Catching Your Attention Before These Letters Melt

Graphic by Kapp Singer

Creating meaningful change requires spreading awareness, attracting the attention of those who are normally apathetic to the cause. Science and statistics all too frequently fail to convince— striking imagery and provocative stories, however, are tried and true methods of gripping people’s attention. For instance, a Nordic newspaper called Helsingin Sanomat (colloquially Hesari) recently released the Climate Crisis Font, which visually leverages real-world data to illustrate the urgency of climate change. 

Hesari claims that the font “helps people see the urgency of climate change in a more tangible form.” Freely available for download from Hesari’s website, the font varies in boldness to reflect the melting of Arctic sea ice. The designers achieved this by aligning each variance in letter width with a specific year and allowing the user to select which year they would like to type with. For example, the user can set the font to 1994 and the resulting font weight will reflect the condition of sea ice in that year. Likewise, if the user selected the year 2030, the font would be considerably thinner to reflect the melting of ice predicted to have occurred by then. If set to 2050, the font appears melted away to the point where the characters are barely legible.

From 1979 (the earliest year the font can be set to) to 2019, the font weight is based on real sea ice data. The data is sourced from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), a U.S.-based research institution that collects and distributes data on the frozen areas of the planet such as snow and glaciers. From 2020 to 2050, the font weight reflects predicted Arctic sea ice data. These predictions come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the United Nations created to provide and analyze scientific data regarding climate change. 

But how great of an impact can the Climate Crisis Font actually have? This question gave way to a long—and heated—after-dinner debate in my Davenport suite. Opinions ranged from believing the font could potentially increase engagement with climate change–related media to condemning it as an ineffective gimmick. While it’s hard to argue that something as simple as a font could galvanize widespread activism on a matter like climate change, it does have a visual impact on the viewer. That, in and of itself, can meaningfully spread awareness, much like other forms of imagery or storytelling. Since communication increasingly takes place through screens, augmenting messages with an interactive visual element can help movements gain traction. In fact, Hesari is already using the new font to make their publications on climate change more engaging. If nothing else, the Climate Crisis Font could promote more interaction with climate change materials, causing readers to pause and ponder before they flip the page. 

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