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The Eye on Design Guide to the Glorious, Distorted World of Typographic Tees

Last month we brought you our Eye on Design guide to the best illustrated T-shirts around, for which we asked five of our favorite illustrators to select a beloved shirt from their closet. Today we do the same but with typographic fare: eight studios and independent designers have chosen the type tee that they love the most, and told us a bit about why they find it so special.

Included in today’s line-up: mad display type, distorted logos, sharp Akzidenz-Grotesk, vernacular typography in homage to dusty records, a number of different Times fonts, and hand-drawn letters to make a statement. Whatever your type, there’s a tee for you.

(Right) Dinamo’s Different Times T-shirt photographed by Lena Herrmann.

The Multipurpose Tee

Noah Beckwith selects Martin Major

“This T-shirt feels like you’re at the airport, rushing to make your flight. You stop to read a sign and suddenly the letters start morphing and dancing.

“The designer behind it is Martin Major, a graphic designer working in Berlin at HelloMe. He combines nuance and restraint with some groovy moves. There’s a real humor and stylishness that always comes through in his work.

“Martin’s Multipurpose T-shirt design refers to the default form of multi-language warnings or signage, and it uses a mode of text that was probably not intended to be appreciated for its typographic value, and embraces it. Ordinarily the experience of sifting through languages you don’t understand to find a message you might not even need is something you want to get done with quickly, but this shirt is something to savor, like a fine cheese. Also, the color choice is perfect.”


“It uses an Arial set with a bunch of insane custom type Martin drew. I’m definitely a sucker for pairing default fonts with wild display type. There’s also a functional concern behind his use of Arial, since he needed a font with Korean and Georgian glyphs. For a while now, designers have cultivated an ‘undesigned’ aesthetic, which draws on out-of-the-way references thought to be purely born of function or lacking aesthetic value—for example, care instructions on clothing tags or the warnings at the bottom of plastic bags. Today, however, this visual language—although it may have once felt ‘non-design’—now reads as being very designed and of design. The shirt is definitely in dialogue with these ideas, but I think it goes further by employing the custom type.

“Martin’s letters are like little creatures hanging out, but not in a campy way. Each style of lettering contains a balance of architectural and organic form, which allows them to be super distinct but work together.”

To get the tee yourself, send Major an email via his website. And Noah Beckwith’s second most beloved T-shirt that gestures playfully to norm-core type and functional tags? The ‘Extended Warranty’ tee (below) designed by Actual Source

Extended Warranty, Actual Source.


The Gender Fluid Hoodie

Jihee Lee selects Anja Kaiser

“This hoodie was designed by Leipzig-based graphic designer Anja Kaiser for Berlin’s music, performance, and contemporary art festival 3hd. The graphic is closely related to a project called ‘By(e) Default,’ which Anja Kaiser collaborated on with the composer Petit Singe.

“In her design work, Anja often explores the commodification of female bodies, and considers different ways of representing gender identity.

“She often mixes bold and contrasting texts and images, which come together to form deep, interwoven layers. I interpret the way she loosely interweaves high-contrasting type forms as a method for expressing various gender identities. Sometimes, for example, typefaces collide with one another, and at other times, they band together.

“The slogan ‘By(e) Default’ is placed boldly on the back of the hoodie here. (It’s a farewell, on the one hand, to ‘default’ gender norms, but read again, also a statement on the pervasiveness of them; the juxtaposing sentiments reflected in the contrasting types.) In computer science, default of course refers to a preselected option when no alternative is specified. Kaiser recreated the text for ‘By(e)’ using Christoph Knoth’s Computed Type tool and pixelated it. The type for ‘Default’ is mainly created by using the typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk BQ Extended. She tweaked the proportions of the typeface a bit. The balance between the thick and thin lines is beautiful and bold.”

Stay warm by purchasing Kaiser’s design here. When Jihee Lee isn’t sporting her 3hd hoodie, she’s pulling shirts from her favorite Korean clothing store BEM (below) out of the closet. 

The Tee for the Times Enthusiast

JP Haynie of Actual Source selects Dinamo

“‘Different Times’ is a nice phrase that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is saying something, while simultaneously not saying anything. I also like the placement of all the different hits: back, chest, and sleeves.

“It’s designed by Dinamo, the type foundry of Johannes Breyer and Fabian Harb. They are two of our favorite guys, a pleasure to work with, and they are making important, good, and fun work.

“This shirt features different digitizations of the Times typefaces MT Times Bitmapped, Times Ten, Times New Roman, Times LT, and AT CG Times.”

Dinamo’s typefaces can be found on numerous fare available via its Dinamo Hardware shop. It’s here you can find iterations of its Different Times tee, including Spiritual Times (below) and Difficult Times.

Spiritual Times T-shirt by Dinamo.

The Hype Tee

Hassan Rahim selects RBX

“My RBX Narrator tee is hands down the best typographic tee in my collection. RBX is a rapper from Long Beach, California, who was signed to Death Row, Aftermath, and Doggystyle records. The tee is likely from around 1999 when his single ‘The Narrator’ dropped. The patina on the letters is just glorious, and the slight skew you see in the words is actually from the tubular construction of tee warping. Tubular tees have no side seams, so after many washes, the body of the garment kind of rotates.

“No idea who the designer is or what the typeface is actually. That was the best part to me. It’s not of the graphic design canon whatsoever. Therefore what’s interesting to me about the actual typography being used is nothing more than its boldness and confidence. It’s a ‘hype shirt’ made to promote a rap single, and it feels exactly that way.”

Hassan Rahim’s latest T-shirt collaboration was with Heavytime Books and Supply Tokyo, which you can find here. Another recent collab was with Total Luxury Spa (below).

Hassan Rahim, Crenshaw Wellness T-shirt for Total Luxury Spa.

The Super Mega Pussy Vagina Tee

Minna Sakaria selects Ida Klamborn

“I adore Ida Klamborn’s ‘Super Mega Pussy Vagina’ T-shirt. The words make me laugh. It’s fun to talk about enormous vaginas: it is so radically the opposite of heteronormative expectations placed on the people of the female sex.

“Having a ‘statement’ T-shirt as part of your clothing line is profitable these days, especially since identity politics has become part of everyone’s personal brand. As a result of that, most T-shirt slogans that used to be radical are now commercialized and bland. This T-shirt, however, is bold unlike the rest, and inconsiderate in a very liberating way.

“Ida Klamborn is an independent fashion designer in Stockholm. I don’t know her brand super well, but she definitely seems to have a feminist approach in her work and I appreciate her use of color and shape. As far as I know, graphic tees are not something she usually makes, so the Super Mega Pussy Vagina T-shirt is an exception.”

“What I appreciate most about the typography is how the words are carefully typed out and placed boldly across the chest. You rarely get to see a designed image of these particular words, which makes it exciting. I generally love when type is expressive and I appreciate when the designer has put effort into the choice of typeface and typography, which clearly is the case here. I wonder about the double lines and some other stylistic features; I can’t interpret the references or concept behind them. It looks interesting though, and the personal lettering/ typographic illustration is in Ida’s own (digital) hand, which makes sense in the context of everything else in the collection being hand-made by Ida too.”

You can buy Ida Klamborn’s T-shirt via her online store. Make another statement by purchasing the Silence is Not Golden tee (below) by Elise, the fashion brand created by RFSU, a Swedish non-profit organization that fights for body rights around the world. As Sakaria says, it’s one of “the best #MeToo T-shirts”.

“The best MeToo t-shirt” says Sakaria. Silence is not Golden by Elsie.


The Philippine Love Songs Tee

Kristian Henson of Hardworking Goodlooking selects Tropical Futures Institute

“I’ve been following Tropical Futures Institute for a few years now. Chris Fussner, its founder, pretty much designed the perfect shirt. It has the right amount of nostalgia and the right amount of bootleg which really attracted me; it’s almost like a karaoke version of a song. It’s familiar but different, warped and synthesized. I immediately had to DM him when I saw it on IG.

“Lifted from an album cover, remixed to appear like a streetwear label or black metal tour shirt, the bright red calligraphy in combination with the warped san serifs from the liner notes on the long sleeve sum up everything I love in vernacular typography. Vernacular being ‘the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a particular country or region,’ Philippine Love Songs channels the everyday graphic objects in the Filipino cultural sphere.  Whether you grew up in The Philippines or in the Diaspora, your parents raised you on certain albums in the background, you flipped through your tito’s dusty record collection, you heard this music DJ’ed during a fiesta or a wedding, and you might have even sang them yourself emotionally at KTV. If the vernacular is about a expressing a localized aesthetic/artistic accent, then of course it is very much tied to cultural identities, and I’m happy to see more unique voices represented in graphic design.

“I spoke with Chris Fussner so he could describe the project in his own words:

‘Initially a joke, playing on the power of words in creating identity, Tropical Futures Institute has morphed into a cultural project organizer producing everything from T-shirts to zine fests, art shows, and a residency in Cebu, Philippines. We love intersectionality so we do everything. This T-shirt is like a bait and switch for getting people aware of TFI. It’s our own cultural research in contributing specifically to post-tropicalia aesthetics.

Front of Philippine Love Songs T-shirt.


‘We found a Pilita Corrales record sleeve in a music museum in Cebu, we also found out she is Cebuana which also sparked our curiosity since we are in the process of decentralizing culture in the Philippines. Around this time more awareness of tropical aesthetic is emerging: the book Filipino Folk Foundry drives this idea home and really catalyzed our idea into a product. We said we want to support the idea of creating alternative aesthetic ideals in what fonts may look like originating from a tropical setting.’”

This T-shirt is available via TROPA, and you can follow the store on Instagram hereHenson adds that the Karaoke tee is another that combines his interests in karaoke and vernacular typography, designed by his friends from Catalog (below) and available to purchase here.

WHY NOT This Tee?

Ann Richter of Studio Pandan selects WHY NOT?

“It’s not indifferent, it’s more a call for some action. It might be a little ironic, but it’s also questioning. It’s ambivalent, and that’s why I like it.

“Consume NOT? / WHY Cool is a collaboration between WHY NOT? and the label Consume Cool. WHY NOT? is a label by Munich-based graphic designers Sophie von Hartmann, Gian Gisiger, and Moritz Wiegand. I like their humor, vigorous style, and simplicity. From time to time they collaborate with other artists and designers, which adds another layer of interest to their work, as with this Consume NOT? T-shirt. With this shirt, they’re getting bolder, juxtaposing their super minimal Arial logo with the Coca-Cola style logo of Consume Cool, and mixing up the identities.

WHY Cool / Consume NOT? T-shirt, WHY Cool version.


“I like how the shirt isn’t about beautiful fonts, but rather about the meaning of the fonts, and how to make typographic statements. On the other hand, the shirt is also just about having fun, provocatively mixing up some no-go’s. I also really love the handcrafted aspect of the tee, as it is really sewn out of two pieces.”

Why not purchase your own Consume / NOT tee (or baseball cap) here? When Richter, of Studio Pandan, is going for something just a tad more subtle, she’s wearing her A (for Ann Richter) tee designed by Felix Salut using Dinamo and Salut’s Galapagos font (below), available to order via Salut’s site. 

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