In September 2012, I was invited to Johannesburg and had a great chance to discover a beautiful country, South Africa. Indeed, as a typeface designer, one of the first things I look into a new place is the typography, specially signs in the streets.

We had the chance to spend a few hours in Soweto and it was a great opportunity to discover many painted advertisements. Soweto is an abbreviation of South Western Townships. In short, it is a place on the outskirts of Johannesburg where Africans were forced to live in 1900. Only a few billboards are installed in this place, and it seems that anyone can create their own advertising fixed to any wall available. Not easy to verify there is a particular regulation or not, but there is a big contrast compared to what we are used to see every day in France. In comparison, in our contemporary digital world, web designers can spend a lot of time to implement to bring to screen hand draw quality, including Paravel the great team who designed our website. In this regard, to see in the real world such practice still going on is quite appealing to our eyes. This visit was most inspiring.

Typographic style

It is easy to describe the finish of these inscriptions as a bit naive, but that is not what I will first remember from this visit. In our world, hand drawn signs are usually names of stores and related items — much more rarely full walls covered of painted advertisements. The use of typography rather than images on the walls of Soweto is the interesting thing. In most cases I’ve seen, the text forms the main element of content.

Generally the texts are draw in monumental capitals, much rarely in lowercases. In many cases, it seems to be people who communicate about their skills and explain how we can contact them. The result is quite effective. The proportions of letters are pushed for massive, wider type. The simple sanserifs predominate, but always with a small effects of style, details or particular contrast, in order to create unique identity, different from others. The style of such lettering plays an important role in the abstract messages without any visuals. Typography is the dominant element in their world.

Images from Soweto

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Images from South Africa

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

Handmade signs in Soweto by Typofonderie

By Jean François Porchez, September 2012. All rights reserved.

Links

Paravel, a three man web design agency located in Austin, US.
About the changes made by Paravel.
Soweto, Letter from Africa: Awkward insights on the Soweto tourist trail, The Guardian.
Soweto, on wikipedia.
Jean François Porchez’s Instragram feed.