lettering Research

that thing call phd



It’s been a year since I enrolled as a Phd candidate at Central Saint Martins, an academic year at least, and it’s probably about time to share what I am doing there. The goal of the first year here at UAL (University of the Arts London) is the so-called Registration, a formality that all Phd students should go through. It basically consists on narrowing down the research proposal, helped by the supervisors team, until the college panel approves it. Although sometimes it is a really boring process it really helps to clear your mind and find the right direction. Once the process of Registration is done it is time to start with the real work. It also means the topic is solid and strong enough to continue.

‘Architectural lettering and corporate identity: early branding on commercial buildings’, that is the title for my on-going research (and as a part-time student it will be on-going for the next 5 years), quite a long title to refer basically to the relationship between architectural lettering and and branding. But not at any time, no, I will focus on the use of architectural lettering on commercial buildings during the first half of the 20th century, because this was a formative time in the development of concepts that are now called branding and corporate identity. Basically because at that time the “logotype dictatorship” had not yet started.

Now, at the beginning of this trip, I would like to think that this research will have basically three big aims:  to generate a critical framework for the discussion of the relationship between architectural lettering and the emergent concept of corporate identity;  to record an undocumented aspect of the ‘graphic memory’ in the 20th century and to build a case for the protection of architectural lettering on commercial premises; to identify through the historical record any working processes or techniques that might usefully inform contemporary lettering practices and/or corporate identity strategies.

The methodology to achieve those aims includes to analyse and compare difference case studies, starting with the local brewery Trumans, that by 1930 had at least 300 branches (pubs) around London, or Marks & Spencer, Boots, the Post Office, Lloyds, etc. All of them were chosen because they featured prominent aspects of what today is called corporate-identity, because they all have accessible archives, and because they all belong to the high street.

There is much more to say, obviously, but lets just say that for the next five years I will be digging in those archives looking for photographs and related documents, walking and taking pictures of lettering, mapping the city… such an exciting journey!


Update 28 July 2014: Now the project has been publish at the University website. No turning back!

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