Vernacular Typography

Vernacular typography is a concept I had never come across before. The dictionary definition of vernacular is ‘the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region. For example, I’m originally from Lancashire and people in my area use the following words or phrases as part of their vernacular;

‘nowt’ – nothing

‘Ta Ra’ – goodbye

‘chucking it down’ – raining

‘barmy’ or ‘barmpot’ – crazy

We were set a task; on our journey home from university we were to take pictures of typography, chose our favourite three and email them to our tutor to print off. These could be any form of typography from illumination to deterioration, vandalism to architectural  lettering, folk/outsider to ghost signage, economic to facia, the list goes on. It became obvious that if we wanted more unique typography we should look in more obscure places.

These are the typography examples I found on my journey home;

Now, the three images I chose to have printed off were a range of typefaces which I will elaborate on individually later on. We were tasks to go around the room looking at everybody else’s typographic finds and to describe what we see. For example, you could elaborate on the weight, style, classification, context, purpose etc. Anything you thought, you would write down. This helped the tutors engage with us and it showed some individuals knowledge. From this we constructed a three column table to help us classify a piece of type. We had three classifications; Construct, Context and Classification.

Construct (how it is made and/or applied)stencil, template, tile, hand-rendered, engraved, laser cut, relief, embossed, neon, painted, printed, projected

Context (why/where/what is it used for?)- directional, anti-establishment, informational, decorative, advertisement, safety, memorial, instructional, warnings, vernacular, personal, greetings, contrasted

Classification (what kind of type is I/how would you describe it?)- serif, sans serif, CAPS/uppercase, lowercase, condensed, script, slab serif, bold, italic, light, facia, black, folk/outsider, logotype, architectural, friendly, playful, fun, formal, serious, factual, utilitarian, functional, institutional, contemporary, modern, traditional, classic

These are my three chosen images;


‘2’ A stencilled, informational piece of typography that is beginning to deteriorate due to weather conditions. I specifically liked this because of the gaps in the lettering and the worn green overlay on top.


An informational sign which uses sans serif type and, once again, has deteriorated due to weather conditions over the years. This is on it’s way to being a ghost sign.


An example of aged signs. These are directional and like most informational/directional signage it uses sans serif font as it’s easier to read from afar.

The Task: 

We were tasked with making a cube; with a twist. We had to choose one piece of type which we had photographed and repeat it as a pattern on a cube. There wasn’t any particular structure for this task, no time for trial and error o planning; just pick up a pen and go. This isn’t something I’m used to. I usually like to sit and plan my designs, create a few different methods or approaches but this was a think on your feet task so that’s what I did.

My approach:

Straight away I knew I was going to use the stencilled 2 as I took a particular liking to the style of the font and the way it looked. In particular like the weathered/rustic look and I wanted to recreate it. I decided to proceed with an overlaying layout which meant when the cube was finally formed, it would create the 2 shape again (that was the idea anyway). My final outcome didn’t exactly replicate what I had in mind, but maybe that’s because I worked with the wrong materials. I used different colour greens rubbed over some spare tracing paper and then dabbed onto the cube to mimic the dirty/weathered look, to adapt from this I would maybe use watercolour to allow the colour to run/mix freely which would achieve a more natural weathering look rather than the obviously mimicked one I achieved with my process.  If I was to do this process again, I would maybe look at the 2 a little more delicately and plan my placement so it comes together perfectly when the cube is formed. As a first attempt, however, it wasn’t too bad. It was a learning curve for me from which I learnt that your time may be limited but that doesn’t mean to rush the design process; always plan first.

Final outcome:


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