War pastimes

When the war in Ukraine began, I was playing Wordle every day. The violence of Russia’s unprovoked invasion threw me off that daily pastime. It was impossible to carry on as usual. I regularly argued with people who denied Russian war crimes or blamed them on Ukraine or Nato. My sister went twice to Ukraine as a photojournalist, and I was so worried for her that I couldn’t sleep properly (she came back safely).

One of the ways I used to cope was playing Geoguessr, an online game where you try to geolocate random google maps sites. Researchers use geolocation to verify and investigate remote war crimes. For years, I’ve been following the groundbreaking work of such researchers as Bellingcat or Forensic Architecture.

My purpose was trivial, only a way to take my mind off the war without forgetting it.

One day, I randomly landed in Ukraine. One way to gather clues to identify a location is to look at advertisements. Products, brands, and web addresses are tell-tale signs that help locate places. I paused across a billboard, noticing it was typeset in Comic Sans. I don’t share the disdain that most designers throw at Comic Sans. To me is a powerful reminder of the places and tasks designers can’t enter or do simply by being designers. Designers hate Comic Sans because it symbolizes all the places they are unwilling to join. I imagined a stereotypical design going to a war zone and noticing only the inappropriateness of a Comic Sans billboard.

Designers’ social and political interventions are weighted down by an obsession with design as a profession. Politics is reduced to a form of professional ethics and societe to a trove of potential clients. Comic Sans means some places escape this mindset.

Outside that narrow outlook, there are innovative ways to think about graphic meaning, images, and typefaces. The investigative methods of Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture point the way.

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