Posted: Nov 15th, 2018 by Dr. Lilac Osanjo


A few years ago as we planned for a design conference the then honourable minister asked, “Has anyone ever died of poor design?” It is easy to say yes and name all the buildings that have collapsed but that day we weren’t talking about construction but about design. Sitting in his office answering questions amid lots of laughter we realized that there are key agendas in the design world that are inadequately explained and so we set out on the current journey to set the record straight one question and sector at a time.

We are looking forward to the first ever formal typography conference in Kenya and so many similar questions are arising. The most common one that we will deal in this article is the misconception that only graphic designers use typography.

Admittedly, graphic design in the one discipline that uses typography the most, it is applicable and has been utilized in all sectors. Think about the beautiful lettering on the wall in a child’s bedroom, or the C shaped building in your neighbourhood, or the christmas cookies with words, or the pattern on a dress or shirt that is the combination of different symbols and letters. That is all the base of typography. Think of that advert in the paper that is unclear because it is hard to make out the words or that other one that is crystal clear because the letters are so well placed and the right font is selected that it is understood.

Taking it a bit further, there are those signs in buildings to show direction that are also based on typography. Typography is more than just the use of letters to communicate. It involves the use of forms and symbols to create understanding. Understanding can be said to be individual yet there are common elements that are easily understood in communities.

Our journey in typography is therefore the pursuit of conversations about the origins of Kenyan typography, how it was affected by other forms of typography in Africa and the world, how it has grown or not grown, what elements are points of contention between different generations of users and ultimately where are we going as a people.

This conference is the start of a long overdue conversation that will not take just one day. It will be repeated over time until we reach a place of agreement and chart the way forward for our own forms of type. It may even lead to the creation of a form of type or a culture that will be unique to us.

If this is something that would interest you, this is the place to be. Come and join us as we start this conversation.