John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
"Homeless Fonts" is a Spanish project to turn hand-scrawled cardboard signs into charitable assistance.
It's all too easy to ignore homeless peoples' cardboard signs when you encounter them on the sidewalk. But what if the hand-scrawled letters on these pleas for help began showing up elsewhere in your life – on the paper cups at your favorite coffee shop, for instance, or in the packaging of your new portable music player?
That's the idea behind an unusual project to create a marketable typeface inspired by the handwriting of the homeless. Homeless Fonts, a joint effort between the charitable Arrels Foundation and creative agency McCann Worldgroup, has paired designers with a small band of homeless people in Spain. The designers are taking the group's testimonies and personal signs, like these shown here ...
... and are using them to inspire a line of fonts that highlight the homeless experience in a very personal way. The end goal is to sell these fonts to corporations that will use them to push their brands, with the financial proceeds going toward Arrels' homeless-outreach work in Barcelona. Thus the project's tagline: "The same thing that helped them beg in the street, could now help them to leave it behind."
It's a unique effort, and it will be interesting to see if any brands actually bite. You can imagine the uncomfortable looks exchanged around the boardroom as the Homeless Fonts people explain the personal statements that influenced the typeface's design: "Writing a cardboard sign is really shitty" was one, and another was "the street is horror, absolute horror." Still, kudos for thinking outside the box. And if any of the designers are reading, I'd probably shell over a fistful of dollars for a font based on the guy whose handwriting is that of a "madman and a genius."