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Helsingin Sanomat font provides visual reminder of climate change

By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Climate change is an important topic for the entire planet. But since its effects aren’t necessarily visible from one day to the next, the urgency of the problem is sometimes overlooked for more obvious threats. That reality led designers at Helsingin Sanomat (HS) to create a memorable way for readers to visualise the effects of climate change.

The Climate Crisis Font is an Open Type variable font that corresponds to numbers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The NSIDC has tracked Arctic sea ice data since 1979, and HS used the data to create a scientifically based font that shrinks each year in correlation to the Arctic ice shrinkage. NSIDC’s data goes through 2019, so HS used figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to show the projection of ice loss through 2050.

The Climate Crisis Font adjusts in thickness according to the year selected.
The Climate Crisis Font adjusts in thickness according to the year selected.

The thickest font represents the amount of ice in 1979, and the leanest font represents the 2050 forecast, which is expected to be just 30% of the volume in 1979.

“Climate crisis is an important theme for us as news media, and it is our mission to make complex matters more comprehensible for our readers,” explained Tuomas Jääskeläinen, HS art director.

“Typographer Eino Korkala had been experimenting with the new variable font technology, and integrating visual stimulus on a typeface felt like a fresh approach to make this important message tangible.”

Applying data to design

Accurately reflecting the amount of loss for each year required taking a deep dive into the data. Variable font technology allows for variations of a font family within a single font file, but HS manipulated the technology and stored vector coordinates to show the shrinking letters. 

“The transformation between the two extremes, which is known as interpolation, was then mapped to respond to changes in the Arctic ice pack’s shrinkage,” Jääskeläinen said. “It’s noteworthy that the glacier mass increased momentarily during the 1990s, which also meant the font’s weight interpolation had to run backward for a minute. Frankly, we never expected that to work!”

The volume of Arctic ice sheets continues shrinking, and the Climate Crisis Font provides a visual representation of that loss.
The volume of Arctic ice sheets continues shrinking, and the Climate Crisis Font provides a visual representation of that loss.

Finding the most effective font meant looking at countless letter shapes and styles, but many of them revealed too much change too quickly, Jääskeläinen said.

“Unlike a global pandemic, climate change is a crisis that sneaks up on us: The situation gets worse so slowly that by the time the consequences are visible, we’re way past the tipping point.”

A call for action

HS worked on the font for several months on and off with the launch initially being postponed due to COVID-19. Finally, Jääskeläinen said the company decided it could not wait any longer and released it.

“The ongoing pandemic is by no means a reason for us to stop fighting against climate change,” he said.

Upon the font’s release, HS also published a special supplement using the Climate Crisis Font, featuring stories on climate change that HS had run over the years. The supplement was offered online and also as a 16-page print publication.

The Climate Crisis Font also illustrates how climate change will affect the future.
The Climate Crisis Font also illustrates how climate change will affect the future.

The font is available as a free download and it works for almost all languages based in the Latin alphabet. Jääskeläinen said the response to the project has been enthusiastic from people around the globe, from the United States to Japan: “There are already talks about making a Cyrillic version of the font for use in Russia.”

Jääskeläinen said this project is part of HS’ mission to provide essential fact-based journalism and give readers a better understanding of some of the challenges facing them.

“Media organisations have a responsibility to their readers to make complex matters more comprehensible,” he said. “We hope that using the font helps people see the urgency of climate change in a more tangible form. Climate Crisis Font is a call for action.” 

About Paula Felps

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