My favorite typeface of 2018 was inspired by biology; this time around my pick has its roots in architecture. Viksjø confronted me with an obsession I can’t seem to shake: more than what a typeface looks like, I often wonder about the “how” and “why”. How did the typeface end up looking like it does? Why was the designer motivated to design it? This applies particularly to typefaces that were not developed with an obvious commercial goal in mind, but seem to appear because their designer had an itch to scratch.
The concept for Viksjø came to Frode Helland during a protest against the demolition of Erling Viksjø’s seminal Y-blokka or Y-block building, an icon of brutalist architecture. Feeling the need to channel his anger and frustration at this assault on Norwegian artistic heritage, Helland decided to create a typeface inspired by the building. The Y-building’s structure informed the shape of the uppercase Y that seeded the type design. Originally an all-caps face, Viksjø gained a lowercase and an italic counterpart in the spring of 2019.
The best revivals are the result of an examination of the original designer’s thought processes, applying them in a contemporary context rather than obsessing over formal minutiae and slavishly mimicking the superficial appearance of the source material. Similarly, Helland didn’t want to extrapolate a typeface from the Y-building’s formal qualities. He realized he needed a radically different approach. Instead of following the traditional rules of typeface design, Helland applied Reyner Banham’s ethical and aesthetic principles of brutalism: “1, memorability as an image; 2, clear exhibition of structure; and 3, valuation of materials for their inherent qualities ‘as found’”. (Be sure to read Helland’s excellent essay elaborating on his method.) This resulted in a typeface unlike any other.
It’s an anomaly. It lives in a universe of its own, with no equivalent past or present. Simply put: remove Viksjø from existence and no other typeface can look like it. There are no historical precedents or formal references that could lead another type designer to a similar result. Viksjø’s singular letterforms originated in a moment of outrage and defiance, a spontaneous reaction to a sense of loss. The willfully unrefined yet expertly executed trajectories describing its brutally honest letterforms lend a sense of urgency to the design. Raw emotion is almost palpable in the tension of its single-minded curves and proportions.
Viksjø is neither showy nor the result of a desire to be perceived as “original” or “cutting-edge”. The uniqueness of its letterforms comes from its very core identity and is embedded in their singular architecture (no pun intended). Devoid of any ornamentation, the typeface is nevertheless instantly memorable. Viksjø doesn’t want to please; it just is, unavoidable and painfully present, outrage materialized and poured into typographic concrete. The typeface is a powerful statement that still resonates long after the rubble of the Y-building has been cleared, and will continue to resonate for some time to come.