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Keedy
By Jeffery Keedy

This text was first published in 2002 in the specimen booklet for Keedy Sans.

 

In 1989 I designed a typeface to use in my design work for experimental arts organizations like Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and CalArts. I called the typeface Bondage Bold. Rudy VanderLans saw it in some of my work and wanted to sell it through Emigre. After adding a regular weight, normalizing the spacing, cleaning up the drawings (with Zuzana Licko's guidance), and changing the name to Keedy Sans, it was finally released on an unsuspecting public in 1991.

I designed Keedy Sans as a "user," simply based on a vague idea of a typeface that I had not yet seen but wanted to use in my graphic design. Most typefaces are logically systematic; if you see a few letters you can pretty much guess what the rest of the font will look like. I wanted a typeface that would willfully contradict those expectations. It was a typically postmodern strategy for a work to call attention to the flaws and artifice of its own construction. But I never thought of it as being illegible, or even difficult to read. I have never been very interested in pushing the limits of legibility for its own sake. Absolute clarity, or extreme distortion, is too simplistic a goal, and it is ground that has already been well covered. I wanted to explore the complex possibilities that lie somewhere in between and attempt to do something original or at least unique.

At the time I had been using the American highway Gothic typeface in my design work that I cut and pasted from a highway signage manual. Another vernacular influence was the "f" from the Fiat logo. But I was not only quoting low vernacular sources; it was important that I mixed in high design sources as well. So I was thinking about Akzidenz-Grotesk Black, which was somewhat exotic in America, because I liked Wolfgang Weingart's typography. Overall I wanted a typeface that was similar to Cooper Black, extremely bold with a strong idiosyncratic personality. I think it is a very postmodern typeface in that it included "high" and "low" vernacular quotation, and it is self-consciously crude and anti-aesthetic in reaction to the slickness of Modernism. The initial reaction to Keedy Sans was that it was too idiosyncratic, it was "ugly," hard to read, and too weird to be very useful. It's hard to imagine that kind of reaction to a type design today. I guess nobody really cares any more.

In 1993, Keedy Sans was still able to cause a bit of controversy among graphic designers, and it was starting to be a popular typeface for music and youth-oriented audiences. Its popularity slowly but consistently grew; by 1995 it was starting to look pretty legible and tame compared to other new typefaces on the market. Eventually even the big boys in the corporate world were no longer put off by my typographic antics, and Keedy Sans made its way into the mainstream world of corporate commercialism by 1997.

Eight years later, it is no longer considered an illegible, weird, deconstructed, or confrontational design. Now it's just another decorative type style, one among many. Its willful contradictions are only what is expected in design today. I still think it is an interesting typeface; that's why it's a shame that now it signifies little more than the banality of novelty. Nowadays that seems to be all a designer can expect from their work.

 

Keedy Main Page