I’m stuck at home waiting for a delivery so I thought I would update you guys on what I am up to on my project. Will and I discussed my work and he suggested I should do a taxonomy of the Cambridge street signs. With this in mind I have been scouring the town taking pictures of as many street signs as I can. (Note I am only interested in the 19th century sign designs not the modern ones).
The next stage has been to categorize them, not an easy task since the various styles constantly mix and blur into each other. I have identified three main categories of design (although this system is open to dispute!):
The old style:
These designs are characterized by thick strokes and blobby (to use a technical term!) bracketed serifs. The contrast between the thin and thick strokes is very high.
The next category is what I have called ‘neat’ or ‘condensed’:
This typeface is more ‘well mannered’ than the previous one. The casting appears to be better, as well as less worn. The face is not as wide, serifs are neater. Even in this ‘class’ there is a fair amount of variation, in the examples above Devonshire Road has a tall and thin typeface, whereas the Saint Johns Street sign has a more short and squat appearance.
The final category is the ‘Quirky serif’ face. This is the main inspiration for my typeface design:
The distinguishing feature of this face is the missing serifs on the lower outside stem of the N H and R. This might appear to be some sort of mistake, but it’s repeated throughout the examples I have found. It appears that if one of these letters begins the name (an initial letter) it keeps all its serifs, but loses them if placed anywhere else in the letter. The following example of Gilbert Road shows that the R in Road has all its serifs, but the R in Gilbert has lost one:
Despite these peculiarities (notice also the curled L) the face is well balanced and consistent. Much more so than the old style which feels heavy and has blobby brackets.
Here is my current draft typeface, based on the above aesthetic. I can see many tweaks I can make now that I have more photographic evidence of the original designs to work with (click to enlarge):
Finally I showed most of you my letter cut design, but I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet so here is a picture of it:
Having discussed this design with Will he has suggested I should look at creating a system of raised lettering on titles which could be slotted together. This could be designed to be 3D printed so that replacement letters would be easy to generate for future lettering projects. It’s an intriguing idea, especially as much of the inconsistencies in the 19th century signs probably came from inconsistent manufacturing processes – something that 3D printing can solve. Then again perhaps it is the inconsistencies which give Cambridge street signs their handmade quirky character!
What do you guys think about my system of categorization? I reckon there are more sub-categories to be made in the ‘neat’ style, but there is so much variation it makes it hard.
Anyway I hope you are all enjoying the Easter break!