Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's a Small World

This week we look at a Disney theme parks time-honored classic: It's a Small World! So climb aboard and let’s sail with the happiest set of typefaces that ever sailed!

When it comes to Small World, people tend to love it or hate it.... personally, I love it. I love it even more now as an adult, especially as a designer. As a child I tended to focus on the children from around the world, the fun yet repetitive theme song by the Sherman Brothers, and the copious amounts of glitter (be honest, who doesn't love glitter?). But now as an adult, I'm more intrigued by how this one attraction is a perfect example of the elements and principles of design.

One of the primary designers of It's a Small World was artist, designer and Imagineer Mary Blair. I believe Mary's success was due to her understanding of classic design elements and principles, along with her stylistic approach and background in fine art. Her style was somewhat avant-garde for the time and if she were at WDI today, her style would still be considered innovative. To be honest, I don't think anything would get green lit if the storyboards looked like some of Mary's concept treatments . . . my how the times have changed!

Over the years, from the original Small World designed for the 1964 World's Fair to Hong Kong Disneyland's version, It's a Small World has used a variety of fonts and typefaces to brand itself. From posters to merchandise, the stylistic approach in terms of type has changed over the years. Italics, bolds, curls, serifs, sans serifs and display fonts have all been used in conjunction with this attraction. Currently, a whimsical childlike display font sets the tone for the main signage. I believe this is a custom typeface designed in-house by Disney's design team. Sometimes designers will design just the characters needed to spell out the attraction name for the logo or signage—they usually never create the entire alphabet, punctuation marks, numerals or glyphs (there are exceptions and we'll discuss that later on when we look at the Indiana Jones case study).

Lucky for us, we have typographers who are Disney dorks!!! These typographers, paying homage, have created entire fonts (including some amazing glyphs) based on their appreciation and love for Disney attractions. Their designs come close in matching what you see in the parks—they are usually about 95% accurate and could fool most any viewer. Disney has even gone so far as to purchase some of these re-imagined fonts to go back and use in the parks.  As a designer and Disney dork, I could only imagine the thrill of walking into the parks and seeing a font of my creation in use.

Aside from the main signage of It's a Small World, the only other type treatments seen on or near the attraction are closure signs that pop-up from time to time, and the final show scene of the attraction itself. The last show scene consists of various languages bidding riders farewell. What better way to use typography than to match the good-byes in a font found from that native country?

Well that about does it for this week. Tune in next week and thanks for stopping by!