• Dispatch #17 •
Aside from beautiful natural resources, one thing that is fascinating about Iceland is its typography.
Call it a designer’s habit, but one of the things I look out for when traveling to a different country is its typography. Type is one way to document civilization, and it’s incredibly fascinating to see the many ways we give form to our language. I especially do this for countries with a different language; I come to appreciate the forms of the letters rather than what they mean.
Being in Iceland, my typographic fascination was special, because the 32-letter Icelandic alphabet contains some interesting ones that I have never seen before. This includes the letter eth Ðð (pronounced as “D”), and the runic letter thorn Þþ (pronounced as th). I also loved the accented vowels and Ý. Not only is Icelandic a very old language, but it is also one that is very insular and hasn’t changed much since the 11th century—modern speakers can understand the ancient sagas.
Some Icelandic words are longer that most English words, and so this presents a unique design challenge when creating signage. I think the graphic design is for the most part, compact and elegant, such as the name on the facade of the National Gallery of Iceland.
While many words are long, they have ways to make it seem not so, such as this lovely cross stitch sign.
An effect of the length of the words are, I think, an inherent neatness in handwriting.
I can also see why handwriting is often hyphenated.
I came to appreciate Icelandic humor when I was there. Before buying this $18 shirt, I asked the storekeeper to teach me how to pronounce it. I learned that “ll” is pronounced as “tl”. This volcano stalled a lot of flights in Europe and deserves to have its own t-shirt.
I love the coziness and local flavor in the country that does not have a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. Here at Kaffitar I enjoyed delicious coffee surrounded by locals that were relaxing for the day.
I appreciated the humor on their other souvenir shirts.
I also laughed at the Icelandic entrepreneurial spirit.
Bjork, of course, is unavoidable. Or at least her name.
On one of the hipper streets of Reykjavik, it was interesting to see the artsy side of Iceland, graffiti and all.
I learned that in ancient times when Helvetica didn’t exist, people used to draw these love charms to attract women.
If you’re ever in Iceland and become immune to volcanoes and waterfalls, another feature to look out for is their typography. Go and fall in love with every letter.