Object: Philadelphia neighborhood posters
Location: poster shop on 4th street between South and Bainbridge sts.
Background: The one on the right is the Philadelphia version of Ork’s City Neighborhood poster series. Chicago-based designer Jenny Beorkrem quit her day job and started Ork when her Chicago neighborhood poster hit it big in 2007, largely — as she explains on her website — due to a post on widely read design blog, Swiss Miss.
Ork’s tagline, “The original typographic city neighborhood maps, as beautiful as ever since 2007,” indicates evidence of knock-offs like (natch!) the lesser city neighborhood poster pictured here, alongside its brainier, prettier cousin.
Context: This pairing struck me, because it’s a blatant instance of an original design being sold alongside its knock-off. One is appealing enough to claim wall space in the home of every design-oriented person of a certain age who lives in an Orked city. The other poster is entirely pedestrian. One is good design, and the other isn’t. What makes them so?
Ork’s City Neighborhood posters, taking Philadelphia as an example, express how it feels to live in a city. We’re all squeezed into relatively small patches of land (Center City is only 2.2 square miles). Sometimes this feels cramped, and sometimes it feels cozy.
This comes through in the way the letters, which have the capacity to be large, shrink down and contort themselves to fit into the smaller neighborhood shapes. The letters in “Passyunk” are tiny, and the “u,” “n,” and “k” are turned on their sides to accommodate the “Passy.” The twisting and turning and lack of kerning — and the alternate shrinking down and blowing up of letters — makes for a dynamic design to symbolize something that’s very dynamic.
It can also be read as if you’re looking at the city from above and all the different-sized letters are different-sized buildings making up the city’s topography.
The poster evokes other emotions, too: There is wonderment over the workmanship involved in fitting in all those names; brief paranoia that the bigger letters spell out something sinister; satisfaction of a civic-oriented geeky strain that the neighborhoods’ and city’s actual shapes are represented; and the thrill of finding your own neighborhood in the mix.
The other poster? Er, not so much.