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Hard Times

08/07/11 by Juan Pablo Mejía

Deciding. When you can and have time, spend it wisely (tough). When you can’t, hang on to your first impression (an ideal of) and intuition. We recently designed the first and second edition of Bogotá’s mayor office official newspaper (it is actually number ten and eleven). Politics made short: there’s a new mayor replacing the elected one, who was dismissed from office some weeks ago.

The first and second edition of a newspaper series meant to reveal where exactly was the city left off and where it is actually heading to. On our last post we mentioned how time is a strange concept nowadays; designing and thinking a newspaper has showed us what deciding and sticking to a decision actually is when you are running (running) against time.

A newspaper that deals with crisis, that seeks to establish a direct message between the mayor’s office and its people. Chronicles, articles, interviews and Mayor Clara Lopez’s position on several issues; somewhere in between recognizing what went wrong, what is actually working, what must be finished and what can be proposed for the next days, weeks, months.

Type. Legibility and contrast. Separating headlines from political parties’ usual typographic decisions (Helvetica?). On the specific search for this particular need we “discovered” a typeface whose name turned out to be perfect for the newspaper’s concept and the first edition: Hard Times. Designed by Jeffery Keedy in 1991, it is basically a mutilated version of Times New Roman (type mutilation and city’s actual state is a coincidence, yes, a coincidence). Great discovery. Font computer edition in the nineties opened a whole new exploration and discussion on typography: display versus typeface, classic-modern-postmodern type versus a whole new set of possibilities, design centered on a computer.

“Jeffery Keedy described his design of Hard Times as an “ironic commentary” on classic typefaces. Whether the font was truly ironic—its name conjures up not only a typeface but also Charles Dickens and the Great Depression—or just the result of someone goofing around with Fontographer is immaterial. Either way, Keedy’s alteration of Times New Roman—hacking off and reassembling serifs and other parts—encouraged a whole slew of typographic mutilations in the 1990s (including fonts “designed” for advertising campaigns for Putnam Investments and Air France).” (1)

Teachers at school encouraged designing on paper before working on a computer. The deal is, we grew up thinking computer-digital-wise, forcing the other way around was just a must-do process, check and continue (and please teachers), not a natural one. Digital design thinking is just as good, and can be even better. Going back to paper is part of the process, as part of a visualization process (we are so used to the screen), but not its beginning. Post-digital-thinking opened new means and possibilities for design thinking and production, we are its product. As mentioned on our last post, this opens new discussions for future posts.

Hard Times is an aberration. Altering an existing font to produce something that breaks all rules must alter purists sleep. It demonstrates how overwhelmed were designers and typographers in the nineties, dealing with new and exciting changes of processes that dealt specifically with time (yes, we keep on talking about time). Hard Times has the ability to look great and horrible at the same time, you cannot tell if you like it or not. A close friend mentioned the one thing he didn’t like about the newspaper was its horrible typeface on headlines. Pretty interesting. We like it, and dislike it at the same time. We took our time searching, trying on screen what we had in mind (content was not ready yet, that bought us time to do some research). Hard times is serif and sans serif at the same time, it is confusing and disconcerting. This uncertainty is our design approximation to Bogotá’s current state. We are not talking about helvetica’s “neutrality”, we are talking and designing about crisis.

These are hard times.