Negating the Serif: Postcolonial Approaches toTypeface Design



Graphic Design & Visual Art


  • typography, design methologies, design process


The practice and the teaching of Typography in South Africa has yet to undergo radical or substantive changes in light of the multiple shifts and developments in critical thinking that has taken place in Academia and contemporary visual practice in recent years. While contemporaneous thinking has “ forced a change “ in many disciplines in light of the Postmodern, Post Colonial and other “Post” posturing that challenge the dominance of Europe and the West as the centre, very little of the core imperatives of these schools of thought has found its way into the development and thinking around Typography in South Africa save a few seminal books and teachers.

The reason for limited pedagogical experimentation in the field can often be attributed to the fact that the typographic canon has been deemed sacrosanct, readily perpetuated by institutions in the belief that if students and courses in Typography are to have any enduring value, the canon must be propagated unaltered and unscathed.

By analysing typography currently being developed and commercialised for distribution by the Iron Age Font Foundry, a project funded by the University of Cape Town’s Research and Innovation Centre comprising of designers and academics I will investigate alternative approaches that Postcolonial thought strategies make possible for both the practice and teaching of Typography. The very names of typefaces forged in this foundry, the ideas behind them and most importantly the visual language and resonances of these letterforms highlight an alternative approach that negates Western dominance of history and production in the realm of Typography.

This paper challenges the typographer to be an active, conscious author of meaning in both practice and teaching evidenced in critical engagement with typography from the past and active, multidisciplinary engagement with social and political issues in the development of typefaces for the present. The paper will highlight the important role that contemporary font foundries can play commercially and conceptually through this multidisciplinary approach.

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