An International Symposium on Signage, Branding, and Lettering in Public Space
Concordia University, Montréal May 4-5, 2007

Keynote: Dr. Johanna Drucker (Robertson Professor of Media Studies, University of Virginia)

Cities are awash in ‘public lettering’: street signs, newspaper mastheads, road signs, high-rise corporate logos, store/shop/restaurant signs, engravings on buildings and monuments, etc. They are at once branding and promotional devices; names (of buildings); labels; locating devices; material and technological artifacts; pieces of graphic, typographic, and industrial design; architectural heritage; industrial detritus; personal and cultural narratives. They are also intricately linked to the dominant preoccupations of the city: high-rise logos, for example, eloquently describe the commercial, financial, civic, even religious priorities of a particular urban locale – especially at night.

It is all the more surprising, given their sheer ubiquity, that signs and lettering have received relatively little coordinated attention – critical, creative, or otherwise. The Logo Cities symposium drew together around thirty scholars, designers, and artists to foster an informed, critical dialogue about signage, branding, and lettering in public space – in local, regional, national, and international contexts.

Logo Cities also included an art exhibition of creative works focusing on signage and lettering, alongside examples of old and new signs from around the city. The symposium closed with the Québec premiere of Helvetica, a documentary film exploring the history and significance of this archetypal Modernist typeface which, for half a century, has been a ubiquitous presence in print and on signage in city streets, train stations and airports across the world. This screening of Helvetica was introduced by the film’s director, Gary Hustwit.

A selection of papers from the Logo Cities Symposium appeared in ‘Signs and the City‘, a special themed issue of the journal Design and Culture, in 2010.

Special thanks to our Concordia University sponsors: Faculty of Arts and Science; COMS Guild; Obx Labs; Department of Design and Computation Arts; Department of Communication Studies.

Photo credit:

Elida Arrizza
View more photos on Flickr from the symposium and the Helvetica premiere.

  • Vishal Rawlley (artist, Mumbai) Typocity: A documentation and analysis of typefaces in public spaces of Mumbai
  • pk langshaw and Carlos Pineda (Concordia) in significant sites of mexico
  • Will Straw (McGill University) Letters of Introduction: Film credits and cityscapes
  • Sarah Teasley (UMass Dartmouth) Silent Film and Commercial Art as Urban Intervention in Interwar Japan
  • Nancy Marrelli (Concordia U) The Evolution of Concordia University Logos and Signage
  • Ann McDonald (Northeastern U) Whose Skyline? Public private light, sign as sensor and node
  • Tom Russotti (Rutgers) Brooklyn Storefronts and Signs
  • Michael Golec (Iowa State) “Enjoy Coca-Cola,” the Discourse of the Other, and Lacan in an American City
  • Alex Bitterman (RIT) Defining Place Branding: A practical taxonomy for professionals and the public
  • Darren Wershler-Henry (Wilfrid Laurier) Sonic Signage: [murmur], the refrain, and territoriality
  • Bernard Zirnheld (Yale) Coming To Life: Advances in Reprographic Technology and the Architecture of Fin-de-siecle Paris
  • Karen Lewis (U. Kentucky) Yellowtown: The aesthetics of poverty, the graphic design of urgency
  • Laurie Churchman (U. Pennsylvania) TYPE AHOY: Technology, perception, and originality in boat graphics
  • David Gibson (Two Twelve Associates, NYC) People and Places: Signs symbols and landmarks, New York, Beijing, Dubai
  • R. Hakan Ertep (Izmir University of Economics) Chaos or Homogenisation? The role of store signs in transforming urban fabric in Beyoglu, Istanbul
  • Louis-Charles Lasnier (Atelier Louis-Charles Lasnier, Montréal) Signalisation intérieure, Nouvelle gare d’autocars de Montréal
  • Shannon Mattern (New School) Calligraphic Qatar: National typography and civic identity
  • David De Benedetto (Red Dye Studios, NYC) Typographic Historiography: Ideology and the cinematic assumptions of future urban signage
  • Patricio Davila (OCAD) A Thick Coating of Signs: Travels through suburban strip malls
  • Will Temple (North Carolina State U) Placing Demands: Challenging legibility in public space
  • Joey Medaglia (Ryerson) Explorations in Deconstruction/Reconstruction
  • Alessandro Colizzi (UQAM) Local Idioms from the Netherlands
  • Stuart McKee (U San Francisco) Street Democracy
  • John Armstrong, Louise Noguchi (Sheridan) & Paul Collins (École d’art de recherche de Caen la mer) Painting in Public (collaborative gallery installation)
  • Jason Lewis and Maroussia Levesque (Concordia) Cityspeak (gallery installation and panel presentation)
  • Matt Blackett ( Spacing magazine, Toronto)
  • Bill Kovacevic (Enseignes Transworld, Montréal)
  • Gary Hustwit (director of Helvetica, Brooklyn)
  • Hélène L’Heureux (Interaction/design, Montréal; directeur, Société des designers graphiques du Québec)