melted. While researching and designing, Elmehag used an interactive mapping tool and stats from the National Geographic.
“Since the topic of climate change is an uncomfortable one, I knew I needed to make a curious artefact, where a reader’s intrigue would outweigh their fear of the content,” says Elmehag. “An A-Z, which is so familiar, makes the subject feel less dramatic and alienating. I decided an ABC book might make the reader more open to unpleasant information.”
The letters show the most heavily affected areas if all the world’s ice melts: U, for example, demonstrates how Mexico gets divided into two due to rising sea levels; and O visualizes a future where the Black Sea connects to the Caspian Sea. The outline of Q reveals a newly formed island, created from the former peninsula Kathiawar in Northern India. While the information is tidily documented in Elmehag’s publication, available from Draw Down Books, the coastline typeface is also archived nearly online and available for download.
“I decided it was most important to show heavily affected areas, rather than search for a perfect letter shape,” says Elmehag. “This decision forced me to add strokes where it was needed. It was also important to me to cover most of the world and this too made an impact on how much of a personal aesthetic intervention I could make.” Ice-blue highlights, detailed maps, and a simple presentation culminate to form an accessible and effective piece of communication.