Shakespeare’s Globe has revealed its new season typeface that incorporates digitally enhanced versions of woodcut illustrations found in Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Designed in collaboration with studio Typeland, the typeface also celebrates the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, which is the most renowned collection of Shakespeare’s work printed seven years after his death. Without it, some of his most famous plays, such as The Tempest, Comedy of Errors, and Macbeth, may have been lost.
The brief was to create a treatment for titles set in Typeland’s Amifer typeface to celebrate the First Folio’s 400th anniversary.
The London-based type design studio was already affiliated with the Globe, as the institution has used its Amifer typeface in previous seasons. The Globe’s art director Irene Omodeo Zorini reached out to Typeland with the idea of “integrating illustrated elements” into Amifer for the summer 2023 campaign, according to Typeland co-founder Alessia Mazzarella.
Nature in its various forms sits at the heart of the summer season themes, “addressing ideas of flourishing and decay as well as cycles of regeneration and the restoration of balance”, says Mazzarella.
Since there is a long tradition of ornamented letterforms in typographic design, initial ideas came from various sources, including the Pouchée alphabet, (by type founder Louis John Pouchée). This alphabet used fat-face style lettering and featured detailed illustrations, from flowers, fruit, and animals to musical instruments and Masonic symbols.
Despite having an array of examples, Typeland was under strict instruction to specifically use and interpret the Folio illustrations, “in a clean and contemporary manner”, bringing together “the peculiar elements of the Folio’s woodcuts” with broader themes of nature.
The original 17th century Folio used the intricate illustrations as ornamental devices to break up text. Mazzarella explains how Typeland sought to reinterpret the natural elements that appear in the Folio illustrations, “making connections between the subject of the plays and the stories they tell”.
Working with the Globe’s design team and freelance art director Louise Richardson, the studio came up with the idea of integrating the illustrations and the typography through a layer font, designed to be easy and versatile in application.
Typeland co-founder Vaibhav Singh says that the biggest challenge was devising illustrative details that could “function well at different scales”. When experimenting with the level of intricacy in each letterform, Typeland came up with the idea of having two different layers – Amifer Folio Big and Amifer Folio Small – that can be used in combination “to control the level of detail desired at a given scale”, Singh adds.
Translating the woodcut elements into typographic illustrations also presented a challenge as some were difficult to interpret from the original printed pages of the Folio. “The woodcuts were printed to function at a specific scale only and it can be challenge to resolve their form in a way that can work in a digital font when used at different point sizes”, says Singh.
Characters were created for the entire uppercase alphabet, with a focus on six hero letters making up the first initials of the summer season plays. The illustrations also had to be adapted to fit different letter shapes, matching specific Folio elements with certain play initials.
For example, M appears as the illustrated initial in both Macbeth and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which needed to convey very different moods. The result is two very different Ms, one with a shooting arrow through it for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a regal bird on the M in Macbeth. Other details include a crashing wave on the T in The Tempest.
The five main posters for the summer season take inspiration from visual representations of nature, “from untamed wildness to more controlled, man-made environments”, according to the Globe. Each poster was designed to depict a unique conversation with the directors, disecting their personal relationship with the play, as well as their perspectives on human nature and a consideration of the natural world. The past two seasons have seen vibrant use of colour on the posters, which will continue into the summer 2023 season.