It is widely believed that black on yellow is the best colour combination for readability and visibility. Yellow and black does have the highest contrast, but high contrast doesn’t necessarily equal readability. It’s true that black and yellow might work well for road signs, police tape or door numbers painted on brick, but much less true for 8pt serif type on a computer monitor. It reminds me of the time when all the zebra crossings were yellow – highly visible on tarmac, especially in the rain. Then came the safety campaign for yellow raincoats for schoolkids (I can still hear that jingle: ‘wearing yellow raincoats is the best protection yet’), which of course was anything but safe – the kids in yellow raincoats all but disappeared on the matching yellow zebra crossings! It was a farce: the campaign was so successful that white raincoats were replaced by yellow ones, but there were so many accidents due to reduced visibility they had to make all the zebra crossings white!
ITC American Typewriter is a proportionally spaced typewriter typeface. It was adapted from monospaced typewriter styles by type designers Joel Kaden and Tony Stan in 1974 and was first used as cold type. Cold type – typesetting such as photocomposition done without the casting of metal – became widespread in the 1960s, but was subsequently outmoded by the rise of desktop publishing and the use of digital type. Everyone knows what American Typewriter looks like whether they realise it or not: graphic designer Milton Glaser used it to create the I love NY logo in 1977. The logo has become a widely recognised symbol and the original concept sketch and presentation boards are part of MoMAs permanent collection.
The weather has been warm and sunny and if this building had still housed the Ocean Beach Tea Rooms I would most certainly have stepped in for afternoon tea. The idea of tea rooms by the beach evokes some atavistic memory of the sound of the seaside on a hot day, the splish splash of gentle waves as they break onto sand too hot to stand on, the strangely lulling hubbub carried on the breeze. What surprises me about the signage, dated 1898, is how well it seems to work, despite there being so many things wrong with it from a typographic viewpoint. The sizing is wonky, the spacing inconsistent, and worst of all, every A is a different type style!
What strikes me most about this lettering, dated around 1910, is that it has been integrated into the whole facade and does not take second place to the row of animal heads watching over it and the stars of the southern cross flanking it. The ornate letters are carved into the sandstone lintel and painted gold, and what considerable skill must have gone into it. And I am impressed that it has been maintained in such excellent condition.
Despite the size of the writing on the brick wall it’s not immediately obvious from the main road because the Officeworks awning is in the way. I was taking a detour through the grounds of Sydney Uni and, as often happens when you go an alternative route, you see the same old things with a different perspective and new aspects of an otherwise familiar environment are revealed. I don’t know what the graffiti is about but I like the juxtaposition of the two sets of bold type on two equally strong backgrounds.
That flash of light in the sky during a thunderstorm is caused by an electrical discharge (about 100 million volts – take that you mere mortals!) which has built up in a cumulonimbus cloud. No wonder the lightning bolt is an important symbol in the mythologies of many cultures. It typically represents instant and divine intervention, and is seen as both creator and destroyer, fire and water, salvation and divinity, and supernatural power. This humble lightning bolt has seen better days, but I like it just the way it is: as if roughly coloured in using a stencil and a black texta with not quite enough ink. And it’s in good company with that rust and peeling paint.
My friend found this number nine during her neighbourhood wanderings and was most taken with it, and keen that I should see it too. And it is indeed a most splendid number nine: bold and flamboyant but simultaneously a little secretive and teasing, not only because it tempts you to open the door and see if more will be revealed, but because it is circumscribed by shadowy greenery that hints at an inner life.
Given the prevalence of yellow industrial buildings in the inner suburbs of Sydney I’m pretty sure the colour is chosen not so much for its visibility, although that would surely be a factor, but because the paint is going cheap! This building has its fair share of yellow, but it is the red-framed purple door that caught my eye.
When I was a kid there was a tv show called The Time Tunnel. I remember two things about it: one, that I was so enthralled by it I never missed an episode, and two, that the tunnel was a black and white swirly thing and they used to run down it. Of course this is not a time tunnel; it’s a recycled paper bag. And it has twofold appeal: first, it came my way via my friend via New York, and second, the use of the letter ‘a’ in a black and white swirly thing.
Anyone who has ever driven east along the Camperdown stretch of Parramatta Road has seen this. I think it’s great: bold as anything, audacious as all get out. The paint is starting to weather a little now so it has settled pretty comfortably into its urban landscape. What I particularly like about it as a work of art is how effortless it looks and how well it sits – definite indicators that real skill went into drawing it.