O Street, a graphic design firm in Scotland, hired one of Glasgow's finest road-lining crews to create a typeface for its new visual identity, using molten thermoplastic on asphalt.
Glasgow native Thomas "Tam" Lilley, of road-lining company Markon, created the typeface by chalking boxes on the ground, then drawing a full alphabet freehand with molten plastic, which was digitized while preserving all the unique characteristics of letters on tarmac.
Tam's no lettering n00b. His precise work is the result of 18 years spent road-lining in a single typeface, a career that began when he was 16 years old. According to O Street, "Seeing a master road-liner at work brings to mind a Japanese calligrapher or a Renaissance painter's apprentice."
It's the perfect metaphor for design at its best, elevating the everyday while producing a visual communications tool that's both useful and beautiful—a quality rarely remarked-upon by the everyday pedestrian (or graphic design client, for that matter).
Watching Tam's craft in the mini-documentary below, made to celebrate the typeface's creation, is moving. It's more than simple lettering; it's a delicate dance with ridiculously hot plastic (180°C, or 356°F), where one misstep can burn your skin off.
"We make it look easy," says Tam. "I think that's why we don't get the appreciation for what we do, because we're so good at what we do. We just go in, do it and then we're away again."
But like O Streeet, we appreciate Tam's craft, even if the majority of the world may never remark upon the contribution of road-liners (and their cousins, graphic design firms). Here's to the time, expertise and money it takes to make things not only practical but elegant.
Below, a before and after of the O Street logo, via Under Consideration's Brand New: