The Whakarare Typeface Project : when culture-specific design brings elements of universal value
Witehira, Johnson; Trapani, Paola
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Citation:Witehira, J.G.P., & Trapani, P. (2015, November). The Whakarare Typeface Project: When culture-specific design brings elements of universal value. In McGraw-Hill (Ed.), The Virtuous Circle Cumulus Conference (pp.414-442).
Permanent link to Research Bank record:https://hdl.handle.net/10652/3368
This paper presents a reflection on the design of the Whakarare typeface created by Johnson Witehira, a Māori visual designer. In this research Witehira was interested in exploring two areas of inquiry: customary Māori knowledge as a source of inspiration for contemporary Māori design, and Māori typography as a means of cultural resistance through engagement with post-colonial discourse. Starting with the observation that there are no authentic Māori typefaces, designed by Māori for Māori communities, Witehira traces the kaupapa Māori design process in which Māori cosmo-genealogy is transformed into structural characteristics of the Whakarare typeface. In Māori history, the world was created when the children of Ranginui (sky-father) and Papatūānuku (earth-mother), forcibly push their parents apart. The second part of the paper is a reflection on the “universal value” of such a design. Here we explore what kinds of ideas can be conveyed in different cultural contexts without loss, and what ideas are likely to be overlooked because of their cultural specificity. While the Whakarare typeface is designed to be Māori-centric, the authors demonstrate how the problem of designing forms that express the concept of compression and crushing, as a status immediately preceding an explosive expansion, is not specific to the Māori culture. Every designer in the world would face the same design challenge in a completely different context. The ability to design a form capable of generating that perception in the observer is not a trivial or easy task. On the contrary, its solution requires a very advanced knowledge of the psychology of perception and therefore has a universal, rather than local, significance.