Craig Ward’s latest project transforms bacteria found on the New York subway into strange and rather beautiful typography. Here, he explains how his experimental lettering project came about, despite some strange looks from fellow passengers.
Earlier this year, New York-based designer Craig Ward recalls seeing an image on the internet of a petri dish containing the bacteria from a child’s handprint. It made him think of one of those urban myths of the city’s subway; that whenever you hold the handrails on the train, you’re effectively shaking hands with 100 different people. An unsettling thought if there’s any truth in it.
But, after trying unsuccessfully to obtain samples using papers and cotton swabs, another abstract memory saved the day. “The sponge in your sink is basically the most bacteria-ridden thing in your entire house, air pockets and holes make it perfect for accruing germs. So I ended up cutting letters from dish sponges like you’d find at home,” Ward says. He even traced the letters in Helvetica Bold – as per the subway signage – before sterilising them in a microwave.
Back in the studio, the designer placed his early tests in polystyrene boxes, warming them with a heat lamp. Some samples began to show after 48 hours, some struggled to get going.