Cities, Manholes and Typography: Exploring Culture Through Letters
This is an original interview by our friends at TypeThursday. Nikki Villagomez is a self-professed type geek and urban explorer cataloging urban typography and lettering she finds in cities across America. Ulrik Hogrebe talks to her about her favourite discoveries, the taming of the urban aesthetic and of course, manhole covers. You can read the original interview here.
Ulrik: Hi Nikki – you have taken to type spotting, a favourite pass time of type designers and enthusiasts everywhere and elevated it to the next level. But maybe you’d like to explain a bit about what you do and what your background is?
Nikki: My “passion project” is researching how culture affects typography. On my blog, I compare pictures side by side from different parts of the world and discuss the typography, illustrations, and graffiti.
Ulrik: That’s such a great passion project. Can you talk a bit about your process?
Nikki: Yes! So when I started my blog, I think I had about 60-ish pictures that I’d taken in the course of my own city and type explorations. Not that many and my goal with my blog was to post 5 days a week, 2 pictures a post. So, I burned through my pictures pretty quick!
Then, one Sunday morning, I was drinking my coffee and scrolling through Twitter and saw @FriendsOfType tweeted: Keep those submissions coming! #citytype @designmuseum #fontsunday. I quickly learned that the Design Museum in London hosts #FontSunday every Sunday. They assign a theme and ask people from all over the world to contribute to this theme. This particular Sunday, Friends of Type was curating the tweets for the theme ‘city type’, so typography specific to your city. I randomly tweeted at people if I could use their pictures on my blog and so on that Sunday, I went from having about 18 pictures left to over 300 from all over the world. Since then, I have just been adding to my library of images; from ones I take myself on my speaking engagements as well as ones that people send to me.
Ulrik: It’s such a great project — both speaking as a type nerd but also as one who is interested in local cultures and how they manifest in general. Looking through your blog, the images touch on so many things; the history of a place, the history of type, the type manufacturing process — with everything from letters chiseled in stone to bent in neon — all the way to how a particular culture is expressing themselves in an area in the moment.
What do you look for when you are out and about? What makes a truly good find for you?
Nikki: A true gem for me is a sign or unique lettering that is specific to a city. For example, a manhole cover that says the city name is very unique as opposed to a manhole cover that says ‘Bingham & Taylor’ or ‘Bell South’, those aren’t so unique (It only took 3 question for me to bring up manhole covers, ha!). I like to look in unexpected places like the bottom of industrial foundation beams (usually stamped with the contractors company name), concrete stamps, graffiti and wayfinding signs.