Sarah Hyndman talks experimental type for Letterform Live

Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer and writer on a mission to bring an appreciation of typography to the masses. Through ‘Type Tasting’, the unique studio she founded in 2013, Sarah explores the psychology of typography through research and practical experiments.

Sarah Hyndman's work has led to appearances on BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and talks given at SXSW festival and TED. Her debut book ‘Why Fonts Matter’ was published by Penguin Random House earlier this year. Ahead of her talking at the next Grafik and Monotype Letterform Live event on 29th June we caught up with Sarah at her studio in Dalston, East London.

Theo Inglis: Can you tell us what you have got planned for your talk at the next Letterform Live event?

Sarah Hyndman: The theme is ‘experimental’. I taught experimental typography at the London College of Communication for six years, so I could definitely wax lyrical on the subject, but I'm going to take it very literally and do an actual experiment instead! I'm doing one where we are going to get people to guess the flavor of jellybeans based on the typeface on the bag, and I also plan to take a couple of other experiments for the audience to do beforehand. Then talk about the results.

Has the idea of an experiment always appealed to you?

Well I did maths, physics and chemistry at school. So I've always been on the edge of science. One of the things that first drew me to graphic design was drawing all of the different scientific diagrams, turning science into something that you could communicate visually with people, and that they would easily understand. I've always enjoyed experimenting and just asking questions really. You shouldn't just accept something as true, especially when it comes to design, which can be so opinion based! I think its increasingly important to experiment. Especially now there is so much you can do through different apps and with technology.

You shouldn't just accept something as true, especially when it comes to design.

How did the Type Tasting project first come about?

I'd been a designer for about twenty years and running my own business for ten. But as happens with many designers, you hit that point where you need to take a step back and refresh. So I decided to take a year and look at something, which turned out to be type. Specifically, the psychology behind typography, I realized very quickly that there hadn't been much research done on the subject. The whole idea behind Type Tasting is to bring typography to people who wouldn't previously have been interested.

Has the project affected your design practice at all?

It was always going to be a new banner for what I was going to do with my life, so yes the kind of clients I now work with are not the ones I would have worked with previously. For designers, a lot of my research actually just backs up what we already know instinctively. But it means I can communicate my choices much more effectively to the client, and it is much easier to bring a client on board with what I am doing.

Can you tell us about your work with Oxford University?

It started when I was introduced to Professor Charles Spence, the head of Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory when I did a talk at St. Brides for Eye Magazine.I was talking about making edible type and pairing food with type. What the research lab do is pair sensory stimuli across the different senses. So now I get involved with them whenever there is a typographic angle to something. We have a number of studies that we are working on at the moment.

We obviously tend to think of graphic design as purely visual, but you are doing a lot of research into the other senses too?

It is really important that we remember that we use all of our senses to interpret the world. In terms of things like food packaging, design will evoke different senses, almost like a learned synesthesia. What you see will suggest a flavor to you or a taste experience. We are finding that different visual stimuli combined with sound or temperature or texture, will actually enhance or nudge your experiences. People are only just starting to understand how to incorporate this into design. It's helped that Professor Spence works closely with Heston Blumenthal, he has been the public face of bringing these kind of ideas out there. So I get to hang-out at the Fat Duck sometimes, and Heston has played with some of my type games.

Sarah is speaking at the ‘Experimental’ Letterform Live event series presented by Grafik and Monotype. Follow @Monotype and @grafikmag for coverage of the the event.