Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Before the ‘traffic light’ there was the ‘traffic clock’. This dial-based system required drivers to watch the rotating dial to see how much time they have to either drive through (if on the green section of the dial) or stop (if on the red). A logical extension of the civic clock, the idea is one whose basic principle is being revisited with digital ‘countdowns’ being more common at traffic intersections around the world.

What is most striking is its cultural transformation – from an innovative civil utilitarian object to something that would now considered a mere oddity. So what common objects that surrounding us everyday will be seen as misunderstood oddities, things whose function will be barely recognizable within a mere generation or so? The answer is of course a lot of things. I set myself the challenge of finding things just within the design studio that may prone to such a transformation.


Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

The first brand

This is perhaps the first Australian ‘typeface’. Published in 1873, these marks were designed to stem the phenomena of cattle theft by enabling owners to ‘brand’ their horses and cattle. This particular oddity, cut by typefounder John Davies in 1873, comes complete with a wide array of customised ligatures. Thanks to Dennis Bryans for unearthing this gem.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Three years of route 57

This ‘book’ documents my daily tram journey from North Melbourne (on route 57) to the city for three years (2001–2003). Prior to the myki ticketing system, users of the Melbourne’s public transport system would carry with them a ticket onto which the detailing one’s journey such as the route number and times would be printed. I consider this to be an oddity not just because of the curious motive behind it but also the fact that it simply cannot be done now.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Finger Music

Whilst strolling through the grounds of Melbourne University in 2005 I saw an old man sitting at a park bench alongside a small stereo and an open suitcase. As I neared him and the sound from the stereo became audible, it soon became apparent that the cassettes he was selling were unlike anything I had heard before. Each one was humbly wrapped in card and simply marked with a stamp ‘The man who plays music on his fingers’. And that’s exactly what it was. There are many layers of oddity here – firstly, the extraordinary genre of music (is this a genre?), secondly that someone would be selling cassette tapes in an age when nobody could even play them and thirdly, the direct, descriptive and unpretentious packaging. His name appears nowhere on the packaging.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article SeriesTypography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Telephoning Tokyo

Despite the legal reach of the branding industry being increasingly roving and litigious, there are still some odd instances of designs trying to ‘fly under the radar’. The curious resemblance of the Tokyo Teppanyaki identity to the widely recognizable Telstra logo (1989, Flett Henderson and Arnold) could be seen as either brave or niave, depending on your political viewpoint. Or perhaps, it’s simply an an oddity of a more innocent age before the ‘intellectual property boom’.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Hanging Bold

In only a generation or so, this typographic specimen will become an oddity. The pronounced notches in its back (top and bottom) are not a kooky new design feature but rather a necessity of installation. This is titling type built for cinemas – and those grooves allow it to be hung from the backlit façade of the theatre. With the steady replacement of ‘static’ signage with electronic messaging boards, this may well become the typographic dodo of the 2010s.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article SeriesTypography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

The handtyped, string-bound styleguide

In the age when branding styleguides (particularly those by Vignelli or Rand) are salivated over by designers as ‘the new cookbooks’, this far more humble specimen from 1965 is for the Australian department store Myer instructs the reader on all matters Myer including how to properly answer the telephone.

Not only is the directory hand-typed but its pages are bound with string. Inside it reads more like an episode of Are You Being Served? with a ‘Miss Jones in Haberdashery’ being contactable on extension 3997. Although the means of production may be simple, it nevertheless shows that control is, and has always been, at the centre of the mind of the brand manager (even before it was a job title).

Oddities are unresolved and ambiguous by their very nature. And graphic designers, born and bred on notions of strategy, clarity, problem solving and defined parameters, are not good with ambiguity. So these objects, amongst many others no doubt, may be instructive in appreciating the complex nature of function – that the original purpose can change beyond our original intention, or be forgotten and re-born in another form.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Mismatch books

All my life I have been drawn to complete sets or collections of things. One of my first collections, collated at the tender age of four, were matchbooks. In a time when smoking was more than commonplace, the matchbook offered the advertiser exposure during both social and idle times. Looking at this collection now, what becomes really apparent is the gratuitous use of ‘girlie’ images with no link whatsoever to the product of service advertised. This casual disconnection (and presumption of interest) unapologetically shows its vintage. This ‘artifact’ is an oddity not just because of it being a companion to the antiquated practice of smoking. More interestingly is the fact that it could only have existed in an age prior to modern advertising – where every element and application strictly adheres to a larger and interlinked strategic and conceptual structure.

Typography Melbourne Oddities of Tomorrow Article Series

Sweet Irony

‘Future’ cigarettes is not just a stunning oxymoron, it is also an oddity. The fact that this is mock packaging, containing chocolate cigarettes for the entertainment of children, adds another dark layer of irony. Like its more famous contemporary, Fads Fun Sticks, this packaging design manages to be both naive and insidious. And like the previous oddity (the match books) the only vaguely charming thing about it is its complete stupidity. Strange that this actually becomes a virtue in the curious land of the oddity.