Though memory is perceived to be an exact recollection of a moment or experience, science tells us that it’s more akin to a dramatic reenactment than a faithful documentary.
In the context of branding, memory is everything—it’s how a company makes an impact. This is why Sub Rosa, a New York–based strategy and design studio, dedicated an entire issue of its in-house publication, La Petite Mort, to the idea of memory—and created a transforming typeface around the theme called Memoire.
Throughout the issue, there are sixteen shifts in how the typeface appears. But these mutations are designed to be as subtle as the way our actual memories change, according to Michelle Ando, a graphic designer at Sub Rosa, and her creative collaborator Ryan Bugden, who worked on the issue’s layout and design.
Ando wanted to add another layer to the readers’ experience of the issue’s stories and artworks, through typography that slowly morphs throughout the issue. It’s virtually imperceptible with each shift, but the curves on each letter become more pronounced from beginning to end.
“My previous work is concerned with investigating memory,” Ando says. “In my research I found that a memory changes and decays each time it is recalled. Ryan and I were intrigued by the thought of a typeface that, in a similar manner, changes with each ‘use.’ Our typographic analogue to memory is physical printing type. As it’s used time and time again, the letterforms wear and lose their sharpness.”
Bugden drew the first and last iterations of the letters then created the intermediate weights using a tool called interpolation. “In the case of Memoire, we’re generating intermediate instances of decay.” The typeface is based on one used in the late 19th century, called De Vinne, since it had some sharp features that could be subtly manipulated into softer ones.
“In drawing Memoire, I treated sharp features more consistently in order to make its transformation feel uniform across each character,” Bugden says. “Sharpness dulls, and corners fill in. The headlines’ transformation throughout the publication is something the readers sense before they fully discover, adding another layer of depth to this issue’s theme. Each reader makes the discovery in their own time, so each reader’s experience is unique.” Though the letters were designed for the pacing of a print publication, you can spy the transition in the GIF above.
Deteriorating memory is certainly a poetic inspiration for a typeface, but unlocking retention is a fundamental consideration for Sub Rosa. “So much of what we do is grounded in the understanding and pursuit of memory creation,” Michael Ventura, Sub Rosa’s founder and CEO, says. “At the end of the day, it’s every brand’s holy grail—creating lasting, positive memories in the hearts and minds of their consumers.”