The Homeless Create Workable Fonts

Cyranos/McCann and the Arrels Foundation Beat Homelessness in Barcelona

A grave reality spurs a joint initiative between the Arrels Foundation and Cyranos/McCann. Together, they create HomelessFonts, a Gold Cube award winner at the ADC 94th Annual Awards. We spoke to planner Marc Blanco about a creative solution to a troubling situation.

Have you ever felt invisible before?”A little kindness goes a long way.” “No work, no home, hungry.” “Down on luck, spare a buck!”  You’ve seen the signs and more often than not, you’ve probably ignored them. We all have. Pieces of cardboard held by the hands of the homeless, stating their strife in 140 characters or less. With the economic recession striking strong in the South of Europe, cities like Barcelona have seen homelessness become a trend on the rise. Globally, their presence has become such commonplace within urban infrastructure, that the homeless have effectively become invisible.

In their search to find a way to raise funds and visibility of the homeless, the Arrels Foundation – who develops local initiatives to better the lives of the homeless in Barcelona – sought the creative talent at Cryanos/McCann. Both parties were tired of what they call “poornography”, those run-of-the-mill ‘Save A Life’ campaigns we see on late-night television. “We wanted to give the homeless another image, another role…showing them not as victims…but as survivors”, says Blanco. “We realized the homeless have a strongly human, unique and symbolic value in their handwriting. We also saw an opportunity for homeless handwriting within the latest marketing trends for brands pushing to become more real, more human. HomelessFonts was created to bring brands and the homeless together.” Now that they had an idea, they needed a plan. “It was not easy to get the homeless on board”  Blanco explains. “The hardest thing was helping them leave years of disparagement aside and help them understand that their handwriting had a potential value for other people.” Convinced participants took part in a workshop led by professional designers and completed a series of writing exercises, using different kinds of paper and varying thicknesses of markers. The writing was then digitally rendered and converted into useable fonts,  each reflective of the individual personalities of their creator.

“Before doing the workshops, we thought we would have to take breaks because homeless people aren’t used to work. However, it was us who would need breaks, due to the emotional charge of the experience.”

The result is, the first website of its kind offering a collection of typefaces for purchase by brands and businesses to be used in their communication materials. Ads, packages, posters, you name it; practically anywhere you see type. Brands like Camper, Artlife and Vinilook  are currently using HomelessFonts and the number of purchasers continues to grow. This has been deemed one of the most successful projects of the Arrels Foundation both in reach and in return of investment. “With zero media investment, HomelessFonts got over 30,000 downloads, 200,000 visits in the first week from 170 different countries and 37% more funds raised, partly in thanks to its partnership with Typeface. Altogether it provided unique handwritten fonts for local and international corporations.” All funds raised are used to finance the work of the Arrels Foundation, to facilitate in carrying out its main mission: to make sure no one sleeps in the street.

“After listening to the tough stories of many men and women that had ended in the streets, we were surprised that they all started with ordinary [circumstances]. Those stories didn’t start with drugs, bad choices and mental health, although many carried on that way. Instead, they started as young and interesting people, many with [education], culture and money. But bad luck, divorces or unfortunate mistakes had brought their life to the streets. That’s how we learned to be compassionate because any [one] of us could end up homeless one day.” 

A change in perception can lead to a change in attitude and a create a chance for a new kind of art and maybe even, a new kind of life.  With creative alliances and initiatives like these, there’s no telling where our ideas might take us.

Special thanks to Nora Ojeda.