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Watch this dancer design letters with his body

When we think of calligraphy, we think of perfect penmanship–the practiced micro-movements of a surgeon-steady hand. Even modern typefaces, constructed on computers, are still based upon that human anchor that brought us all written language.

Which is why, when design studio NM Type was building its latest typeface, they traced the concept of letterforms all the way back to their roots in the human body. They collaborated with South African dancer Andile Vellem, who danced out an alphabet in a modernist “YMCA”-style, tracing shapes in the air. NM Type then translated this choreography into a typeface called Movement.

[Image: courtesy NM Type]

It’s a radical approach to type design, but NM Type explains it as a logical extension of the craft. “Both type and dance use movement as a form of expression. The hand of a calligrapher and the body of a dancer can be seen as creative tools,” write studio duo Noel Pretorius and María Ramos via email. “We wanted to translate the movement of the human body into a typeface. We could not think of a better expression of movement than that created by a dancer.”

To build the typeface, the designers never actually met Vellem in person. Instead, they collaborated over several video chats. NM Type’s major request was that Vellem do two versions of each letter dance: “One in a direct movement (quick, heavy, bound) and the other in a indirect movement (light, slow, flexible),” the studio writes. These two distinctive movement styles became two primary versions of the final typeface–direct and indirect–which look sharp and flowing, respectively.

NM Type has made the font free to download and use from their site.

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