»iamgod: aesthetic/semiotic research/development« is our laboratory for typography and type design in its social and political contexts. We use type design and publishing as methods to investigate societal phenomena from the perspective of typography and writing.
The type designer is an agitator connected to a lot of interhuman interfaces and relations beyond pure craftsmanship. Type as the visuality of language is embedded within the broad contexts of language such as cultural identity, accessibility and democratisation of social processes, symbolic violence and propaganda, political communication, technical evolution and pop culture. Looking up those topics within contemporary type design discussions, you will barely find them.
The largest part of literature on typography and type design consists of rulebooks, monographies and biographies of well-known type designers or catalogues of new typefaces. However, it is striking to observe that there are indeed only a few publications that contextualize type design and typography: In which context are typefaces used, how and why? Which political or cultural entity can be found in the designed object? How can the visuality of writing be a seismograph?
To take position in this blankspace we founded »iamgod: aesthetic/semiotic research/development« in 2017 as a manifesto that builds a centralized and visible laboratory. Within this laboratory we publish books, information systems and typefaces concerning diverse cultural contexts we find interesting and also offer our space to other researchers and designers.
André van Rueth
The profession of a designer holds the privilege of acting and working within countless important intersections. These are for example intersections between architecture, culture, psychology, technology, political and social discourses, art and economics, — just to name a few. Due to the societal relevance of these intersections they require a specific responsibility and positioning from the designer.
In his political design theory »Weltentwerfen«, published in 2016, design theorist Friedrich von Borries itemizes two possibilities of engagement: the designer can either be »entwerfend« (empowering) or »unterwerfend« (subjugating) through his work. »Alles was gestaltet ist, entwirft und unterwirft. Design ist von dieser sich bedingenden und auschließenden Gegensätzlichkeit grundlegend geprägt. Diese dem Design inhärente Dichotomie ist nicht nur eine gestalterische, sondern eine politische. Sie bedingt Freiheit und Unfreiheit, Macht und Ohnmacht, Unterdrückung und Widerstand. Sie ist das politische Wesen von Design« (Everything that is designed, shapes and subjugates. Design is fundamentally affected by this conditional and exclusive dichotomy. This dichotomy inherent to design is not just referring to design, it’s a political one. It determines freedom and unfreedom, power and powerlessness, oppression and resistance. This is the political essence of design.)
The above mentioned responsibility or positioning of the designer can be countered with the awareness of this binary dichotomy and the orientation towards an emancipatory effect for humans as social beings — against all oppressive forces, for example of economic natures.
Now »design« is not a protected term and its definition is steadily in flux, which is why we consult the definition from Borries’ political design theory as the underlying key to this statement: »Design ist das planvolle - also absichtliche, vorsätzliche, zielorientierte – Gestalten von physischen und virtuellen Gegenständen, Innen- und Außenräumen, Information und sozialen Beziehungen.« (Design is the deliberate/tactical – intentional, premeditated, goal-oriented – shaping of physical and virtual objects, interior and outdoor spaces, information and social relations.)
A glance at the curriculum vitae and portfolios of designers (that are, by given definition: architects, product designers, communication designers, UX designers, and many more) surely reflects the attitude this responsibility is realized and transformed with. (…)
Only the contemplation of one designer will likely be missing:
the type designer, that is in fact the one who creates/designs typefaces in the microcosm of the multiverse »design«. Missing an articulated political attitude in the cosmos of contemporary type-design was a main reason for us to found our manifesto, the digital type foundry and publication platform »iamgod: aesthetic/semiotic research/development« in 2017.
We had – and still have – the impression that type-designers have settled themselves a bit too comfortable behind the curtain of the supposedly pure «craftsmanship« of their profession. Having a look into the current discourses of the type-design scene, this observation proves itself. Unfortunately, the nevertheless quite passionate debates are mostly focused on technical aspects: the quality of corporate typefaces, new technical changes such as variable fonts or most recently the legibility of the new typeface printed on the jerseys of the German soccer team.
After all especially type design and thus the type designer as agitator is based between countless important intersections, beyond pure craftsmanship. Writing as the visualization of language is closely linked to cultural identity, accessibility and democratization of social processes, linked to potential symbolic violence and propaganda, linked to political communication or the technical progress.
One will mostly fail finding at least one of these topics in the discussions of the type design scene. A look into most of the literature is deflating. There is a remarkable literature market for the small niche of »type design«, consisting of typographical rulebooks, biographies of well-known type designers or catalogues of new typefaces. However, it is striking to observe that there are indeed only a few publications that contextualize type design and typography: In which context are typefaces used, how and why? Which political or cultural entity can be found in the designed object? How can writing be a seismograph?
Nevertheless there are considerable projects and developments as well. For example, we considerate the term »cultural identity« in relation to the work of the type designer Mark Jamra »TypeCulture«, who supported the (re-)constitution of the Cherokee tribe’s cultural identity by creating a cherokean typeface. Also the project »Balkan« by Nikola Djurek and Marija Jura recognizes the possible political quality of type desgin by making Latin and Cyrillic scripts able to (visually) coexist. Furthermore the empowerment of female type designers under the digital manifesto »Alphabettes« testifies for a political awareness and development in the micro-cosmos of type design. Apparently there is a new movement looming in that augments the one-sided cultural »exchange« of Latin and non-Latin scripts — such as the translation of Helvetica or Frutiger into Arabic or Cyrillic counterparts: By now there are non-European typefoundries or collaborations between, which are not dominated by the Latin visuality, but emerge from the Arabic, Asian or Cyrillic.
These are noteworthy, yet particular developments and projects. By founding »iamgod: aesthetic/semiotic research/development«, it is our intention to create a manifesto that builds a centralized and visible laboratory for these tendencies. Within this manifesto we publish publications, projects and typefaces concerning diverse cultural contexts we find interesting and also offer our space to other researchers and designers in our journal (iamgod.world/journal).
We do not perceive ourselves primarily as craftsmen who generate typefaces exclusively for further use, f.e. by graphic designers. We rather understand typefaces as autonomous and distinct artifacts that can act as seismographs of their time. They can reveal socio-political phenomena, but they can also be charged with an aesthetic statement or an artistical thesis.
Thus the type designer, with his expertise in creating, formulating, structuring and understanding of communication systems has a responsibility which is beyond drawing some outlines and nice curves.
It is essential that this responsibility implies immediate consequences in action. Thats why we as »iamgod: aesthetic/semiotic research/development« deny any use of so-called social media and its monopols, such as facebook, instagram or twitter, in order to avoid one-sided discussion-free marketing, and to make as little as possible data of our community marketable.
»Um vom Buchstaben zum Text zu kommen, ist das Bild der Dinge unerlässlich.« (Sybille Krämer)
(To come from letter to text, a broad view of things is indispensable.)
André van Rueth