Alphabets of Humanity

Case Study

We had many great entries in the 2017 Creative Conscience Awards that were attempting to tackle some of the issues faced by refugees, and we’d like to highlight Alphabets of Humanity. Whilst the project didn’t win an award, it was well received during our post-awards review of projects in August, with Cause2Create, Professor Helen Storey MBE and Help Refugees.

Imagine having no voice.

Across the world, thousands of people have been forced to become refugees, fleeing for their lives from conflict and political oppression. Their stories are important, but it’s not just stories that get lost in translation.

To reclaim refugee voices for those displaced across the world, graphic designers Bel Aguas, Belmin Pilevneli, and Rohit Sharma have developed Alphabets of Humanity, a series of bespoke typefaces and icons inspired by native typographies from a wide range of countries.

“We developed Alphabets of Humanity to restore a sense of immediacy and origins to the stories told by immigrants and refugees,” says Bel Aguas, a graduate of the London College of Communication’s MA Illustration programme. “The aim is to generate awareness of what is lost when people are unable to express their opinions and needs due to language limitations.”

 

“We are a mixed team, with members from Ecuador, Turkey, and India, and for all of us English is our second language. Having moved between countries ourselves, we feel strongly about the importance of being heard and understood, and know well the barriers which translation can present even to people who have moved countries willingly. For those who have been displaced, the urgency of communication is a daily challenge and we wanted to help.”

Each typeface integrates elements of the stylistic aspects of the origin languages, including the flourishes of traditional typography and letter-shapes influenced by languages from around the world, from Arabic, to Polish and Thai.

“When we read, we are reading more than just the words in front of us. Anyone who has used different fonts knows that the typeface has a huge impact upon the way in which words are read and understood. By making the words carry the cultural inflections of refugees’ home countries, we add an extra dimension to their words.

This builds a bridge between native expression and its translated form, so readers can not only read, but also feel what they are reading.”

First conceived in March this year, the range of typographies makes for a project with inclusivity at its heart, and one which has the versatility to fit a range of needs, from integrated online translation to graphic design.

“We hope that through this project we have been able to shine a light on an often overlooked aspect of the refugee experience, and to make people aware of how central language is to our perceptions and ability to express ourselves wherever we are in the world, and whatever our situation.”

“We would like to thank Ben Branagan at the London College of Communication for his help and support with the project.”