We are at a really critical stage with our house build and I have been neglecting my social media feeds lately. I find when I do check Instagram, because of the new algorithms I get more posts trying to sell me instant-lawn and tools than actual design content! Recently though among the hose-fittings and cleaning products a series of posts caught my attention.

The sequence of images profiled remarkable typework compiled as an experimental yet, beautifully finished book. The project was; Catherine Gribben's response to an ISTD brief - I was mesmerised by her work and it made me proud (as a member) that ISTD is acting as a catalyst for the quality of work Catherine produced.


This brief focused on the origins of language. Tracing the history of a word, or phrase to show where it came from – its provenance – how and when it became part of the English language, but also charting how its meaning, use, spelling and pronunciation may have changed in the process.

Intended to be an exploration of the richness and diversity of languages, the brief prompts participants to look for the surprising, interesting and obscure words. Asking them to tell stories that may never have been told. Using typographic skills to inform, interpret and express findings in such a way to surprise and delight the reader.

In my opinion Catherine's Response did all of these things in an articulate and exciting way. Her document is a celebration of the language of colour, as her rainbow foil treatment on the “Spectrum” title alludes to. The text explores the origins of some of the most fascinating colour terms. The design uses typographic interpretation and in some instances speculative editorial play - to illustrate the intriguing way in which these hues found their names.

Catherine writes: According to anthropologist Brent Berlin and the linguist Paul Kay, “there appears to be a positive correlation between general cultural complexity (and/or  the level of technological development)  and complexity of colour vocabulary.”


“It could be said that colour vocabulary is intrinsically linked to the heart of every language. In researching the origins of the English colour names, a treasure trove of linguistic history can be uncovered. Each colour name has its own unique story which has travelled down through the centuries, and many languages, to reach our lips today. From Proto-Indo-European (PIE), Proto-Germanic, High German, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian and French, to name but a few, our colour names have adopted various intriguing, and in some cases bizarre, aspects of a hugely diverse range of cultures.”

While researching for the work Catherine found, “Some have come from fairly obvious origins that you most likely wouldn’t have thought about.  
For example, ‘black’ comes from the word ‘burn’ and ‘green’ comes from the word ‘grow’. In other cases, colour names come from origins you would never expect, such as ‘sapphire’ which originates from the Sanskrit ‘sanipriya’; translating as ‘precious to the planet Saturn’ and purple coming from the Latin ‘purpura’ meaning ‘royal cloth’.”

Noting after travelling through the multitude of colours and their linguistic legacy, the publication named itself; Spectrum.


I caught up with Catherine to learn more about her interest in type, design journey thus far, and the spectrum project!


Hi Catherine, first of all huge and heartfelt congratulations on the beautiful and smart work.

I understand you're about to graduate from Ulster University - what drew you to study design and what have you enjoyed most about your course?
I started in the foundation art course in Ulster University thinking I wanted to pursue a career in textiles, but fell in love with graphic design and typography.

It felt like a whole new language, and I began to appreciate the typography around me.

I love how, as typographers, we can make words say something before they've even been read. I enjoy all aspects of design, but find typography particularly engaging.


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Graduation is a busy time pulling together portfolios but do you find time for side projects outside of your university work and if so what are you working on in your own time right now?

I'm recently married and moved into a new house so any time not spent on uni work has gone into designing bits and pieces to dress up our home (all though my husband doesn't appreciate all my typographic posters!). I also recently aquired an Adana Letterpress and have loved experimenting with any old wooden type I can get my hands on.

As an emerging professional, what will your next steps be? What sort of role or working environment do you hope for?

I'm hoping to pursue a career within branding and advertising in Belfast. I love working with a studio environment, learning from designers around me.

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I think it is fantastic more people are working analogue, what about working with moveable type specifically did you enjoy?

A love of letterpress has run through my family for generations. Following my uncle's footsteps, I find the tactile nature of letterpress so exciting and find pleasure in the fact that no two prints are the same. It's imperfections are what makes it so beautiful.

Letterpress is done serving it's purpose as a commercial method of printing, but it played such an important role in the development of typographic design that I wanted to celebrate it. My manifesto monograph (a series of 20 letterpress cards) explores how modern typography can be combined with traditional letterpress techniques to create beautifully tactile, captivating results.


Finally, how can people get in touch with you and/or follow your work?
You can find more of my work and contact details on my website catherinegribbendesign.co.uk, or on my instagram @gribben.design.

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