The meshing of history and innovation is clear in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 400-year-old buildings stand across from new shops lining the streets. Though the city is filled with history, new signs advertise along every block. This constant influx of media can be as overwhelming as it is informative, especially as a tourist.
Graphic design is a necessary factor in how this media is presented, but it isn’t an outside job. Copenhagen itself is home to designers and curators who form the identity of design in the city.Why It’s Newsworthy: Graphic design is prevalent in our everyday lives, and it’s especially noticeable when traveling to a new place.
From a graphic design student’s perspective, Francesca Guagliardo gives advice for those new to graphic design and typography and in a different country.
‘Everything Is Type’
Playtype type foundry, based in Copenhagen, contributes to the graphic design that is observed daily. The company specializes in selling fonts for small and large scale projects, and it has done so for the past 20 years.
Playtype creates fonts that can be bought on their website. They also design custom types for companies like Tuborg Beer and Føtex, a Danish supermarket. Through their efforts, brands are given identity with fonts and logos.
While Playtype’s digital identity is made up of fonts for sale, the creation happens in person at the company’s office in central Copenhagen. Meeting with Jeppe Pendrup, a senior type designer, it was clear to see the way words and their portrayal make up so much of what the company does.
“It’s everywhere. Everything is type,” said Pendrup.
His day-to-day work consists of designing fonts that communicate emotion through letters instead of through words. This effort necessitates creativity and an understanding of how small choices can stand out.
‘Type Can Be The Storyteller’
Often, graphic design involves layering aspects such as images, colors and framing. However, it can be more simple. A company can choose to communicate a story with font alone.
“I think that more and more graphic designers and clients are starting to appreciate that you don’t have to do all kinds of other stuff; type can be the storyteller,” said Pendrup.
For a recent project, Playtype used the font Publish Gothic to print posters using fictional headlines. This font displays the clean lines and energetic expression that many fonts in Denmark exude.
Like Publish Gothic, many Scandinavian fonts look visually similar. They become distinct when contrasted with fonts from other cultures, and this unique trait helps to give each typeface its character.
Francesca Guagliardo, a student of graphic design and typography, sees this phenomena from an international perspective. Guagliardo is an intern at Playtype in Copenhagen, but has studied in Milan and Paris. The young graphic designer brings up how most type in Denmark is simple, yet energetic, compared to the artful designs of her contemporaries in Paris.
“Paris students are more interested in experimentation, in the artistic view of type in graphic design, so they are not afraid of doing completely strange and absurd stuff with the type design,” she said.
Graphic Design in Action
Cinnober Bookshop is situated in a nook across from the Round Tower in Copenhagen, a popular tourist location. The bookstore offers graphic design books, as well as illustrations and design objects.
The bookshop services a mix of both tourists and regular customers, offering insight into graphic design for those searching to learn. Some customers are familiar with the book they want to purchase, and many are seeking to find something new.
A customer visiting from Switzerland purchased a book of interest after stumbling upon the shop.
“It’s about Japanese simplicity: how to clean your house and clean your mind,” he said.
The store’s owner, Ullah Welinder, attributes its 14 years of success in part to the unique selection of books like this one. She chooses each of the books sold and looks for publishers who are creating works that stand out.
On the relationship between graphic design and Danish style, Welinder says “of course we have a style and a tradition of design; we like to take away everything that is not really necessary. You will see France’s [designs] are much more loaded; “the more the merrier.”
However, the prevalence of graphic design books from around the world shows the integration of Denmark’s style on a global scale. Just as Francesca Guagliardo noticed, there is experimentation in design that varies by culture.
Cinnober Bookshop makes it possible to gain appreciation for the distinctly Danish style while also learning about type and design of other styles, too. This accessibility puts small-scale design details in the hands of anyone who wants to learn more.
Whether it be at Cinnober, the graphic design bookstore, or at Playtype, the type foundry, it is clear that the innovation within graphic design continues to expand in Denmark. Type and graphic design are essential in communicating meaning across the board.
The craftsmanship of Danish design is subtle, but unique. With an increased appreciation for this design identity, it is apparent how important graphic design is for locals and travelers in Copenhagen.
Lauren Heighton is a senior majoring in public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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