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Moveable type. Appreciating the role of typography in the London 7/7 memorial

Written by Paul Buck // Jul 7th 2009 // No comments // respond // Tweet this // trackback
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London 7/7 bombings memorial detail. Hyde Park.

Lon­don 7/7 bomb­ings memo­r­ial detail. Hyde Park. Photo by Phil Baines, used with kind permission.

Four years on from the July 7th sui­cide bomb­ings in cen­tral Lon­don, a per­ma­nent memo­r­ial will be unveiled today in Hyde Park. Per­son­ally, I feel it’s a beau­ti­ful out­come – quiet, dig­ni­fied, appro­pri­ately posi­tioned and ren­dered. Hav­ing trav­elled by bus through Kings Cross, then obliv­i­ous, at the time of the bomb­ings, it’s espe­cially poignant in a self­ish way, since the entire event feels more tan­gi­ble than other sim­i­lar ter­ri­ble inci­dents and acci­dents the coun­try and cap­i­tal have expe­ri­enced dur­ing my time.

The unveil­ing has obvi­ously courted the atten­tion of the news dur­ing today’s fourth anniver­sary, and attracted mine thanks to the design treat­ment and the typo­graphic work of Phil Baines. Cre­ative Review has posted a detailed look at the think­ing and processes behind the memo­r­ial typog­ra­phy and the BBC News site cov­ers the story behind the project; the involve­ment of the fam­i­lies, archi­tects and manufacturers.

What strikes me in the BBC piece is the almost com­plete absence of the typo­graphic work from the story, with a sin­gle ref­er­ence which largely gives credit to the archi­tec­tural team:

The archi­tects’ near-obsessive approach led them to have a new type­face cre­ated for the inscrip­tions, described as an evo­lu­tion of a centuries-old Lon­don font which inspired the Under­ground lettering.

Not inci­den­tally, Cre­ative Review’s inter­view with Baines reveals a lit­tle more detail about this decision:

(T)he Project Board had already sug­gested the serif type­faces Gara­mond and Per­petua – the lat­ter was in the plan­ning appli­ca­tion – but when I saw the sam­ple which used stan­dard pat­tern let­ters I knew that nei­ther would work, far too fussy.

Com­pound­ing the absence of Baines in the BBC News cov­er­age is a col­lec­tion of side­bar links which refer to the 7th July Assis­tance organ­i­sa­tion, archi­tects (memo­r­ial and land­scape) and even the man­u­fac­tur­ers of the stain­less steel ‘ste­lae’, but no link to Phil Baines (hardly sur­pris­ing, I guess, given his absence from the arti­cle). Phil Baines has a rel­e­vant page within the Cen­tral St Mar­tins web­site, which details his back­ground, work and cur­rent activ­i­ties as a pro­fes­sor and prac­ti­tioner. Given the sig­nif­i­cance of the project and the cen­tral impor­tance of Baines’ work to the project it seems, to me, to be indica­tive of the media’s lack of inter­est and/or under­stand­ing of graphic design, unless its been com­mis­sioned in a seem­ingly prof­li­gate man­ner by a pub­lic depart­ment or organisation.

Per­haps it has some­thing to do with the intan­gi­bil­ity of our profession’s work although, in this case, Baines’ typog­ra­phy is par­tic­u­larly phys­i­cal and absolutely vital to the mean­ing and long-term com­mem­o­ra­tive value of the outcome.

It’s a dis­ap­point­ing over­sight that the role of graphic design in such a well-executed, news­wor­thy and, it would appear, mov­ing pub­lic project hasn’t gar­nered bet­ter atten­tion in this instance, par­tic­u­larly given the extent of the BBC News cov­er­age and ref­er­ences to other design and craft par­tic­i­pants in its success.

Thanks to Phil Baines for per­mis­sion to use his pho­tog­ra­phy in this post and for addi­tional insight into the media’s gen­eral dis­in­ter­est in the typo­graphic aspect of the memo­r­ial project. Phil points out that the archi­tects have always been keen to empha­sise and describe the role of the let­ter­ing in the design process and out­come, but this is rou­tinely over­looked in any result­ing cov­er­age. Phil will be post­ing more imagery of the process and result in his Flickr pho­to­stream in due course.
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Zerofee. Good Thinking.

Zero­fee is an eth­i­cal design agency, and this is our blog. We cre­ate iden­tity and design for print and dig­i­tal media, but not for irre­spon­si­ble brands or com­pa­nies. Why Zero­fee? Along­side com­mer­cial work, we con­stantly donate design to financially–challenged char­i­ties and good causes.