When we are trying to remember what someone explained to us some years ago at a conference it’s possible that we can recall the theme or topic he was arguing about. But do we remember what he was telling us in detail? We probably have forgotten what kind of clothes he was wearing but normally we can remember some kind of image concerning his energy. Was he sympathetic or not? Did he speak out loud or soft? Was his talk aggressive, exciting, boring or confusing? Some elements of our efforts to communicate seem to be stronger than words. When we look at todays web communication on platforms like facebook we probably wonder why we are finding there so many pictures of cats instead of written messages. One answer could be there is not so much to say and that we aren’t able feeding enough material into our news-stream in order to stay permanent visible for others. Another answer lays in the fact that visible forms are able to provoke lots of different associations without producing the necessity to find an agreement on some kind of subject. In direct personal communication bodylanguage is not only a supplement to verbal statements, it sometimes amplifies, changes, or even replaces spoken words. Not only has an increasing use of media to distribute information changed the importance of the body as the central instrument of expression. Gestures and facial expressions aren’t always easy to control. So we have learned to use signals which we can control more precisely. Whenever there is a risk that someone tries to find some weakness in our character we stay "cool." The face stays hidden behind a cosmetic mask. The hair is styled. The body is covered with clothing that also is sign and signal.

In interpersonal communication physical contact and the haptic sensations of the skin are playing a prominent role. When we get touched by something in a particular way we do say: "it goes under my skin." Even if we just use our hands to give commands on touch-screens, our perception is to a great deal linked with haptic experiences. We have an idea how it feels when we touch something hard or soft, warm or cold, smooth or rough, wet or dry. When we are using materials to set characters, then we have these feelings in mind. This gives dead matter a living quality. When we are looking now at the graphic elements we find at almost every corner in our urban surroundings, we make the experience that we don’t read these signs like books. The whole scene gives us a first impression. In general we start analysing the overall context. Is this a dangerous or pleasent place to be? Before we begin to read and begin to ask for the importance of these messages, we are looking for higher-level clues. What tells us the general condition of the environment, what tells us about success or failures, thoroughness or unkindness, poverty or wealth, optimism or despair? How do we measure that? We believe that the material nature of the surfaces is revealing many of the secrets otherwise hidden in the dark. The tactile and visual qualities of the signs in our citys are very important sources of information. The haptic qualities of signs can be interpreted as the bodylanguage of urban communication.


Body Language | The Importance of Haptic Qualities in the Reception of Urban Typography

International symposium on typographic landscaping, University of Gothenburg, 17-18 June 2013