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 Page 1 of 2 


An interview with Virus

Exclusive Interview

By: Brendan Staunton

Character Assassin

Parts of Soho still retain that famously sleazy air of notoriety. Archer Street is such a place; peep shows and adult bookshops abound and the girl in the blonde wig and short red dress was not standing in the doorway just to take the air. People are sentimental about 'old' Soho and its distinctive character, but the exploitation which was always a part of that character is as palpable as the stench of urine wafted up from the pavement by the hot July sun. Archer Street studios is about halfway along; pass through its front gate and up a few flights of metal stairs and you come to the workplace of Jonathan Barnbrook - a man seriously concerned with a different type of character and its very different exploitation. I find him seated behind his Mac doodling on a Wacom tablet. Quiet and intense, he speaks rapidly with a very precise diction punctuated by a nervous, almost sinister grin . We walked to a nearby sushi bar, where our interview provoked interest amongst the other diners. Who was this quiet, casually dressed young man?

Barnbrook's face might not be familiar, but his faces are everywhere: a uniquely individual range of type which has adorned numerous high profile advertising campaigns for the likes of Guinness, Mazda Cars and Gordon's Gin. That's the irony of typeface design: all those years spent lovingly crafting the individual characters into a distinct, cohesive expression, only for them to be tossed into the hothouse of modern commercial design and used to flog everything from catfood to pantyhose. No wonder he is provoked into saying things like: "I would love to design the typeface for a missile - something that could be both beautiful and deadly at the same time."

In the absence of such a commission, Barnbrook has produced something marginally less malign: 'Welcome to The Cult Of Virus (Simple Steps to a Life of Spiritual and Material Gain)" is the first instalment from his Virus digital foundry. It features ten new typefaces: Bastard; Prozac; Prototype; Delux; Nylon & Draylon; Apocalypso; Nixon; Patriot; False Idol and Drone - all available exclusively from Fontworks.

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False Idol







The catalogue and website which Barnbrook has designed for this new collection feature a series of darkly humorous, mock-polemical posters which create a striking context for the fonts, whilst using them to make a series of barbed statements about type and its exploitation. The effect of these showings is so beautifully poised between political commentary and sheer mischief that it's almost a shame to discuss them too deeply - why explain in words what is so eloquent in the setting? He obviously puts a lot of thought into naming and presenting his work. "Yes, but most people don't see all that. Usually they don't look further than the visual aspect. I guess it's all a part of not taking myself too seriously. A face of mine was used in the ad for 'Judgement Day' on the back of a bus - one of the most clichd uses possible - but I find it quite funny. It brings you back down to earth, to what design is about. It's not all intellectual processes. It can be very mundane. It's a service - not that you shouldn't think about it in intellectual terms because those are the things that drive it along in the first place."

And why the name Virus?
"It's about how a virus affects what you do and the philosophy of what you do. It's also the idea of viruses being quite subversive - a small thing which can break down a huge organisation - think about someone like Nick Leeson for example. Also I liked the idea of sending a disk out with the word 'Virus' stamped on it - I wondered how people would feel about putting it in their disk drive."


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