The Face of a City
Increasingly more cities are using individual proprietary fonts. Such is the case for the city of Tilburg, The Netherlands, which now has the TilburgsAns font created by typographer Sander Neijnens and illustrator Ivo van Leeuwen. This font, however, is based on pictographs and letters. “With this typeface we want to explore how type creates a social network in a city and how a typeface travels around the world,” Neijnens told me. The project began in summer 2013 as a personal challenge to design a typeface that represents his hometown. “I didn’t want to design a corporate font for the city council or the marketing department; the starting point was to design a font for the inhabitants. A font that doesn’t represent the outside of the city, but the inside.” To really connect the font to Tilburg, Neijnens decided that it was necessary to add icons to the font of specific locations, persons, events and dialect words. So from September 2014 he worked with van Leeuwen, who drew 50 icons. Together they realized the idea in about a year and a half. I asked Neijnens, who is about to open an exhibit about the font, to tell us more.
What has been the public response to the face and iconography? In the beginning people were surprised by the idea, but didn’t realize the impact that such a font can have. So it was hard for us to get the necessary financial support.
Our principle was that the typeface should be available free of charge. After many, many presentations, meetings and paperwork we finally got three subsidies from local and regional funds. But there still was a big financial gap. That’s why we started an adoption plan in December 2015. People can adopt a letter, digit, accent or punctuation mark for 200 euro each. It is also possible to adopt a numbered space (unicode 0020) for just 10 euro. The response was overwhelming. Until now more than 120 glyphs were adopted and 150 spaces.
The response to the typeface itself is also great. The fonts were released on April 10 and have already been used in business cards, on posters, on websites, in brochures and newsletters (see: www.tilburgsans.nl/nl/actueel). And we were invited to make an exhibition about the typeface in the glass counterweight of a remarkable bridge that itself is an icon in the typeface.
How do you feel the TilburgsAns font represents the city? Tilburg is a sans serif city; the people are straightforward. But it’s also a lively city; there are many educational institutes (among them a university, a conservatory, a theater/art/dance school, which attract young creative people) as well as festivals and stages. So, humor, swing and experiment are three other characteristic aspects of this city. Typographically spoken this city is a merger of handwriting and printing type. But in the end, the definite connection between the typeface and the city is made by the addition of the icons.
Announcing the release of the typeface four of ten posters were shown throughout the city.
a movie house. A girl friend told me that I should visit In the ladies toilet, an announcement to put sanitary napkins in hygienic bags. The last sentence: ‘Typed in TilburgsAns’.
Will the font be available to other cities or venues? TilburgsAns is available to anyone. When inhabitants of Tilburg use the typeface they add a local accent to their publication. When people from abroad use the typeface they get a virtual connection to Tilburg, just like a visitor who comes to stay here for some days. For me this is the most interesting aspect of the project. TilburgsAns isn’t designed as a city marketing tool, but as a means to show that typefaces don’t grow on trees, but are the concretization of an idea, a character, a state of mind. And it shows how type connects people, not only in a city, but all over the world.
What is the greatest satisfaction having designed this? The greatest satisfaction we get is the enthusiasm of designers, writers, shops, pubs and cultural organizations. TilburgsAns gets a warm welcome, as if the city was longing for her. By adopting the typeface and by using it in publications, the inhabitants themselves are now creating the image of the city. It’s a new kind of city marketing—après la lettre.
Will you tell me more about the exhibition that is planned? In cooperation with Kunstpodium T and Piushaven Levend Podium, an exhibition is organized about TilburgsAns. This exhibition will take place this summer (May 22–Aug. 31) in the glass counterweight of Den Ophef. Den Ophef is a sturdy bridge designed by the renowned Dutch artist John Körmeling and built in 2013. The glass counterweight was meant to become an exhibition room, but it lasted until now before the first exhibition could be realized.
We will show icons and a slogan on the windows of the counterweight. The slogan is “Houdoe you do.” It sounds like “How do you do,” but the first word (Houdoe) is the Tilburg dialect word for “Goodbye.” So the slogan is a welcome and a farewell to the people who enter and leave the city crossing this bridge. And it’s a slogan where the local and international language meet.
The exhibition is extended to shops, pubs and restaurants in the neighborhood of the bridge. There we will exhibit some icons and letters and we will organize some activities in cooperation with the business owners.
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