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below: process & development

below: brand implementation & collateral examples

below: exhibition in use

Letterlab Exhibition
on Typography opens

The Graphic Design Museum, commissioned us to conceive and design an exhibition.

The Graphic Design Museum, Breda initially approached us in December of 2008 about the possibility of creating an exhibition focused on typography for children ages 6 −13. We were very fortunate to have 10 months of lead time before the scheduled opening. In that time much would need to be done.

Concept development
We were familiar with a former exhibition at this museum which targeted the same audience, although with more general content. This exhibition incorporated some active techniques, but we recognized that the new exhibition needed to be positioned much more as an active experience, static educational programming dissolved into routines of play, with spatial and environmental engagement which provokes curiosity and rewards direct interaction.   Initially it was important to instill within the museum staff, with which we would be working and who ultimately had to approve our choices, an understanding regarding the distinct difference in approach between a passive presentation of flat, static information hung on walls, or encased in glass monoliths to one that actively embodies content and utilizes a holistic expression of experience through the coordination of space, time, sight, touch and sound.   In our working process, especially with projects that have a long development time frame and such a wide array of design factors influencing the final outcome, we strive to begin the research and conceptual positioning from the broadest perspective. It’s important that we don’t rush to obvious and comfortable solutions, not because they are obvious and comfortable, but because building a strong fundamental understanding of the problem will position our efforts in a way that illuminates the most effective solutions. We also want to engage the client in a quest for understanding and conceptual placement, not merely fast implementation. With positioning such as this we are able to gain a wider perspective of potential outcomes and clients that may have had specific solutions in mind are able to understand and value the unfamiliarity that may come with more effective solutions.   To begin the initial inquiry we asked an intentionally simplistic question: How do you make children experience the history and creative possibilities of typography?   Usage of the word ‘make’ is evidence of our positioning at the onset towards an active routine. We obviously didn’t intend on forcing the children to do anything; instead we were implying that the exhibition experience should be so inviting, so engaging, so enticing that children were compelled to interact. We knew that if the exhibition could harness the child-ness wonder and enjoyment of play then interaction would be imminent, and rest would depend on how clever the routines of play were positioned in order to ensure that knowledge was a byproduct.   We developed a conceptual survey, abstracting the historical progression of spoken language and the written word, and structured an active curriculum for children as an engaging experiential journey using digital and analog media, colors, sounds, and tactile interaction which utilized contemporary memes (text messaging, guitar hero/rock band, touch screens, video chatting, graffiti, etc.) in a manner that became an irresistibly engaging experience.   A body of knowledge, which most commonly is presented as historically passive and seemingly abstract, was transformed into active routines of play; the resultant was an educational instillation, both profound and seemingly effortless for the participant.   We focused on 2 areas of development: the selection of content, abstraction of knowledge and the physical space .   This question led us to explore the usage of space.   The creative possibilities of typography lends itself fairly easily to active routines, but historical knowledge tends to be represented as static information; we did not the target demographic to be reminded of classroom based instruction, or worse, homework!   The Exhibition
Letterlab is all about letters in the broadest sense of the word. In this exhibition, children (age 6-13) and their parents discover that the letters you mostly encounter in books mean a great deal more.   Form and function Letterlab makes children realize that the letters we use for reading have a history of development, that they are designed, and that the way in which that takes place determines how the letter functions.   The exhibition lets the target group view letters from different perspectives:   • Letter and sound: the pronunciation of a letter could very well be closely associated with the shape of the letter. How does that work?   Inside of the Theatre children can play a custom designed and programmed Game. The game, projected inside of large structure built from letters, can be controlled by playing two oversized musical instruments. Each key launches a different sound as well as a corresponding letter or shape onto the game field.   • Letter and shape: a letter consists of several components, that is several forms. That is how you get different fonts. Appropriately, we created 5 new fonts for Letterlab.   We also designed a giant Desktop for the exhibition space, including menu, files, folders and pop up windows. Inside of the windows visitors can manually leave their own pixel message. An example of a pixel font can be found on the desktop as well.   • Letter and composition: a letter becomes part of a composition, for example on a poster or in a book or newspaper. The composition is determined by the positioning of the letter in the space.   In Composition a large letter shaped printing press offers children the opportunity to discover how newspapers are put together. Large blocks with preset texts, headlines but also individual letters form the toolkit for creating your own Letterlab Courant. A webcam records the manual labor and displays the results on one of two screens mounted on the giant H. The second display is connected to a touch screen on the other side of the press. Using similar design elements but now experiencing the (dis)advantages of the computer, a comparison is made between two different time periods in modern typography, the analog and the digital era.   • Letter and meaning: A letter, several letters (a word), and even more letters (a sentence) give meaning. A text can be written through the meaning of the letters.   Behind the Theatre we created a dark Alley in which children can use light graffiti to leave their name or tag on the wall. Stencils are also provided, providing preset positive words like: good (goed), hope (hoop), beautiful (mooi) and nice (leuk).   Discover Letterlab is a laboratory where children can find out for themselves how various perspectives of the letter work. Discovery assignments are linked to each sub-theme. The assignments are layered and diverse, so that children of various ages feel challenged by them.   We reserved one of the corners of the exhibition space for a Lounge area where visitors can watch a custom crafted Film which provides an abstract overview of the history of typography. The film also shows how and that all the stations in the exhibition are related to one another.

Links

Letterlab Commercial

Letterlab Poster Series

Awards for Letterlab

TDC and ADCN Honor

MOTI (Graphic Design Museum)