HÅKON STENSHOLT: SOUND MEETS TYPE

This summer norwegian designer Håkon Stensholt finished a Master degree in graphic design and storytelling with a project challenging the ordinary and tradition bound way we approach typography. We had a chat with Håkon about his experimental and eye opening project; Sound meets Type.

Håkon Stensholt (b. 1981) is based in Oslo, Norway and already as a teenager he discovered a natural fascination for design when browsing through vinyls at the local record store. “I think that my interest in music has played an important role. I could spend hours in a record store looking at artwork, and end up buying new music just because they had a great cover.” After turning eighteen, Håkon attended a foundation course at a pre-design school, to clarify the intrest, and here he realised that graphic design was the right path for him. In 2006 he finished his bachelor in visual communication at Oslo National Academy of the Arts and spent six years at the design studio Kitchen before moving to Stockholm to enter the storytelling master program at Konstfack.

When we stumbled upon Håkon’s graduation project Sound meets Type we where fascinated by the bold and engaging aesthetics of the project. Håkon’s visual craftmanship manages to communicate complex ideas and presents a quite narrow and niche-based topic in an extremely captivating form. Sound meets Type pushes the boundaries of typography and adds an element of intuition and fun to a craft that too often is depended on hard work, precision and tradition. Here you can get an insight into Håkon’s creative process and learn more about his world of audiodriven graphics.

How would you describe your work? Is there a theme or any values that you always try to include in your projects?
I find it difficult to describe my own work, and I’m not sure if there is a continous theme in my work. But I try to come up with a good idea or a concept as a fundament in what I do. But sometimes a project can be driven by the urge to experiment with material or technique. For some years I worked a lot with graphics for clubs and musicians. And I think that made it easier to see a clearer visual link or connection in my work. But for the last years I have been working with a bigger variety of clients and projects, and that has also affected my work in many ways. I don’t think my work can be defined by a specific style, but maybe there is a more invisible link, that is reflected in the way I approach a project. I have a background in more traditional print design, but the last years I have opened up to a more digital approach. And that is how I ended up doing Sound meets Type.

Process: The analogy of molding clay.

Process: The analogy of molding clay.

Can you tell us how you got the idea for “Sound meets Type” ?
Last year, I finished my Master Degree in Visual Communication. So, for the last two years I’ve had more time to reflect and experiment. Among other things, I have been very interested in visualising sound, both digitally and analogue. Using sound as the form giver is a method that triggers my curiosity, since it is something you can neither see nor touch. Through the process of visualizing sound, you can say that you unveil the substance of things you can’t see. And that in it self is pretty awesome. I also have an interest in type history and the evolution of the letterforms. Type design has often been driven by technology. The technological development has through history provoked new approaches, which in turn has evolved our letterforms. The Romans cutting letters with hammer and chisel, Gutenberg’s movable type and the invention of the computer is just a few examples.

Process: Soft/hard shapes relares to soft/hard sounds.

Process: Soft/hard shapes relares to soft/hard sounds.

After reading an essay by type designer Peter Bil’ak, one thing he wrote specially got my attention: “Just as in the music industry, where cover versions and remixes are often more popular than new music, font designers seemingly prefer to exploit successful models from the past rather than strive for new solutions.” This made me look at type design today in relation to the technological possibilities we have available. Without any previous experience with programming I started looking into generative design. And through the research, I realised that by combining the method of visualizing sound with typography, I could create a unique tool that would explore the letterforms in a new and playful way. Using sound as the co-creator would allow the designer to free themselves from decision making, and in that way look to the possibility of creating new letterforms.

Process: First visual test.

Process: First visual test.

I think sound is interesting because its very accessible and familiar to us all. It also gives a huge variety of possibilities, in terms of interactivity. You can use your voice, play an instrument, a song or record the sound of your city, and they would all make their own impact on the letterform. The idea behind giving sound the formative role is based on the link between sound and movement: sound creates movement and movement gives room for variation. After meeting creative technologist, Paulo Barcelos, I introduced him to the idea. And he liked it. And that was the beginning of Sound meets Type.

Typography is important on many levels. It is something that concerns most of us. It is a means for dissemination of knowledge and information, in the present and between centuries. Typography is also important as a tool for self expression. But typography has always been a conservative craft, based on conventions and norms. I think typographers have a tendency to be too retrospective. Don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate a good and legible typeface. Illegible typography could in the worst case kill. But I have always been a fan of people who dare to challenge the rules, and through trial and error, find new ways to express themselves. That has been of great inspiration for me when developing Sound meets Type.

I found a lot of my inspiration in the Dutch typeface designers Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland. They both challenged the habits and conventions of mainstream typography in the 80s and 90s. Many of their typefaces wasn’t created for purely aesthetic reasons, or as problem solving, but was a demonstration that things could be done in a different way. I have tried to put some of this mentality into Sound meets Type.

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I wanted Sound meets Type to be an experience as well as a new way of creating and interacting with type. The software can work as a means to break free from old habits, and opens up for a different approach to type design. Being able to create and shape letterforms with your own voice is definitely a fun way of working with type. I don’t believe that softwares like Sound meets Type can ever replace the handicraft of a skilled typographer. But I think it can raise some interesting questions around the designers role in a design process. And hopefully, it can be a contribution to the discourse about the future of typography.

What has been your biggest discovery during the process?
My biggest discovery is probably that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. Sound meets Type started as a vague idea that nobody really understood, and there are probably still people who don’t get it. But in my head it made perfect sense and that was the main driving force that pushed the project forward. Another valuable lesson was of course that you are able to make a project even more awesome when you join forces with other talented people. Sound meets Type would have ended up as a sketch on a piece of paper, if it wasn’t for the very talented Paulo Barcelos who I worked together with on this project.

Will Sound meets Type be avalible for everyone to use and experiment with at some point?
I hope that I will be able to develop a Sound meets Type 2.0, and make it available for people to use online. But I also hope that the project can spark an idea in someone else’s mind, and maybe continue to live in other projects too. Hopefully the software will be a part of a cool festival in Stockholm and an exhibition here in Oslo next year. And it would be nice to exhibit it at more places. The exhibition context is a good way for people to experience Sound meets Type.

What have you been up to since you finished your master at Konstfack this summer? And what will the future bring?
I have moved back to Oslo, where I have started to work. I hope the future brings awesome projects and collaborations with people with different skill sets and backgrounds.

Rikke Luna (f. 1988) og Matias Albæk-Falk (f. 1988) er stiftere af idoart.dk, og driver derudover formidlingsbureauet I DO ART Agency samt I DO ART Books.