Just before Christmas I was wondering around Smiths doing some last minute shopping and came across Dymo tapes and the little handset used to punch them out. They have now been re-packaged for children, but they are still basically the same as the ones used for Punk graphics in the 1980s.
Dymo tape machine
Strange how typefaces move around in public consciousness. Dymo embossed tape lettering became common during the 1970s and was ubiquitous as a workshop/work based information tool. Its raised surface meant that lettering stayed legible longer and the plastic tape was hard to destroy when touching surfaces with dirty greasy hands. The simple colour offer; black, red, yellow, blue and green was used to provide a basic easy to read coding that could be positioned on the edge of storage bays or around the various dials or switches of an appliance.
By the end of the 70s the tape had become synonymous with manual work. It was also used by non designers (especially by those who worked in industries where a knocked off Dymo might be available) as a lettering tool and you can often find examples in old photo albums or other home based image systems that needed labels.
Then in the early 1980s along came punk graphics and Dymo tape lettering became a symbol for working class revolt and the typeface found its way into the world of the graphic designer.
It was soon overused and dropped out of sight; in the industrial world Dymo all but replacing it with non embossed printed lettering machines.
But now it’s back and being put to use by children and because of its new positioning some, (for me at least) weird associations are being made. In particular this Christmas card. The incompatibility of typefaces creating a meaning that is rooted in classic post-modernist kitsch.
Kitsch is a form of art or design that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style or a worthless imitation of art or design of recognised value. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons while making cheap mass-produced objects that are unoriginal. Kitsch also refers to the types of art or design that are aesthetically deficient and that make creative gestures which merely imitate the superficial appearances of art or design through repeated conventions and formulae.