Every year, NYC’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine hosts a marathon reading of the Dante’s Inferno. And to promote it, the church uses a fantastic poster designed by Pentagram, adorned by a simple, two-word message that will make you laugh and shiver at the same time: “Hell, yes.”
“Although obviously the use of ‘Hell, yes’ is arresting, what we’re really doing is taking a swear word that a lot of people use casually and without thinking, and reinstating its real meaning,” explains Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. “So there’s a certain underlying seriousness.”
Pentagram has been working with the church for the past 15 years. And about five years ago, the firm completely overhauled the church’s graphic identity to resemble what you see here, spearheaded by a typeface as old as the Bible itself. Truly. The studio redrew a typeface created by Frederic Goudy in 1928, which itself had been based upon Gutenberg’s original 42-line printed Bible.
It’s a blackletter typeface–hyper-ornate with a strong resemblance to the Gothic lettering (which you might know as the stuff once favored by newspapers). The lettering is serious, Old Testament stuff on its own. But then Pentagram mixes the typeface with ironic messaging.
“A lot of people were unsure about using such an old-fashioned-looking typeface, thinking that it might obscure the relevance of the Cathedral’s contemporary mission,” Beirut explains. “I argued that we should combine the vintage typography with messages in a contemporary vernacular.”
And it just so happens the mix of old-world type and new-world language can create some hilarious campaigns. In another project for the church, Pentagram adorned its lawns with signs that read “Collect what you receive” and “Thou shalt not poop,” reminding parishioners to keep their dogs in check.
“We’re always pleased when we can take some element of everyday life and put it in a context that we that think only the Cathedral could get away with,” Beirut says. “All that said, sometimes our client draws a line. They have an annual ‘Blessing of the Animals’ for St. Francis day, where people can bring their pets to be blessed, and I recall we pitched a ‘Dog Bless You’ T-shirt. They rejected that. Our fallback was one that said ‘Make a Joyful Woof.’”