Pure Pākati Design Information
20 May 2015
Pure Pākati was designed for exclusive use by Tourism New Zealand, who were looking to move their “100% Pure” campaign away from several years of Middle Earth. This shift included an overhaul of their typeface and visual language. The typeface was designed by Phil Kelly, Rangi Kipa, Karl Wixon and Kris Sowersby; the design process has been turned into a small documentary.
The defining kaupapa of their new direction is “embracing visitors as whānau”. The new typeface is intended to represent New Zealand to the world. It’s a big ask—to understand your own culture well enough to distill it into letterforms recognisable as uniquely yours by international travellers. Unlike many other nations we have no indigenous style of lettering or typography: there is nothing to grasp easily.
We tried a range of directions. I dug into New Zealand’s graphic history, exploring vernacular and designed letterforms alike. I mined styles endemic to midcentury New Zealand tourism advertising, such as two-tone sharp Latins and lightly contrasted, slightly condensed sans serifs; we tried combining this with the primal stencilling of Shane Cotton’s lettering and typographic arrangements.¹ Together we considered the nervous linework and geometry of Ralph Hotere’s work. We even attempted to work the delicate patterning of the silver fern into letterforms, drawing inspiration both from moko and Joe Churchward’s lettering work.
None of these ideas were accepted. We weren’t even close. Tourism New Zealand CEO Kevin Bowler (rightly) rejected them. They were too ornamental, too fiddly. I was close to despair; I felt like we’d examined a lot of fertile ground. Surely there was something we could use? But that was merely my creative ego getting bruised—a normal part of the design process.
Tourism put a lot of stock in the 100% Pure brand. They’ve spent a great amount of time and money establishing it internationally, and it’s been extremely successful. Unfortunately, the original logotype is not a great piece of typography. First I thought it was a bad digital auto tracing of ITC Machine; in fact, it’s a straight setting of FF Iodine, designed in 1995. I assumed this would be discarded once a new one emerged—standard practice for a rebrand—but once the initial scrum of concepts was rejected, we returned to the original logotype.
Once we looked past what it was—and imagined what it could be—we could see that it had promise. The raw material of the letterforms are simple, condensed sans serif capitals with chamfered curves. This kind of Grecian style rose to prominence during the 1800s.² At the time, type founders were doing all sorts of strange and wonderful things with letterforms, mostly to service the nascent field of advertising. Letterforms with chamfered details have never been tremendously popular, nor have they completely fallen out of fashion.
Pure Pākati’s underlying structure comes from Manuka, a typeface I developed from German Plakat-Schriften (poster typefaces). Pure Pākati is quite far removed from Manuka, but it retains the heft, condensed verticality and rhythm. Its wider stance and more generous counters are determined by the limitations of low-resolution screens.
The rounded counters are a subtle and important characteristic of Pure Pākati. I’ve only seen these twice before and they struck me as beautiful both times: the first instance was a small example of Stempel’s Montan in Hlavsa’s A Book of Type Design, 1960; the second, more important instance was in Imprimerie Suisse’s Spécimen des Caractères, c. 1892. These examples are unnamed, and listed in the “Caractéres pour Affiches” (Letters for Posters) section as “Nº 10. — 8 cicéros” and “Nº 19. — 18 cicéros”. They are typefaces the foundry considered so unremarkable they listed them by number and size alone.³
On the surface, the aesthetic is a simple matter of contrast—the hard chamfered edges of the contour and the soft curves of the counterforms. Yet there may be something deeper to it—an allusion to the contrast between Aotearoa’s hard landscape and its warm, welcoming people. Whatever the explanation, I found it appropriate for what Tourism New Zealand needed. After the overthinking that went into the rejected concepts, and the resulting intellectual exhaustion, instinct took over. I trusted my gut. This was a hard thing to explain in a boardroom.
The most important element of Pure Pākati (“pākati” means incised or notched) is the three simple niho (tooth notches) in a recurring pattern of three known as “taki toru”. In Māori culture there are many whakapapa kōrero (stories of origin) explaining taki toru. In this particular instance Rangi drew inspiration from a Polynesian migration story of Toi and his grandson Whātonga.
During a waka (canoe) regatta in Hawaiki, Whātonga and a companion, Turahui, were blown off course. In a desperate effort to find them, Toi sent a message by binding a rākau (stick or piece of wood) with three lashings and setting it adrift. He hoped it would find Whātonga and Turahui by following the currents and winds that had blown them offshore (to New Zealand). The three lashings pose three questions: Where are you? How are you? When will you be back?
The taki toru motif recurs throughout whare whakairo (carved meeting houses) in carved, woven, lashed and painted form. In Pure Pākati this simple gesture speaks to Tourism New Zealand’s kaupapa of “embracing visitors as whānau”, by communicating an enduring sentiment of love and care for travellers.
Our decision to use wood was a natural one. Apart from the obvious letterpress heritage of the Grecian letterforms, and ties to New Zealand’s own visual culture, the material itself is significant. We used endgrain native kauri, deftly hand-carved by Rangi. The kauri is a giant of the ancient northern New Zealand forests and can grow for thousands of years. Large specimens once provided the raw material for producing traditional Māori waka and, later, European sailing ships. These forests are now protected for posterity. I believe this is the first time a typeface has been hand-carved from kauri.
Pure Pākati exists as standard digital font files and scanned prints from wood type. The first prints were rejected—it wasn’t immediately obvious that the type was made from wood. After scanning the printed type, Phil digitally manipulated the images to enhance and clarify the grain. These images are manually composited and typeset where necessary. The digital font files have an OpenType feature to distribute the notched letterforms in a pleasing, rhythmic pattern.
The many pairs of hands and eyes involved have made this typeface special for me. For the first time I don’t feel I have ownership of a typeface I have ostensibly “created”. I merely drew the letterforms. Rangi brought them to life, skillfully carving them from Kauri with hand and heart. Phil inked and printed the letterforms; but more importantly, his resolute guidance enabled the process to flourish. Karl’s invaluable advice and knowledge ensured we stayed on track and true to culture. It’s an extremely bold move for Tourism New Zealand, a government agency, to commission and use such a typeface. They haven’t taken the easy option, and for that I am sincerely grateful.
1. With permission. Interestingly enough, Phil’s earliest thought was to have Shane and I collaborate on a typeface.
2. “Grecian is more important. It has two quite distinct designs: the larger was taken up by all the founders, and is derived from the compressed Egyptian. It is cramped and angular, but no longer menacing. The small letter is a sans serif with all the curves broken into points and all the lines broken into curves…” XIXth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages, 1951, by Nicolette Gray.
3. “Cicero” is an old unit of measure in typefounding and printing. A cicero is 1/6 of the historical French inch. These days, 1 cicero = 4.5 mm.
Photographs © Simon Clark, all rights reserved. ITC Machine and FF Iodine are Trademarks of their respective owners.