Found Font (1995 — present)
Paul Elliman, born in 1961, is a British artist and designer based in London. His work mainly focuses on communication and different ways to communicate through sound, language and typefaces. He attempts to find new ways to use the human language and he finds typography, languages and alphabets within the environment. He created the first typeface made from found items in 1995.
One of Paul Elliman’s earlier projects, his first major typeface for Fuze magazine, was called Alphabet, a collection of photo booth images of people forming different letters of the alphabet. The first version of Alphabet was a collaboration with 26 students in a photo booth in London University, 1992. The purpose of the design was to question if expression and interpretation could be larger than language itself. I think that from the pictures it is quite hard to tell what letter of the alphabet each person represents, and at a first look, I would not have understood that they were creating a typeface from their stances or positions.
After looking at the break down of the letters represented by people, it is slightly easier to understand. I find the method of using people to create letters of the alphabet very effective and quite unique as it gives the language literal form and expression making the reader look further into the images to try and understand the message being conveyed.
Found Font, also known as ‘Bits’ was developed by Elliman in the 90’s and was published in Fuse. Later it was included in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial NY in 2004, which made ‘concept type’ a recognised part of the design world. The aim of the project was to create a typeface where no character form is used more than once, which requires an infinite amount of characters. Found Font began as a collection of found human made items that were often thrown away, broken or worn out, which he started collecting while he was travelling in 1989. By using human made items to form a typeface, it shows the connection between construction of the environment and construction of language. There was a criteria to the size of the found items: each piece must be small enough to fit in the mouth, or to be passed from hand to hand like money. This made sure all of the shapes were nicely sized.
Elliman sorts his collection of found items by the sources for letter shapes (the product that the found item is), materials of the items, or geographically where the items were found, he does not sort them alphabetically by which letter the item represents. This makes for a much more interesting layout of the collection.
He groups the objects together based on their shapes to replicate letters. The creative technique Elliman invented to create a typeface is very eye catching. It stands out and you can’t help but read it as there is such a contrast between each letter. However as a typeface it does take some time to decipher what the collection spells out, it’s not that easy to read, therefore this type probably wouldn’t be best used on billboards or posters in the street. It works well as a piece to appreciate on its own.
Elliman’s typefaces suggest a new way of communication. Another design with the primary focus on communication is The Interview, by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hans Peter Feldmann, made in 2009. The communication in the book is mysterious as Obrist asks a question and Feldmann answers using only an image. This is clever as it uses words and visual language, conveying social issues and irony. The reader also has to interpret the connection between the visual language and the question, resulting in endless possibilities. I feel that in a way, this is a similar idea to Elliman’s typeface, as it is more than just words. He wants the reader to find a connection between the visual language of the typeface, and what it is actually saying.
Elliman is inspiring as he was the reason that ‘concept type’ became a recognised aspect in design which has then developed and be used around the world. I really like that he finds the good in old items that other people would have thrown away because they have no use for them. The idea that an object can be used to represent a letter only once is interesting and quite a different technique to keep each letter perfectly unique for every new type. Interpretation is the main focus in his typeface, words are not the main focus, the use of a body or objects can be used to successfully create forms of communication.