Jonathan Barnbrook: Affecting the World in a Real Way

Jonathan Barnbrook was a punk at age 11 and he keeps the spirit to this day. This is not about aesthetics but about questioning the dominant fiction and actually changing society. A frequent speaker at TYPO Berlin, Barnbrook returned this year for an informal conversation about music, typography and the designers’ social responsibility.

Jonathan Barnbrook in a conversation with Sonja Knecht © Norman Posselt / Monotype

Jonathan Barnbrook on the TYPO main stage in a conversation with Sonja Knecht © Norman Posselt / Monotype

All Design is Political

What a pleasure to listen to someone who actually has something to say. In an industry that is so much about surfaces, many times so specialized that it seems far removed from real world problems and by default committed to the market economy, it is so good to hear someone who thinks in polical categories and treats graphic design as a relevant and powerful tool to actually make the world a better place.

From his very early punk days, Barnbrook took the idea to change society through pop culture. He considers graphic design a valuable cultural ressource and uses it to address issues in society, such as the politics of the Olympic games in London. Typography to Barnbrook is charged with political responsibility and he experiments with letterforms to make statements about language and its political dimension. Fonts like his famous „Mason“, „Tomahawk“ or „Tourette“ aren’t big sellers at his foundry Virus fonts, but they serve to stir discussions and even provoke letters of protests from the public.

Does it really matter to create a piece of graphic design? Jonathan Barnbrook does not claim to have an answer. But he speaks quoteworthy even in a casual conversation like the one he had with Sonja Knecht on stage this year, so here are a few representative snippets as a teaser to go and watch the video of the entire talk.


“Making the world more beautiful is making the world a better place, and that’s the idea of political utopia.”

“How do you create attention? How do you shock? Forget about that. You have to do good work.”

“The concept of pictograms is a white middle class concept – sorry to say that.”

“I live next to the cemetery that has Karl Marx in it – it’s the only cemetery in London where you have to pay to get in.”

Jonathan Barnbrook on the TYPO main stage in a conversation with Sonja Knecht © Norman Posselt / Monotype

Getting along well: Jonathan Barnbrook and Sonja Knecht © Norman Posselt / Monotype

Jonathan Barnbrook

Jonathan Barnbrook

Graphic Designer (London)

Jonathan Barnbrook is one of the most well-known graphic designers in Britain. Since 1990 he has chosen to work with a mixture of cultural institutions, activist groups and charities as well as completing a steady stream of personal posters. He is also know for his collaborations with Adbusters, Damien Hirst, his work for David Bowie and his ubiquitous fonts designs released through Emigre and his company Virusfonts. His contribution to graphic design was recognised by a major exhibition at the Design Museum, London in 2007.