Sarah Hyndman: Tasting Type

After spending 15-20 years in graphic design, Sarah took a step back to “have a think” about whether what she does actually matters. She asked herself “Does it make a difference? Does it bear out in this wider world of type consumers?”

“Which of these typefaces match the taste of your coffee?” Sarah Hyndman asked the audience at the beginning of her Friday morning talk. After spending 15-20 years in graphic design, Sarah took a step back to “have a think” about whether what she does actually matters, asking herself, “does it make a difference? Does it bear out in this wider world of type consumers?” Sarah spent the last two years talking to mostly non-designers, answering “the most fundamental and difficult questions,” – “why does it matter? Prove it.”

But first, what exactly is typography?

Though typography is commonly believed to be a “dark, mysterious art shrouded in shadows,” type adds a richness to the world we live in, making it a more wonderful place. More specifically, Sarah defined type as a “carrier of words” – type is what our voice looks like, what language looks like. Functionally, type transmits nonverbal information.

To demonstrate, we played a round of Type Karaoke, during which the unrehearsed audience read each word on screen in one voice, the same tones and pitches. “Everyone instinctively understands,” Sarah noted, “it needs no further explanation.” In addition to the instinctive response to visual cues, there are two other learned methods of interpretation:

  1. Instinctive responses based on the shapes of letter forms – for instance, angular shapes indicate danger, people are more biased toward contours that are rounded, etc.
  2. Learned associations: our brains have a tendency to match new experiences with things they already know, to support preconceived notions of the world. This begins at a very early age.
  3. Learned knowledge: this is the world of art critics and wine experts. In typography, there is an overwhelming wealth of information and complicated language to explain type.

 Typefaces communicate “a huge amount of information to our subconscious,” and “at any point, we can decide to consciously pay attention to typefaces.” Typography affects out how we feel, think, behave. With Type Tastings, Sarah investigates the association of different senses with typefaces, by matching smells and tastes to different typefaces. In one experiment, the typeface actually changed the way that a jelly bean tasted to participants.

What if, Sarah asks, we used these associations for good?

“Type is powerful,” Sarah concluded, “It makes our world a more evocative, magical place, and I’d like to share this with everybody.”


Sarah Hyndman

Graphic Designer (London, England)

Sarah Hyndman is curious about the emotional life of typefaces and how we respond to them as type consumers. She launched Type Tasting in February 2013 with an evening of typographic swearing ’n’ cussing. Her explorations have taken her from making edible typefaces to researching how type can alter the taste of the food we eat. Also from surveying the personalities of fonts to finding out which ones you would date, ditch or be friends with. Sarah turns up to workshops with jars of smells, food, sounds and 'font fortune' goody bags, all of which are designed to start conversations about the experience of type. Since the launch Sarah has organised and curated a creative typography exhibition at the V&A with the London Design Festival, given a TEDx talk, she is talking at SXSW in March, she has been interviewed on Radio 4’s Today and has published her first book ‘The Type Taster’. Before setting up Type Tasting Sarah ran her own design company, With Relish, which she started in 2003 with clients including the Almeida Theatre, London and Coutts. Sarah completed an MA in Typo/Graphics at the London College of Communication in 2001. She was subsequently invited back as a guest tutor to set up and run the yearlong Experimental Typography evening course, which she did for six years alongside her commercial practice.