Akiem Helmling / Underware

In a flight through design theory and art history, Akiem Helmling, Underware The Hague,

shows that at the end of the day you can sum up: everything is typography. And the type

Schryft makes it possible to create a fluid transition between love and hate.



Towards an expanded notion of type.

Media theorist and philosopher Vilém Flusser claimed that when Gutenberg invented

moveable type, the true achievement was not the ‘pragmatic industrialisation’ of language,

but the discovery that letters are not characters, but types. Although Gutenberg might not have

realised this himself, he completed a process which started with the invention of the alphabet,

and came to its full glory in the mass book production of the 20th century: Abstract and

typified thinking produced the age of science & technology.

At the same moment, art developed into something like a counter-position towards rational

society, by introducing an alternative view on knowledge through the concept of beautiful

thinking, as described by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in his book Aesthetica. A process

which gains truth not through theoretical reasoning, but through aesthetics. Sensually

perceptible forms of any kind like artworks, poems or pieces of music which are capable of

expanding human knowledge beyond the realm of the written words.

This development within the arts mainly emerged through the work of two artists: Marcel

Duchamp & Joseph Beuys. By declaring an already existing object as an artwork — more

precisely a ready-made artwork — Duchamp changed the notion of art from retinal towards

mental. This process was only precisely identified 60 years later by Boris Groys in his book

About the New. In this book, Groys explains that new things are not made, but declared. This

is a process which makes something valuable which had not been valuable before. And this is

always happening whenever something new is created. No matter if it is the Mona Lisa by Da

Vinci or the ready-made Fountain by Duchamp. The act of making something new is

therefore not so much about a physical act of making something which did not exist before,

but much more about the process of giving value to something which did not yet seem to be


Within the 4 books entitled Projekt Westmensch, Beuys developed Duchamp’s ideas even

further, proposing that making art is probably not about objects at all. By introducing the

notion of Der Erweiterte Kunstbegriff (the expanded concept of art), he developed a

methodology which was based on the idea of understanding human society not as something

naturally given, but as a work of art. Based on the idea that society is formed and sculpted by

human beings, everybody is also responsible for this artwork. Therefore, Beuys’ famous quote

Jeder is ein Künstler is not an opportunity, but a human duty, something we cannot escape,

because it’s an inevitable part of the reason we exist.

Meanwhile, a situation arose where technology and digitisation produced radical crossdisciplinary

conditions where the separation of art and design is more and more discussed,

where the borders of rationality are blurring, and the academic value of artistic research is, for

the first time, officially approved even on a national level. But more importantly, it created

conditions where everything can change dramatically, including the fields of design and


From this perspective, it’s interesting to notice an analogy between Neville Brody’s project

Fuse (1991) and the Duchamp’s Fountain. Despite their different context — time-wise &

content-wise — both works were actually made with the same intention: to free up our

expectations of what we think we know and to shift the ‘act of making’ from the physical to

the mental. Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft — co-founder of the infamous Fuse project —

gave this act the title From Invention to Antimatter, which could be interpreted as the attempt

to liberate typographic forms from their history.

As progressive as both positions have been — Duchamp with his Fountain and Brody with

Fuse — each of them were still tightly connected to the existing historical ideas. Duchamp is

still attached to the concept of an artist who is producing artworks. And Fuse is still based on

something which could be called ‘mechanical typing’ (or transcribing), a process which is

distinguished through its abstraction from talking or writing by hand. Although the manual

typewriter was replaced by a digital computer with a keyboard, there is not much difference

between them: each tool translates spoken language (parole) into a unified signifying system

(langue) by pressing keys. In that perspective, Fuse could be regarded as a simple variation of

Gutenberg’s moveable type.

So, wouldn’t it be possible to expand our notion of type, like Beuys did for the arts, and John

Cage did for music, by saying that Every Thing is Type? How could that be achieved, and

perhaps even more importantly, what could this mean for us as designers, communicators and

readers (social human beings)?

With Variable Fonts, the groundwork is ready to fundamentally transform written language.

With Font Variations, digital type will change from being uniform, repeatable & portable, into

pluriform, responsive and dynamic algorithms.

It is time to think about the future.