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Typography

Approaches to What? 

Georges Perec

(Perec, G. (1973) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, pp. 205-7)

Perec Visage

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. The one and only destiny of motor-cars is to drive into plane trees. Fifty-two weekends a year, fifty-two casualty lists: so many dead and all the better for the news media if the figures keep going up! Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.

In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, tower blocks that collapse, forest fires, tunnels that cave in, the Drugstore de Champs-Elysées burns down. Awful! Terrible! Monstrous! Scandalous! But where’s the scandal? The true scandal? Has the newspaper told us everything except: not to worry, as you can see life exists, with its ups and downs, things happen, as you can see.
The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask. What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is not longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic.

To question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origins. To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For the astonishment existed, along with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.

What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.
Make an inventory of you pockets, of your bag.

Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out.
Question your tea spoons.
What is there under your wallpaper?
How many movements does it take to dial a phone number?
Why don’t you find cigarettes in grocery stores? Why not?

It matters little to me that these questions should be fragmentary, barely indicative of a method, at most of a project. It matters a lot to me that they should seem trivial and futile: that’s exactly what makes them just as essential, if not more so, as all the other questions by which we’ve tried in vain to lay hold on our truth.”

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Perec 01

From: Paul Finn on Georges Perec at www.wemadethis.co.uk/

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Making Democracy Legible: A Defiant Typeface

good_morning_ZXX Type Specimen Photograph

“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek

For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes — not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.

“What does censorship reveal? It reveals fear.” —Julian Assange

poster_01ZXX Type Specimen Posters

Over the course of a year, I researched and created ZXX, a disruptive typeface which takes its name from the Library of Congress’ listing of three-letter codes denoting which language a book is written in. Code “ZXX” is used when there is: “No linguistic content; Not applicable.” The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them? I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker) — misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all. It can be applied to huge amounts of data, or to personal correspondence. I drew six different cuts (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise and Xed) to generate endless permutations, each font designed to thwart machine intelligences in a different way. I offered the typeface as a free download in hopes that as many people as possible would use it.

ZXX_ABC

This short video shows how the typeface confuses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) artificial intelligence.

good_morning_zxx

ZXX Bold (readable by OCR software) & ZXX Combination (not-readable by OCR software)

zxx_processProcess sketches testing various OCR software’s readability
Screen shot 2012-04-28 at 9.42.27 PMScreenshot image of PDF OCR X software’s conversion of ZXX
design360mag_coverDesign 360° Magazine Issue No.41

ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy. But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter? After releasing the project in May 2012, I was pleased by the fruitful responses I got and shared with the public. I’ve seen the typeface circulate in publications, web environments, and banners, and it was prophetically featured on the cover of Chinese Design 360°Magazine — amusingly censoring Sagmeister & Walsh’s self-expressive nudity.

“I don’t have to write about the future. For most people, the present is enough like the future to be pretty scary.” —William Gibson

Our lives in cyberspace are overloaded with impalpable and extensive personal information that is gathered, intercepted, deciphered, analyzed, and stored. With this information government and corporations can easily create an informational architecture that traps us in the structures of the World Wide Web and social media. Restricting and repressing our communication tools under the name of “homeland security” is only a small step into a totalitarian society. This non-physical-yet-ideological violence is what allows us to lapse into lethargic silence. But really, we shouldn’t be afraid to question the authorities’ continual intrusions.

nsa_aerial

National Security Agency’s headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland

PRISM-project-slideLeaked Prism presentation slide

Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower of NSA’s Project Prism, wasn’t the first man to reveal the vulgarity of the world’s biggest intelligence agency. William Binney, an ex-NSA employee, already disclosed the secrecy of the agency’s perpetual inspections last year. The increasing activities of whistleblowers are a significant cue to the urgency of our diminishing privacy. When surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, our lives in the network will be completely destroyed. This growing invasion of privacy and militarization of cyberspace dehumanizes us. Government and corporations’ physical, mental, and technological intrusions must stop in order to halt the surveillance state.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”               —Benjamin Franklin

pprism_cam_bw

ZXX ver.02 currently in development

Project ZXX is my humane contribution and homage to the activists, artists, and designers who have been actively fighting for our civil liberties. One such activist is Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker, who co-developed Tor Project to keep our online activities anonymous. Tor Project’s system is structured to bounce around the distributed network of relays, which makes the accumulated metadata dysfunctional. Adam Harvey is an active New York–based artist who has a vast amount of peculiar counter-surveillance projects. Harvey’s works are vital in the way he incorporates privacy matters into provocative fashion aesthetics, such as anti-drone hoodies. Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based design and research studio, might be at the vanguard of critical and social design movements today — mapping the nexus of corporate branding, social media, and government with challenging contemporary graphic design strategies. Hito Steyerl’s How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education. MOV File, a piece in the Venice Biennale, humorously depicts the dark side of our visual culture with silly DIY educational videos. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched awebsite to provide Netizens alternative ways to opt out of PRISM. People with creative conscience will be the ones to provoke these discussions.

What Snowden disclosed is nothing new. The stakes for our democracy have always been high. But now there needs to be robust action and discussion about the current state of affairs. Many suggest that we’ve already lost our privacy and are indifferent of the status quo. But I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.

***I’ve been reading the comments and it seems everyone is concerned about my understanding of how digital text works — ASCII, binary codes, et cetera. As mentioned above, I spent 2 years as intelligence personnel and a year researching so I am fully aware of all that. This project/post is focused on raising awareness, which I should’ve articulated better. That said, it would be great if further conversations ruminated over the growing surveillance state and how we should act. I sincerely appreciate everyone’s time in reading, criticizing, and sharing these matters.

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