By Emma Regan, Jordan Maxwell Ridgway, Laura Ingate and Frankie Harnett
The year 2023 marks 400 years since William Shakespeare, the most famous playwright in history (and arguably, the most famous person in the world), had a collection of his plays published for the first time. Known as the First Folio, it was published seven years after The Bard’s death and included plays such as The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It and Macbeth. The First Folio is why these plays, and many more, have survived for as long as they have. Shakespeare’s Globe is making sure they are celebrated in a class of their own by designing a new typeface specifically for this occasion.
But what is a typeface, you ask? Typefaces, or types, are used in Typography, which is the art of arranging a piece of text to convey a specific message and elicit certain emotions. A typeface is the underlying visual design of letters, numbers and other symbols, used in printing and electronic displays. Types also have different variations available within the design, which is how we get fonts. A good example is the font Times New Roman, which uses a Serif typeface (a decorative stroke that extends off the end of a letterform).
The 400th anniversary of the First Folio has seen the birth of a new typeface to promote the Globe’s 2023 summer season. Reimagined from the previous year’s Amifer Folio font, Typeland co-founder Alessia Mazzarella describes their mission to use illustrations from the First Folio “in a clean and contemporary manner” to bring together “the peculiar elements of the Folio’s woodcuts” with motifs of nature. This presented several challenges for the Typeland design team. One such challenge lay in reinterpreting original elements from the Folio illustrations as clean vector shapes that could be easily applied to a font format. Vaibhav Singh, the second Typeland co-founder, noted another significant challenge in designing intricate details that could “function well at different scales.” The resultant solution was the creation of two separate fonts, Amifer Folio Big, which included more artistic motifs and was intended for a stronger visual effect, and Amifer Folio Small.
In keeping with both the summer season and the elements of the First Folio, nature lies at the centre of the new typeface. The entirely uppercase font features animals, flowers, angels, gargoyles and demons, evoking the mystical otherworldliness of Shakespeare's plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mazzarella describes the motif as central to “addressing ideas of flourishing and decay as well as cycles of regeneration and the restoration of balance.” Beyond that, Mazzarella describes Typeland’s attempts to “[make] connections between the subject of the plays and the stories they tell.” This manifests in the use of different features in letters to convey different moods. For example, the M's in Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream need to convey starkly different themes, so the former M features a regal bird, while the latter depicts a shooting arrow. Similarly, the T for The Tempest features a wave crashing along the top of the T, evoking a central theme of the comedy. These seemingly small design features combine to create a truly eye-catching new typeface unique to the Globe.
The new typeface plays an important communications role in the poster advertising promoting the new season. This will be seen throughout London in summer 2023 promoting either The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It or Macbeth. Each poster links to the natural world through images of wilderness and tamed environments. This design idea came together in a unique conversation with the directors, who delved into their personal relationships with the plays and their perspectives on human nature and a consideration of the natural world. For example, Macbeth shows a very young King centred in what looks like a barren wasteland, reflecting the themes of isolation and hostility that run throughout the play. The advertisement will likely draw in an engaged audience by presenting the plays in a modern style unique to Shakespeare’s Globe.
Typefaces are an often overlooked but important part of the publishing process in many different formats, including books, covers, posters, zines and advertising campaigns, just to name a few. The Globe’s campaign for their summer season illustrates that even classic texts can have an influence on modern forms of publishing.
Typefaces can help to add a distinct character. So, the next time you’re reading an unusual-looking typeface, consider the impact this subtle detail could be having on your interpretation of what you’re looking at, and how it adds an element of storytelling in its own right.