Atypical’s Chelsea Flower Show font intertwines typography and botany
Tasked with designing a custom typeface in collaboration with a house plant specialist, the London and Leeds-based studio wanted to create something unconventional for a flower show.
- Olivia Hingley
- 25 July 2023
This article contains moving images.
The UK’s flower shows are well known for a few things: beautiful botany, glasses of Pimms, big picnics and even bigger sun hats (if it’s not chucking it down with rain, that is). On the whole, as large events go in the UK, they’re one of the more traditional ones. With this in mind, when Atypical was tasked with creating a design project to accompany the display of house plant specialists Growtropicals at Chelsea Flower Show, the team wanted to create something “unconventional, new and unexpected”. The resulting project, The Language of Plants, is an elegant yet contemporary exhibition font that demonstrates just how intertwined the worlds of botany and typography really are.
Atypical had previously worked with Growtropicals prior to The Language of Plants, which has formed a basis of understanding and trust. When the plant company enlisted the studio on the project they gave the team free rein to pitch any idea – “a dream”, in the words of Atypical creative director and designer Isabel Lea. In the beginning, the one thing the Atypical team were intent on demonstrating was the overlap in terminology between “two very different industries” – the world of botany and the world of typography, says Isabel. Examples include ‘specimen’, for various specimens of plants, and the way in which typefaces are first presented, and the fact that both plants and letters both have a ‘stem’. Alongside early experiments, the team created a glossary connecting their typography knowledge with the botanical knowledge of Growtropical’s team.
While wanting to create something experimental and unique for a flower show, the Atypical team were aware that the typeface still needed to be recognisable to a large number of people. And so, Isabel explains that they endeavoured to “create a typeface which was still experimental in some aspects but had some familiarity to it, even if visitors could not exactly place why or how it was familiar”. What’s more, the typefaces needed to work in harmony with the plants, “feeling like a design feature, but not overshadowing the planting which contextualised it”.
Therefore, the main design challenge was “to give the audience the impression of botanical shapes without the design being too literal or prescriptive”, Isabel says. To achieve this, the team started with sketches that took inspiration from more traditional typography techniques – like Japanese calligraphy, which “naturally have more organic forms”. Modernising and digitalising these forms created what Isabel describes as “a quirky reverse contrast typeface with a surprisingly elegant appearance”. Designing the multiple variations of serifs was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project, but essential in creating the overall organic look.
In terms of format and presentation, the team and Atypical also sought a more unique approach than traditional stands at Chelsea, creating an exhibition or design journey. Throughout the exhibition, people were met with a description of the central concept, before being able to explore the typeface in amongst the botanical display. At the centre of the exhibition the team included a Specimen Terrarium – which explained both definitions of ‘specimen’ and demonstrated their inspiration point. To accompany the exhibition, they also created a set of free postcards. Including several different designs, visitors could “take a piece of the exhibition home with them”, Isabel details, allowing the project to live on beyond the single week of the show.
For the Atypical team, the show’s greatest success was bringing the world of typography to a whole new audience. “We wanted people to really engage with not just design, but typography as a discipline,” Isabel ends. “In our opinion, the best things come when you bring different worlds together, and we hope this exhibition was an example of that.”
GalleryAtypical: The Language of Plants (Copyright © Atypical, 2023)
Atypical: The Language of Plants (Copyright © Atypical, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.