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Davao City, Philippines

Urban Type DVO: Roaming the city’s typographical landscape

October 21, 2019 - Monday 6:10 PM by Kenneth Paul Senarillos

Article Banner Image URBAN TYPOGRAPHY. Urban Type DVO is an initiative that aims to immerse the public, especially artists about the creative potential of the city’s typographical landscape. KENNETH PAUL SENARILLOS

Davao City – Artistic inspiration could be found everywhere but it does not come easy. That is why artists are in a constant search for that meaningful idea, an idea that fuels them to create and develop their craft. An artist can read a book, listen to music, or just walk around and look at mundane things to be inspired.

Just like Davaoeño designer Megan Palero.

After 10 years of working in Manila, Megan decided to go back here in 2018.  On that same year, he worked on a local design project which involved an exploration of typefaces.  

In design, typefaces are letters, numbers, and other textual symbols of the same style. Fonts on the other hand, is a kind of typeface that has a specific size, weight, width, and italicization among others.

With the scarcity of local typeface archives and inspired by the well-documented typography of other countries, Megan roamed the streets of downtown Davao to look for different typeface inspirations in the city.


OLDY BUT GOODIE. A collage of old cinema and hotel signs found along Claveria and Bonifacio St. in Davao City.  URBAN TYPE DVO 

“Nangita ko ug what is unique about Davao identity na ideal sa akong research. Kung tan-awn nimo sa laing countries, naay distinct na aesthetic pud ba…nganong ingon-ani sa Bangkok or Hong Kong, naa pud silay ilahang sariling aesthetic na naga-identify sa landscape sa city,” he said.

(When I was researching, I had to look for something ideal that's unique about Davao city's identity. I found that other countries have their own distinct identities. Like, why does Bangkok or Hong Kong each have their own aesthetics that identifies with the landscape of the city.)

In search for local typeface designs, Megan has roamed the streets of Uyangguren, Bajada, Elrio, Marfori, and other thoroughfares of the city. He makes this as his once a week routine.


UKAY-UKAY. A lettering of a thrift shop sign along Claveria St. in Davao City. URBAN TYPE DVO

After documenting lot of typeface designs from electrical posts, fences, vulcanizing shops, old hardwares, cinemas, hotels, and other establishments in the city, Megan organized all his photographs through his type boards.

“I-classify nimo siya unsang klase ni nga style kung more on texture, compressed or expanded, serif or sans serif, kung more on script sad ba siya,” he said.

(You classify it whether or not its style gives more importance to texture, whether it's compressed or expanded, serif or sans serif, or if it's style is more on script.)

“Unya, na-realize nako na  ‘murag na-organize naman nako ni’ murag na-classify nako siya. So, murag gusto nako siya i-share to everyone,” he added.

(Then I realized that I actually already organized this pretty well. So, that's when I thought that I want to share this to everyone.)

VULCANIZING TIRES. Four photos of recycled-tires-turned-signs along Roxas Avenue and Magsaysay St. in Davao City. URBAN TYPE DVO

In April this year, Megan created the online visual journal Urban Type DVO Facebook, Instagram, and website.

The sites feature the diverse typefaces seen around urban Davao which can be a good source of creativity and inspiration for artists.

Looking beyond what you see

Months after having a relatively clear glimpse of urban Davao’s typographical landscape, Megan realized that the city has an untapped resources of visual typeface inspirations.

“This is what is unique here sa Davao kay mostly makita nimo katong mga naga-hand paint ug font kay grabe kaayo sila ka meticulous, abi nimo gikan sa computer pero wala siyay machinery,” he said.

(That's what's unique here in Davao. You usually see hand-painted fonts but because they’re so meticulous, you'd think that they were printed, but they don’t have that kind of machinery.)

VIA. ‘Via’ signs of  jeepneys in different typeface variations. URBAN TYPE DVO

Megan wants to inspire everyone, especially artists to look beyond what they see to have a better understanding of things. Because the ordinary things that we see everyday, according to him, are reflections of our current state.  

“Murag normal lang sa ilaha tan-awn ang mga ‘bawal umihi dito’ na mga signages sa mga kalye pero di nato siya i-ignore lang. Naa pud siyay mga social and environmental implications pud,” he said.

(We basically see "bawal umihi dito" signs everywhere. But we really shouldn't ignore them because they actually bear with them social and environmental implications.)

The lack of public restrooms could be one of the reasons behind the rampant ‘bawal umihi dito’ signages. The proliferation of plumbing and septic tank flyers on electrical post, according to Megan, could be connected to the lack of advertising columns in the city.

“Diha nimo ma-shift ang perspective, from a simple observation lang,  naay social commentary na makita nimo,” he said.

(That's where you shift your perspectives. From just a simple observation, there’s actually a social commentary in it.)

The creation of these improvised signage is also a reflection of Davaoeños’ ingenuity according to Megan.

“In every space sa city, ginabuhatan nila ug placement para sa ilang advertisement, most commonly sa mga septic tank ug mga plumbing. Mapansin nimo na they are actually made of recyclable materials, mga plastic, mga tarpaulins na gibaliktad lang,” he said.

PLUMBING POSTERS. A collage of plumbing service posters found in various thoroughfares of downtown Davao. URBAN TYPE DVO 

(In every space in the city, they make a placement for every advertisement - most commonly, for septic tank cleaning services and plumbing. You'll see that they're actually made out of recyclable materials like plastic and inverted tarpaulins.)

“Ingon ana pud ka resourceful ang mga Pinoy,” he added.

(That's how resourceful Filipinos are.)

Moving forward

Urban Type DVO’s aim is to document the different typefaces in urban Davao. The initiative wants to immerse the public, especially artists about the creative potential of the city’s typographical landscape.

“Unya wala man kaayoy ga-document diri sa Davao before kay murag young paman ang city. It’s a good opportunity para masugdan karon,” he said.

(Nobody documents the typeface here because it's a fairly young city, fortunately. So, we can start documenting it right now.)


COLLAGE. A collage of the walls and posts with printed typefaces seen in urban Davao. URBAN TYPE DVO

But aside from being an online typographical archive, what Megan wants the public to realize is that we should appreciate the creativity poured into hand-painted signage, be it that of a big establishment or a small vulcanizing shop, especially in the age of tarpaulins.

“Gina-advocate nako na mahatagan ug value ang mga hand painters kay ang tarpaulins man gud kay they are made out of plastic,” he said.

(I advocate for the hand-painters' works would be given value. Tarpaulins are made out of plastic.)

Megan acknowledges the inevitability of change in technology and even in visual art. He also recognizes the convenience and durability of tarpaulins. But for him, designers should be more “environmentally aware on where they place their layout designs” to not pollute the environment and to also preserve the city’s hand-made typefaces in this digital age.

Megan encourages everyone to contribute to Urban Type DVO. Interested contributors can visit its page on Facebook, Instagram, and website at minority.work/Urban-Type-Of-Davao .

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