Montana State University

Spring 2015

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Mountains and Minds

Type of Place May 12, 2015 • Published 05/12/15

Meta Newhouse, professor of design in Montana State University’s School of Art, hypothesized that there are unique qualities of each culture that are evidenced in graphic design and visual communication—through typography. She wondered what could be learned from isolating typography from different parts of the world.

She and research partner Nathan Davis, a design professor at Virginia Commonwealth University/Qatar who used to be at MSU, started collecting typography samples and made a presentation of their thoughts in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2011 at the Association Typographique Internationale. Later, Newhouse and others collected other samples in Rome, Toronto and Seattle. Newhouse and Davis later were invited to exhibit their project during Design March, Iceland’s weeklong festival celebrating Icelandic Design and Designers. “We were the only American exhibitors that year, which was quite an honor,” Newhouse said. “We even got an invite to the President of Iceland’s house for dinner.”

Two years later, at ATypi’s conference in Barcelona, Newhouse and Davis were asked to present the project at the Museu del Disseny (Museum of Design) on a screen that was at least three stories tall. The project has grown since. A website and an Instagram-like app have followed for this MSU-based project.

What is the Type of Place?
My project, Type of Place, began documenting and archiving typography in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2011, and has continued with additional collections in Seattle, Toronto, Rome, Budapest, Prague and Vienna. Now, we have plans to expand the project globally.

The project celebrates the divergence and convergence of cultural identity where it is least expected.

Why does the Type of Place matter?
Notably, there are many fragmented groups of graphic designers, design educators, type designers, type enthusiasts and students around the world who are currently taking photos of typography where they live and travel. Type of Place seeks to provide these groups with one centralized, well-designed tool to turn their energy and interest in typography into a global repository of “typography now.”

As a resource, it will help researchers more fully comprehend the cultural mores of a diverse set of societies and could promote greater cultural understanding for those who choose to use it.

How are MSU students helping with this project?
Two MSU students, Dylan Erwin and David Driscoll, collaborated on collections in Vienna, Budapest and Prague. They also helped determine some of the best ways to get local groups involved in the collection process. MSU students will beta test the app when it is ready.

Can anyone submit a photo of type to the project?
Interested parties may email me: If they have a large number of images we can help set up a Dropbox and we’ll discuss ways that they can be listed as a project collaborator.

What are your eventual future plans for the Type of Place project?
We are designing and building an Instagram-like application for the iPhone that will allow design educators, typography enthusiasts, students and other interested individuals from all parts of the world to collect images of typography to add to this growing online archive. The app will enable each image to quickly and easily be tagged with its location, and other important differentiators such as letter (a, b, c); style (serif, sans serif, script); and alphabet (Latin, Cyrillic). Images collected with the Type of Place app will be posted to the Type of Place website where they will then be keyword searchable in order to facilitate future research. Once we get through this phase, we have plans to develop an Android version of this app. Eventually, we’d like to curate collection sets and publish a book that celebrates the project.