Among the greatest gifts that technology has given type over the last decades is the ability to animate letterforms with ease. Once a static design element, type can now fly, explode, build up, break down, dissolve, burst into flame, melt, and otherwise behave in bewitching and previously unimaginable ways. As screen and mobile platforms became ideal environments for type to do something besides lie there and communicate, designers seized upon a new world of possibilities to serve up a little typographic entertainment on the side.
Speaking earlier this month at Typographics, Cooper Union’s weeklong design festival, Pentagram partner Emily Oberman demonstrated just how entertaining type can be, and how it can work equally well for screen, print, and environmental design when the underlying concept is strong and tailored to the subject matter.
No stranger to the world of design for entertainment, Oberman joined Pentagram in 2012 after running her own multidisciplinary design studio, Number 17, and working for six years at Maira and Tibor Kalman’s legendary M&Co. Her body of work includes logos for Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and 30 Rock. For Pentagram client Film Independent, Oberman and her team began with the weak existing logo (made up of words with too many letters, always a design nightmare) that was too serious in its demeanor, and created a flexible identity that captured the spirit of independent films in a fun, playful manner.
Drawing upon the rich history of the cinema, the designers saw that examples ranging from Jean-Luc Godard’s use of typography in his films to posters for The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Shining used a lower-case “i” mixed in with all-cap titles. This device was used to communicate the concept of independence for their client, furthered by breaking words and stacking them in their graphics for the 30th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards. The festival’s animated identity this year flew around the screens, shattering and reforming in lively combinations, and the lower case “i” made an appearance as a large physical element of the stage set.
The Film Independent identity also fits neatly into the continuum of moving typography for moving pictures—Saul Bass’s legendary opening sequences for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), North by Northwest, Vertigo (working with John Whitney), and Psycho, and Richard Greenberg’s titles for Alien (1979), to name just a few. Making type into entertainment in the service of entertainment is a simple but effective piece of cinematic design thinking.