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Font of All Knowledge

For our 2011 fashion and textile exhibition Material World, designer Matt Kelm developed a brand new typeface for the title treatment. Material World is all about the splendor and opulence of clothing from across the globe, and how different societies use materials to connote power and wealth. The intricate letters are a fitting counterpart to the richly textured and adorned objects and they act as a subtle reminder to look closely at the details in the show. Just like we did for his last special project, I sat down with Matt to ask him about his inspirations and process for making the letters.

You can see the results in use (and all of the fabulous clothes) in the Paul Textile Gallery and Fashion Arts Gallery until February 6, 2012.

What were your inspirations for the Material World typeface?

The grid-like mesh of natural elements like spider webs was an inspiration, as well as man-made things like chain-link fences. Both can feel either very clean and manufactured or organic depending on how they are viewed or manipulated.

How did you design this typeface? Did you make the whole alphabet?

Functioning typefaces are created with specialized software that allows them to be typed directly from the keyboard, and includes important  information about spacing, alternate weights, etc. Because we were only using these new letters to spell short phrases, and because of the time required to actually create a functioning font, I simply made the letters in Adobe Illustrator with the pen tool. Creating each letter isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming, so I drew only the characters I needed for this exhibition.

Why did you design a typeface and not use one that already existed?

While thinking about what typography and imagery could be used to represent the intricate materials used in the exhibition, I did look at a number of pre-existing options. Ornate display type tends to be created to connote specific imagery—Victorianism, holidays, or the stereotypes of a foreign culture, for instance. I wanted something that felt contemporary and spoke to the physical construction of the garments, but also seemed organic as well. It didn’t take very long to realize that drawing my own letters was the most natural approach.

How does the design of Material World enhance a visit to the show?

The primary goal of any design is to enhance the content. The experience of shopping at a big-box grocery store is very different from visiting an expensive clothing retailer, and it’s not because of the objects for sale. By using dark colors and not using more light than necessary, we are trying to create a space that feels intimate and seductive when compared to other galleries. The typography, too—both in its design and its use in the show—is meant to accentuate the seductive nature of the work, as well as reference the intricate patterns and handwork evidenced in many of the pieces.


Filed under: Design, Textile & Fashion

2 Responses to “Font of All Knowledge”

  • avatar
    Jessica Says:

    Great post Emily! Thanks for highlighting the unique typography that otherwise would have remained a mystery.

  • avatar
    Amy Says:

    This is so interesting! Matt incorporates the design elements of clothing into a typeface successfully and adds a great detail to the exhibiton. Thanks for this post, Emily.

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