I’m not one of the lucky ones.
I’m not an art major, or history, or architecture. I’m not even psychology or international business. I’m advertising, graphic design.
Which means there’s no classes for my major offered here. For the most part, that’s totally fine. I’m taking classes to complete my minor and finishing up some stray elective credits. I’m not stressing over needing certain grades in required courses, worrying about my major and graduating while travelling. It’s less stress for me, and that’s great.
But, as silly as it sounds, I picked my major for a reason- I like it. I miss doing design work. I’m getting technical practice in, with my drawing classes, but it’s not the same. I never thought I’d actually miss sitting in front of a computer, staring at a screen for hours while moving the same piece of text back and forth, trying to figure out which position looks best. Yet here I am. The other day, I even redesigned my resume, just to have some excuse to open up InDesign again. (And, okay, maybe I was looking for an excuse to procrastinate actually applying to internships. But that’s beside the point). And even the non-design stuff- there’s no one here to talk about whether Tinder Online is more effective than the app (it’s not) or how co-working spaces are becoming popular in other countries, too. It may sound dorky, but advertising, media, graphic design… it’s genuinely my passion. It’s been a bit weird to have an entire semester where I’m not doing it anymore.
So I’ve been trying to find little graphic design things in my every day life in Rome, so I can have something to geek out over. I mentioned my love for art and street art in Italy a few blog posts ago, and I know I mentioned typography in that post.
Typography, for me, is not just pretty letters. It’s an ad, a brand, in itself. It tells people the mood, the theme, of whatever the business is. For example- a Michelin-star rated restaurant won’t use, say, Comic Sans, on their menu. But an invite for a child’s birthday party could. (Well, nobody should ever use Comic Sans.) It’s all about conveying a message, and I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the messages of type- not only in Rome, but in all of my travels. It’s been one of my favorite things so far, seeing how location and culture affect the signage and letterforms of each city. They all have such a distinct feeling, and that’s what good type should do.
In Rome, most of the best type is in front of bars and trattorias (small, family style restaurants that are usually cheaper and not as fancy as the Italian ristorante) Italians love their food, so it would only make sense that the type reflects that. Italian type also has a very distinct look to it- it’s bold, blocky, and usually has an outline. There’s also very few neon signs- Rome once instated a neon tax. Any storefront with a neon sign would have to pay a tax on it. So, in the true Roman way, everyone just installed new, not-neon signs. Another thing I like is how everything looks Italian, even the post boxes and man-hole covers.
Greek type was one of my favorites. Perhaps because it was entirely different letterforms, giving new design possibilities, or maybe because it was all so quintessentially Greek. It’s linear, geometric, and very straight-forward. There’s not a lot of frills to Greek signage, and I really like it. There was nothing to distract from the words.
Paris was interesting, in general, but also for it’s signs. Some were very modern, sans-serif and blocky, and others were very classic: serif and script fonts, very decorative. It fits with the image of Paris as a city that is the height of class and fashion. Its type is trendy for every decade. The modern signs followed modern, trendy design aesthetics and others followed much older trends. Either way, it supported the idea of what Paris is- trendy, yet still a city with a lot of history.
London was the same as Paris in that sense- some of it’s signs were very modern, and others took clear inspiration from London’s extensive history. Those were the signs I was drawn to. Most looked like regular typefaces you could see in any city, which I was a little disappointed by. But some buildings still kept the old, 1900s style serif typography and I loved it.
One thing I’ve loved in each place I’ve been is how each sign has been for something different- a restaurant, a hotel, a letter box. Yet, the letters from each location fit with each other. The type from Paris, whether modern or not, looks like the rest of the type from Paris. They all create the mood of the city, and that’s been my absolute favorite part so far.
I’ve been photographing and collecting images of type through all of my travels. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it, but I want to do something with it, whether use it as inspiration in further work or do an independent project with it. But one thing’s for sure- it has definitely been a way to express my love for design while I’m not actively working in it.