Graphic Design

Characters by Stephen Banham + giveaway!

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
13th of September 2011
See Melbourne like you've never seen it before in Stephen Banham's new book - Characters - Cultural Stores Revealed through Typography, published by Thames & Hudson.

Just a few of the incredible signs uncovered in  Characters by Stephen Banham

OK, OK so it's ANOTHER post about a beautiful design book, and ANOTHER giveaway!  How repetitive.  Yet awesome.  :)

Unlike yesterday's post, however, today's featured tome will appeal to Melbourne design lovers for it's hyper-local focus.  And if there's one thing we love around here, it's our own backyard!

Local designer / typographer Stephen Banham is generally regarded as a bit of a type wizard.  Stephen runs a dynamic little design practice called Letterbox, and is super well respected within Melbourne’s design community.  (You might recall I interviewed Stephen last year).

I get the feeling Stephen has been waiting 20 years for mainstream Australia to get excited about type.  Lucky the penny finally seems to have dropped (you know that when contestants on renovation shows start using faux vintage type on commercial TV).  Sooooo... perfect timing for a book dedicated to public signage and typography in Melbourne!

Stephen's passion is not just beautiful lettering (which of course, many design enthusiasts love) but the stories and secrets behind it.  In Melbourne there are so many incredible signs dotted across our cityscape - advertising from days gone by, buzzing neon signs, public artworks, and hidden typographic messages in our famed laneways... yet how many of us know the stories behind them?  WELL never fear, thanks to Stephen's new book, it won't be long before we're all clued in!

In Characters Stephen plays detective, sharing amazing untold stories behind some of Melbourne's best loved public signage - from the Herald Sun Building's majestic uppercase letters, to Richmond's 'Neon Quartet' (the Skipping Girl, Nylex clock, Pelaco and Slade Knitwear signs), and for the Southsiders - St Kilda Junction as you've never seen it before!

Characters is a truly special publication which perfectly balances beautiful imagery and social storytelling.  It is a MUST for any Melbourne design / typography / sociology enthusiast!

The lovely ladies at Thames & Hudson would like to offer one lucky TDF reader a copy of Characters by Stephen Banham!  To get your mitts on this beautiful book, simply leave a comment on this post before 10.00pm AEST today, Tuesday Sept 13th. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted by email tomorrow!

Characters is currently in store in bookshops nationally (listed here).   OR you could grab one at the launch event this Thursday in Melbourne!

Characters Public Launch event Thursday 15 September, 6.00pm – 7:30 pm Readings State Library of Victoria 328 Swanston Street Melbourne

This is a free event, but booking is recommended - 8664 7540

Read on for a few words with Stephen about the making of the book!  ALSO there are excellent additional features and unpublished images to check out on the Characters website.  Phew.

What inspired you to write a book about Melbourne's typographic history?

Although the book includes typographic signage that has vanished (or been forgotten), the book isn't so much historical as a celebration of the cultural significance of typography in our everyday environment – past, present and future. After all, it's all around us everywhere. But the relationship between type and how it contributes to our sense of place hasn't really been explored. So although the book takes Melbourne as a case study, this same idea could be used for any city anywhere in the world, that's the beauty of the idea. It's simple and universal. When did the idea first come to you to create this book, and how long has it taken to research and write?

The idea has been floating around in my head for some time. But to make it real it has taken 2-3 years of research and writing. But it also took a far-sighted publisher (Thames and Hudson) and co-publisher (State Library of Victoria) to really make it all happen. In your book you refer to a ' cultural mainstreaming' of typography.  Do you see this renewed popular interest in typography and public signage as encouraging, or mildly irritating, given you have been a type fiend all along!?? (come on now, be honest!)

No, it's all very, very exciting. It's a very special time in seeing the evolution of typography from a trade-based, geeky and slightly esoteric interest into something that you now see on the shelves of homeware stores, architecture, advertising, literature and just everywhere else. So the timing for this book was absolutely perfect. People are loving letters and language. For those of us in the field of graphic design and typography, this 'mainstreaming' of typography is one of the biggest and most exciting cultural changes in decades. And the more people understand the power of type, the more they will understand the cultural importance of graphic design. What's next for Stephen Banham now that this immense project is finally complete? Have you got the book bug?  Will we see more books from you...!?

Immense is right. It's been a very intense few years. Throughout this period, I've also been putting together exhibitions, teaching and running a studio. And on the day that the first advance copies of the book arrived in Australia, my son was born. So it's been very exciting. In terms of the book bug, yes, I was bitten some time ago (Characters is our 16th publication) so I can't see myself giving up on ink on paper any time soon.

Characters by Stephen Banham is published by Thames & Hudson and co-published by the State Library of Victoria.

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