Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Jonathan Barnbrook

Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Jonathan Barnbrook

Photo Marc Eckardt

British graphic designer and typographer Jonathan Barnbrook was commissioned to create an expansive visual identity for the 17th Biennale of Sydney 2010, including the catalogue. he developed the corporate identity as a modular system so that it could be arranged in various ways.

Drawing inspiration from the work of Harry Smith, Barnbrook has created a unique identity that communicates the eclectic, multifaceted ideas that inform the concepts behind the Australia’s largest contemporary art festival.


For the Biennale of Sydney – Barnbrook  created an identity that is based around a modular system of blocks, designed to be flexible in order to work across a multitude of applications, from the cover of the festival’s catalogue (cover and spreads shown above), to the festival’s website, bags, T-shirts, posters and signage. The modular blocks are uniform in shape to allow easy tessellation and there are two layers.

A primary layer block contains textual information and illustrations drawn from old scientific reference books, stills from Smith’s films, astrological manuscripts and mathematical text books…


As well as designing the BOS identity, Jonathan Barnbrook was one of the featured artists at the Biennale.



These artworks refer directly to artists, gallery owners and to the history of Cockatoo Island where the artworks are located.


Jonathan Barnbrook was born in Luton, UK in 1966.

Since graduating in graphic design from St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, Jonathan has developed a multi-faceted practice that includes activism, graphic and typeface design, industrial design and motion graphics. he has previously art directed for adbusters, the anti-corporate collective.

Barnbrook is one of the most well-known creative studios in Britain.

Barnbrook is one of the most well known design studios working in london today. it has been producing innovative work since 1990. the studio works across a broad range of disciplines including print design, industrial design, typeface design and commercials for television. the studio’s clients range from international museums to underground music magazines and self-initiated exhibitions. barnbrook also teach and lecture widely.

His London office in engages in a number of diverse international projects and has become well known amongst other things for his book collaborations with leading artist Damien Hirst and his anti-advertising work with leading international activists ‘adbusters’ and corporate identities for Roppongi Hills and Mori Art Museum.

Barnbrook has also become known as one of the leading type designers of his generation that were the first to use emerging technology to produce experimental relevant work which changed the face of font design.

The studio also became one of the first exponents in the 1990s of the then new genre of ‘motion graphics’ – producing highly complex and innovative animations for both commercial and private projects.

Currently Barnbrook design is involved in taking their message ‘out of the studio’ by putting their political work up in the city streets and exhibiting non-commercial projects in galleries worldwide.

Barnbrook Bible – the first published monograph on the studio’s work

Barnbrook’s designers specialise in producing innovative books, corporate identities, CD covers, custom fonts, websites and magazines. Our clients range from international museums to charitable organisations. We have worked and won many awards in the area of motion graphics working for clients such as the BBC and Grey Advertising alongside producing self-initiated projects. Barnbrook also releases original fonts through VirusFonts that are used extensively worldwide.

Virus Fonts

Virus is the font foundry of Jonathan Barnbrook and Barnbrook design. Founded in 1997 and run in collaboration with Marcus Leis Allion it seeks to produce experimental, innovative and usable fonts. Letterforms which truly express the spirit of the age and reflect the complexity or language that we use.

The starting point for the name was the quote, “Language is a virus from outer space” attributed to William Burroughs and also Neville Brody’s statement that style is a virus and we only really need one typeface. The other important theme was the relatively new phenomenon (then) of the computer virus – a metaphor for the subversive power of typography. Small foundries were springing up and producing fonts which were directly commenting on society

In addition to releasing typefaces Virus also designs bespoke lettering and fonts for Barnbrook Design and external clients. In this way being able to completely control the tone of voice of a project. Virus is also the commercial arm of Barnbrook Design releasing and distributing publications and limited editions of the studio.

Exocet Font

Originally designed for the European annual Illustration Now, Exocet is based on primitive Greek stone carving. Many typographers talk about the beauty of Renaissance type, but the more primitive work, particularly from Ancient Greece, had a beauty that we wanted to represent to the world. In a conscious effort to avoid revival or pastiche Virus reinterpreted these ancient letteforms to be used as a visual language for today.

Words Have No Power

“Words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality” – A quote borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe (the macabre American writer and poet) and set in an appropriately exquisite/horrific myriad of Virus Fonts. Limited to an edition of 50

Manson has quickly become a much used and copied font.

Based on drawings made in Barnbrook’s sketchbooks over a number of years with added inspiration from 19th century russian letterforms, greek architecture and renaissance bibles. It has been used all over the world by companies such as the BBC and Walt Disney to give an ecclesiastical feeling to their graphics.

Mason has a controversial history. It was originally called Manson, named after the serial killer Charles Manson, but subsequently changed by the distributors Emigre after complaints. The original name was chosen to express extreme opposite emotions – love and hate, beauty and ugliness. It sounds elegant and echoes words like mason, mansion and manse, but is actually related to a violent incident. It was an attempt to make the font contemporary rather than part of a ‘golden past’.

This was generated mostly by working directly on found footage. The conversation is between 2 men discussing the scottish dialect words “foggie bummer”. It won a d&ad silver for best typographic commercial

This is a real conversation between two scottish women who are going to see some male strippers called ”the tartan toyboys” the typography is based on the prostitutes cards found in certain phone booths in the UK.

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