We recently attended Nikki Villa Gomez’s AIGA design conference lecture titled “How Culture Affects Typography.” Villa Gomez, a graphic designer from Cleveland, authors a blog called “culture + typography: a blog about how culture can affect typography.”

Nikki’s passion for typography and ability to be inspired by things around her intrigued us. Her blog compares the ways various cultures use typography. For instance, a subway sign in New York is very different from one in London. The Cincinnati Zoo’s signage is very different from the signage at the Bronx Zoo. That seems to make sense, but have you ever thought about why? What makes a sign fit in and feel like it’s part of the city or neighborhood it belongs to?

In order for a brand be relevant with its surroundings and those interacting with it, a designer must carefully choose afont/typeface/design that compliments the atmosphere and reflects the surrounding experience back to the consumer.

Type can truly be beautiful. As designers, we’ve all been taught that the font we choose should be determined by the audience we’re designing for. But Nikki’s lecture has taught us that context and culture both play a large role in what makes the type itself beautiful.

Let’s look at the culture and typography in Mt. Adams, Ohio, where Powerhouse Factories is based. There is a lot of history in this small neighborhood of Cincinnati, and much of it is reflected in its character. Mt. Adams was once named Mt. Ida, and all the land was a vineyard owned by Nicholas Longworth. The hill was later renamed after President John Quincy Adams. Today, Mt. Adams is known for its beautiful views of the city, churches and assortment of restaurants and bars.

The variety of type in Mt. Adams’s complements to the beauty of the neighborhood. It represents the history and contributes to the current culture.  The businesses and landmarks create the community’s brand. You generally want your brand to stand out among other brands, yet fit in with the culture and feel like it’s in the right place. There is a nice mix of modern trends here, while holding the history of Mt. Adams in tact. And although there are many other historical neighborhoods here in Cincinnati, each one has a different tone that may or may not stand out on its own.

When’s the last time you noticed a sign and really appreciated the beauty of the letterforms and the thought put into it? Look down, look up and find the beauty in the every day. Design is a craft. It’s not always about the correct font or the wrong color, but how it’s applied, how the consumer interacts with it and how it makes the audience feel.

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