Disegno #26

Greta Grotesk by Tal Shub

New York

6 August 2020

After Greta Thunberg registered for several trademarks earlier this year, the young climate activist’s name could soon be officially off limits. But what about her handwriting?

Greta Grotesk, a typeface mimicking Thunberg’s penmanship, surfaced online for open-source download last autumn. Created by New York-based designer Tal Shub, the text consists of a limited set of uppercase Latin characters and symbols that were developed through close examination of Thunberg’s protest posters. “I was really impressed by the bold design and clarity of the message,” Shub explained to It’s Nice That.

The font is one of countless Greta-branded products that have become available since the activist’s arrival in the media spotlight two years ago. Polyester Greta-faced T-shirts and Greta-shaped garden gnomes made of toxic acrylic can now be found all over the internet. While these products are emblazoned with Greta’s likeness, she is not – as their materiality ought to make clear – the divine creator of this Greta-sphere.

Instead, Thunberg has disassociated herself from this paraphernalia, clearly stating her disapproval of the media idolisation she’s received. “I think there is a lot of focus on me as an individual and not on the climate itself,” she told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “I think we should focus on the climate issue because this is not about me.” The availability of Saint Greta Prayer Candles, however, suggests that her request has been ignored.

Greta Grotesk seems to present another example of this tendency, transparently conflating the activist’s handwriting with her ideology. One redeeming feature, however, is that the open-source typeface is not exactly straightforward merchandise – instead, Shub hopes it will serve as a reminder of “the actions we must take to bring real change”.

“The obvious usage would be to produce any sort of collateral that relates to climate change,” Shub told It’s Nice That. “But I think the biggest contribution this could have is actually beyond the immediate urge to use it in a poster.” Instead, Shub hopes the typeface will filter into everyday usage, thereby spreading awareness of climate collapse. “It’s conveniently located right above Helvetica – so you won’t be able to avoid it.”

On Shub’s schema, the typeface may make its way into endless documents or the email chain of anyone with a computer and a penchant for caps lock. It’s hard, however, to imagine any possible use for the typeface that wouldn’t be a grotesque appropriation of the handwriting of a 17-year-old who has made it quite clear that she would rather people not co-opt aspects of her identity. It’s a problem exacerbated by the typeface’s short punctuation list – curiously, the quotation mark is nowhere to be found in case one should want to exactly replicate the words of another.