Olivia Erskine They/Them

  • Tauira / Student
    Olivia Erskine
  • Kaiako / Lecturers
    Tatiana Tavares, Natalie Robertson
Judge's comments:

The typography experimentation was outstanding. Very considered.


How can typography be used to express nonbinary gender identity? This project takes typography and gender - two things typically divided by binary categories, two different modes of expression - and ventures outside of their confined constructs. Its intention is to explore the experience of gender beyond the binary, allowing those who exist in this space to see themselves reflected in a typeface.
A binary is something divided into two parts; two groups or classifications considered to be diametrically opposite. In Western society, the separation of individuals into binary categories based on physical anatomy has led to stereotypes that now define ‘men’ and ‘women’: men are strong, women are weak, men are practical, women are emotional. Men are ‘not women’, and women are ‘not men’. This division enforces a binary perception of gender, although the reality of gender defies these notions and is inherently nonbinary. Men are emotional, and women are strong - the characteristics that are seen to divide gender groups are upon closer inspection the same characteristics they share. Once this is recognised, what is left to divide us?
Binary constructs and systems are creating a barrier between groups by erasing the space inbetween for their shared experiences and characteristics. Erasing the middleground and disregarding the complexities of personal identity is in turn erasing the existence of individuals who don’t align with these binary roles. In order for ‘They Them’ to be reflective of this nonbinary space, I undertook a heuristic research approach and opened a dialogue on the topic of gender with 27 individuals of varying gender identities. Their thoughts, experiences, understandings and perceptions laid the basis for this project. Themes of fluidity, bold expression, creativity, constructs, nature and organic colours are woven into the letterforms and materiality.
‘They Them’ is a typeface that exists outside of the binary. It is an exploration into the realm of nonbinary gender identity, and the space that sits between two halves. It discusses gender as a mode of expression; malleable to your sense of self rather than defined by your anatomy. Through the alphabet, each letter depicts an element of identity surpassing the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’. The result is a typeface that acts as a taxonomy of gender beyond the binary.
The letters of this typeface reject binary categories not only in their meaning, but also their form. Each letter is crafted as not to enforce the binaries often apparent in modern typography. Many of these typographic binaries uphold the same structures that create division within society through origin and connotation. In example, rigid and bold lettering is seen as ‘strong’ and therefore ‘masculine’, while fluid and ornamental is seen as ‘weak’ and therefore ‘feminine’. In order for the typeface to be entirely nonbinary, gendered structures have been either blended or omitted. ‘They Them’ is neither serif nor sans, roman nor italic, uppercase or lowercase, rigid or fluid. It sits in the space between two halves; a complete nonbinary entity.