Typography exhibit celebrates national parks

Grace Dickens

The polarity between nature and regimented design are two seemingly incompatible ideas, but one team is stitching the seams between this unlikely pair with a tool of their trade: typography.

Type Hike, located in the Courtyard Gallery of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, features a variety of posters portraying national parks, shorelines and endangered species. UT design lecturer James Walker co-founded the exhibit along with designer David Rygiol.

Type Hike was created in the summer of 2016 to commemorate the National Parks Service Centennial anniversary through the collaboration of hand-picked designers in a series called NPS 100. Designers were instructed to incorporate typography — or the arrangement of type to communicate information and emotion — into their national parks posters but were given no other restrictions.

“If you look at traditional National Parks posters from the early 1900s, often they are just direct representations of what you see, like a photograph,” Walker said. “While that’s a lovely way of depicting what you’re seeing, at some point it doesn’t necessarily capture the culture or history of that park. When you start to restrict things to type, it forces the designers to get pretty creative with how they’re representing things.”

Aside from NPS 100, two other projects, Shores and Alphabeast, depict coastlines and endangered species, respectively. Additionally, Type Hike released a patch series for outdoor apparel store Topo Designs and an XYZ Type poster listing every national park in the United States.

“Part of this is just a continued reminder that we have these massive collections of parks and natural areas and wildlife that need to be considered, explored, visited and protected,” Walker said. “It’s also reminding people of the fact that we have these pieces of land that require people like us to raise money to communicate that these things are not taking care of themselves. You’ve got to participate if you want them to stay around.”

Poster prints, postcards and patches are available for purchase at typehike.com. All profits from Alphabeast purchases are donated to Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation organization focused on protecting all native plants and animals in the U.S. Likewise, proceeds from any NPS 100 and Shores products are donated to the National Park Service Centennial fund.

“What’s very unique about (this project) is that there’s a core prompt, but then the designers used their own license to create something, and as a body of work it still remains pretty cohesive,” UT design lecturer Jason Wilkins said. “It’s also pretty unique in the fact that you can just have this idea of celebrating the Centennial, and then ask some people to make some stuff, and then lo and behold, you can use design to raise thousands of dollars for a cause.”

As an Eagle Scout interested in the National Parks Service and the outdoors, design junior Eric Moe saw the exhibit as a “natural marriage” of two things he’s interested in. He was also able to attend the designer roundtable for the exhibit in October to interact with some of the designers behind the project.

“If you take a look at the quality of the work, it’s really amazing,” Moe said after visiting the exhibit. “I think the quality of the posters indicates that some of these designers spent a really long time on their poster, which is cool. For anything where your skills as a designer can support a greater cause, no matter what form that takes place in, it’s really interesting to me to see what happens with that.”

The exhibit has toured around the country and has been added to the Library of Congress’ permanent collection. As of December 2016, Type Hike has donated $5,000 to the National Park Foundation.

“Our national parks are interesting and diverse and they should be protected and preserved,” said Julio Correa, a design and computer science senior who also visited the exhibit. “Type Hike is a great example of how to use graphic design to create positive change.”

The Type Hike exhibit is free and open to the public from 5–7 p.m. and is located at the Courtyard Gallery on the second floor of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center until Jan. 27.