Launched in 2008, Spread The Sign is an online database documenting 25 different sign languages from around the world, from American and British English to Portuguese to Spanish to Chinese, amounting to close to 200,000-plus words. This initiative is spearheaded by the European Sign Language Centre, a non-profit organization. Late last year, Spread The Sign introduced a new identity and custom font designed by Stockholm-based Kurppa Hosk.
The inspiration for Spread the sign’s visual identity came from the most essential tool for sign language — the hand. The logotype symbol is a play with the hand’s anatomy. Just like fingers take different positions for different signs, the logotype symbol is dynamic and can take on different positions.
The previous logo looked like that of a web page that stole your credit card information while you looked at it and didn’t feel representative of an important cultural resource. The new logo clearly steers towards a young audience, one that downloads its mobile app and uses its online tool. (If I were 50 or over, I would be wary of something like this). The logo is a series of contorting shapes using five sticks that are inspired by fingers. It’s a little odd, to be honest, as I see people doing different poses more than being a trigger to think about sign language. But I get what they were going for. More importantly, it now looks like there is an actual group of people behind Spread the Sign, not just some generic-looking page and entity that happens to be helpful.
Kurppa Hosk also developed a proprietary typography for Spread the sign. This, as well, was based on the hand; the octagonal shape of a slightly open fist became the basis for shaping each letter. The typography also included icons for all the letters in the Swedish sign-language alphabet.
The more interesting part of the project is a custom font that includes regular uppercase characters and sign language characters accessed through lowercase input. The letters still look like part of a rave — both designer and client are really betting on a young audience — but the sign language characters look very good with the hard angles and corners defining the bends and position of the fingers.
The result is a modern and aspiring visual expression that challenges common wisdom on handicap tools and perhaps also on the hearing impaired. The design appeals to the mostly young target audience that uses the online tool. As ESC is a non-profit organization, the visual identity will be implemented gradually in Spread the sign’s communication materials — as well as in the online tool.
Part of the goal of the identity seems to be to bring to some coolness to sign language — not in terms of making it a fashionable thing or something with gratuitous and superficial value but in terms of giving people that are hearing-impaired something that doesn’t look like a medical chart or something drab and clinical. In that sense, this succeeds quite well. I’m not crazy about all the characters or the resulting industrial-techie vibe but it definitely makes an impression in a situation that’s all about the visual triggers.
Thanks to Brandemia for the tip.