A 3-D Alphabet Illustrates The History Of Typography

To highlight a university’s prototyping prowess, the London studio Johnson Banks designed a 3-D alphabet showcasing a century’s worth of typefaces.

Rapid prototyping has quickly become the darling technology of the design world for its ability to turn digital files into 3-D objects–cheaply and fast. But, says Michael Johnson, very few designers have thought to merge typography and 3-D printing. So when Ravensbourne, a university specializing in digital technology, approached his London-based studio, Johnson Banks, about developing a project to showcase the school’s in-house prototyping skills, Johnson cooked up a 3-D alphabet that would not only display the potential of a burgeoning technology but function as a visual lesson in the history of type.


The Arkitypo series spans from Akzidenz Grotesk, an early sans serif that Johnson transformed from grotesque to beautiful with a complex fractal structure, to Zig Zag, an Art Deco–style typeface that, in 3-D, becomes an interlocking puzzle. According to Johnson, some of the schemes worked straight away, while others fell apart and needed refining. In the end, the entire alphabet took six months of solid work to complete–a short time frame, considering that the project surveys more than a century of typographic design.

Check out the slides above for more details about each of the historical tidbits whizzing by in the video.

Photos by Andy Morgan

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.