Elixir: A Mood, by Sarah Hyndman

The emotional power of typography

Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman has created a typography-based “expansive sensorial exhibition” in a box

Sarah Hyndman has been exploring how typography influences us for the past decade or so; setting up experiments and studies around its effect on our moods and senses and demonstrating how letterforms have powers far beyond mere legibility or decoration. 

Hyndman, a designer and founder of the Type Tasting enterprise, published the book The Type Taster: How fonts influence you back in 2015, and her interest in the subject hasn’t waned since. Now, with the help of an Arts Council grant, she’s created an innovative new ‘exhibition’ of sorts: but one which comes to you, in a small box.

Elixir: A Mood, by Sarah Hyndman
Elixir: A Mood by Sarah Hyndman

Titled Elixir: Mood, the project is described as “an expansive sensorial exhibition” that aims to take its viewers “on a journey into different moods” through the power of typography, sound, image, texture and smell. The project has been inspired by previous physical installations Hyndman has created for events and exhibitions including Adobe Max in Los Angeles and Sense Me at the Trapholt Museum in Denmark.

“These are combined with the interactive and sensorial elements I developed to counteract Zoom fatigue in my online events during lockdowns,” she explains. “I think that mixing ideas from virtual and physical realities opens up exciting new possibilities for the future of events and exhibitions.”

Within each box is a series of three zines, as well as three small bags, each containing a different scent-giving object (one takes the form of dried plant matter; others are more like perfume sample sticks). Each scent corresponds to different exercises within the zine’s pages, which also include sensorial cues such as textures to feel, typographic trompe l’oeil and links to sound pieces including a collection of audio recordings from open-source NASA data, as well as ASMR cues and online kinetic type examples. 

The aim of the project is in part to help people “discover how using more of your senses can evoke your emotions and create a sense of space”, says Hyndman. As such, each zine contains a contrasting pair of ‘moodscapes’. “These are designed to take you out of your typical day-to-day. You can interact with each of the six moods through language, links, textures, smells and typographic meditations,” she explains.

She adds: “A typeface has been chosen to signpost each mood. Its shapes give you clues and it’s combined with language as the foundation for each soundscape.” Each typeface is then suspended in a pill-like capsule in the physical exhibition.

Elixir: A Mood, by Sarah Hyndman
Elixir: A Mood by Sarah Hyndman

The design of the zines themselves is simple but rather beautiful: all black and white and (obviously) with a type-heavy aesthetic. The ‘Elixir’ of the title and its connotations of Victorian apothecaries appears throughout as an illustrative motif in intricately drawn, olde-worlde style eyeballs, noses and pointing hands to delineate the various senses the exercises employ. The pages, like the letterforms, play with the idea of light and dark; and playful activities and scrapbook style blank boxes are featured, for users to fill in as they go.

It’s a smart take on the exhibition format in a post lockdown world: obviously, you can ‘wander’ round the exhibition from your own home (or wherever else you fancy taking the box); and it also makes good use of QR codes, taking them out of the realm of track and trace and into something rather more enjoyable. In addition, Elixir plays with the idea of the hybrid format: while it’s a gorgeous piece of print, the experience only becomes possible thanks to its online elements.

“The experimental format explores the boundaries of an installation, removing it from the traditional exhibition space,” says Hyndman. “Realities are mixed as the lines between physical and virtual are blurred … where the tangible and intangible meet.”

Like a real exhibition, the boxes, created as a limited run of 100, are ‘on show’ for a limited time until December 31 this year, after which time the digital elements will be deactivated (though clearly once you’ve got your hands on one there’s no stopping you returning to ‘visit’ long into the future). 

Elixir: Mood is available to buy at typetasting.com