Topological Typography

Parsons School of Design, Senior Thesis 2019
This project explores the concept of topological letterforms, as they transform in space over time. Topology is the mathematical study of the geometric properties of space that are preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, twisting, crumpling, and bending. The main variable in the exploration is the expansion of edges and vertexes— or in other words, how the degree to which one rounds a letterform creates different results and legibility, as parts of the form come together and overlap.

The study came from an initial research into how body movement affects the manipulation of form. It was first investigated through a lens of aerial acrobatics, looking at how the body, the first topology, interacts with aerial silks or an aerial hoop, the second topology. Using a vocabulary of manipulations that the body makes with the silk, I created an index of terms that could similarly be applied to a typeface, such as twisting, expanding, rounding, and loosening. Through this, I tested how extreme the degree of deformation could be before the type became illegible, as well as how minimally it could be applied for the letter to still be part of a system.

Research involved a multi-step process: testing the levels of letterform deformation to create a system, producing an infinite range of weights for a resultant typeface through manipulation over time, and finally using a static version of this typeface applied to a second topological form, a simple rectangular prism. Finally the work expanded on how the application of a kinetic typeface changes the medium to which it is applied.
Putting together the different components of research led to the creation of a topological typeface called El Circo. Its design expresses fluidity and movement, as its curved terminals and rounded geometry are analog to the agile acrobats of a contemporary circus. Its weights are solely based on the expansion of edges and vertexes over time, and it can do so both in 2D and 3D realms. The final type specimen is presented as a set of motion posters. The letterforms push the limits of dimension by having an infinite range of weights, as the soft dynamics of the form are affected by action and reaction. All of this is tied together under the umbrella of a circus because it is, after all, where it all began.