The Future is Here — exhibition identity and publication design

Assoc. Professor Brad Haylock
Stuart Geddes (current Design Futures Lab PhD candidate)

Presented at RMIT Design Hub

28 August – 11 October 2014

TFIH

The Future is Here is a touring exhibition created by the Design Museum, London. When on show at RMIT Design Hub, the exhibition included additional local design research projects that demonstrate the importance of speculation and prototyping to innovation and design, including a new exhibition identity and communication design solution by RMIT Design Futures Lab researchers Stuart Geddes and Brad Haylock.

The visual identity for The Future is Here at RMIT Design Hub has been approached in a way that embodies the themes of the exhibition. The visual identity, the exhibition signage, this catalogue and the other graphic elements showcase the latest visual communication design and production technologies, as well as a number of advanced manufacturing techniques usually reserved for other disciplines, such as architecture or industrial design.

The cover of the catalogue was produced using digital offset printing — a quintessentially twenty-first century print technology. This type of printing allows short-run customisation, which is most commonly applied to direct mail campaigns. (Have you ever received a seemingly hand-addressed letter from your bank or electricity company?) For the catalogue cover, the variable data isn’t an unsuspecting addressee’s name, but the background motif, which is the biomimetic pattern developed by Studio Roland Snooks as the skeleton of the exhibition furniture. Snooks and his team grow the pattern step-by-step using advanced computational processes until an optimum form is achieved. Evoking this process, the patterns on the cover of these books grow and shift from one copy to the next, so no two copies from the print run of 4000 are exactly alike.

The typeface on the covers of these books is modeled on that used in the ongoing visual identity of Design Hub, originally selected by Fabio Ongarato Design. But, exploring the limits of the latest digital font standard, OpenType, hundreds of subtle (and some not so subtle) idiosyncrasies are built in, mimicking the imperfections of handwriting. In the fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type: individual metal letters were set together to print words on a page. Gutenberg’s letters were modeled on the German handwriting of the time (which we today call ‘Blackletter’), but all of the inconsistencies of handwriting are erased when cast as metal type. In a playful demonstration of the possibilities of the OpenType standard, the typeface developed for The Future is Here by type designer Dan Milne features random imperfections: lines are too short, so parts of letters don’t join, or they double back on themselves, and sometimes the pen doesn’t leave the page, so extra lines are scrawled as the software seemingly hurries to finish drawing a letter.

routing

These ideas are further expressed through the use of robots and three-axis routers as writing machines. By plotting the typography in space using architectural modeling software, and routing at different depths, we have achieved something analogous to stone-carved lettering. Similarly, in adapting a machine to hold a Posca ink marker, the result echoes toilet stall graffiti, or is it café blackboard signage? Paradoxically, five and a half centuries after Gutenberg’s invention, contemporary font technologies allow us to reintroduce the idiosyncrasies of the human hand into printed and engraved characters.