Dekalb is More Than an Avenue
As Pablo Medina writes about the typeface he designed to celebrate Dekalb Avenue in Brooklyn, “The idea for the typeface Dekalb was born in 2013 after a day of photographing signage, murals and graffiti around Dekalb and Wyckoff avenues in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The initial drafts of the letterforms that I drew that day were first made into a single ultra-weight font. Originally called Bushwick, the font made its first appearance in Sneaker News Magazine as a custom display typeface. I decided to run a crowdfunding campaign for it, mostly to offer pre-orders, but also to elicit some grassroots support so I could expand the font into a larger family. The campaign was a success, having received a considerable amount of pre-orders, donations and write-ups in New York’s Metro News, Paper Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine. Shortly before releasing the font, I decided to rename it Dekalb, after the charming and steadfast avenue in Brooklyn. After four years of blood, sweat and even some tears, it’s finally finished and here’s a film to prove it.”
What is Brooklyn about your face Dekalb? Brooklyn is loud. Dekalb is loud. Brooklyn is big. Dekalb is big. Brooklyn is Jewish, Latino, Black, Italian, Russian, Chinese. Dekalb is Jewish, Latino, Black, Italian, Russian, Chinese. In Brooklyn they say “good morning.” Dekalb can say “good morning.” In Brooklyn, they say “go f#@k yourself.” Dekalb can say “go f#@k yourself.” Mike Tyson was born in Brooklyn; Dekalb was born in Bushwick.
Do you think Dekalb will become a face of the design inhabitants of Bushwick? Nowadays there are probably a lot of design inhabitants in Bushwick. Some of them are good people. Some of them are clueless. I’d rather Dekalb be used by a pizza place in Bay Ridge than a vegan doughnut shop in Bushwick, but you just never know who, what, when and where your font is going to be used. That’s the mystery of it. You’ll be walking on the street and all of a sudden you’ll bump into a billboard for Bacardi that uses your font. It’s a beautiful thing.
There is something touching about naming a face after a locale. Goudy named one after his house, Frere-Jones named one after signs. What else do you want to commemorate through type? A lot of my fonts are named after locations. Locations inspire me. I’ve lived in New York for almost 30 years and one of my favorite activities is to just walk and look. Since I’m a type guy, I tend to look at signage and letterforms, but it’s not just the letters that fascinate me, it’s the also the relationship of the people with the letterforms. When I see a painted sign I wonder who painted it, what country were they from, how did they learn to paint letters? I usually commemorate the locale with the name of the font, but maybe next time, I can name a font after a person.
How would you like to see this face used? Usability is not as sexy as aesthetics, so it took me a long time to accept that fonts are software tools just as much as they are communication devices, and like any software tool, it’s essential to consider functionality. With Dekalb, I spent a lot of time perfecting the functional qualities like spacing, kerning and the overall technical aspects like hinting, naming and mastering. People will appreciate Dekalb for both its aesthetic flair and its intuitive functionality.
What is next on your geographical wishlist? There’s a great sign painting scene in Lima, Peru. They have a style that uses mostly black backgrounds and bright, fluorescent colors for the letterforms. I’d love to go. Check out Ruta Mare and Elliot Tupac. Amazing stuff!
The experts who write for PRINT magazine cover the why of design—why the world of design looks the way it does, how it has evolved, and why the way it looks matters. Subscribe to PRINT today, and get in on the conversation of what the brightest minds in the field are talking about right now—essential insight that every designer should know to get ahead.
Treat yourself and your team to a year of PRINT for $40—which includes the massive Regional Design Awards issue ($30 on newsstands).