Inspiration Photoessay Creativity

My type of city: A photographic tour of Amsterdam's signs with soul

By Glenn Doherty, head of design

iris Digital


typography article

October 17, 2014 | 4 min read

Typography can often be overlooked as a crucial part of the communication mix according to Iris Amsterdam head of design Glenn Doherty, with lettering capable of capturing the imagination and every sign of telling a story. Spending his spare time collecting and documenting these stories using only his iPhone camera, here he explains why Amsterdam is such a weird and wonderful place to live.

Amsterdam’s a melting pot of creativity… it’s a beautiful city with an edge. Being an expat designer living and working here, it can be inspiring just going for a walk to soak up the scenery. This is when I noticed how much awesome typography the city has.

There’s so many different styles, genres, history, ideas. All very unique, and very cool; from the brown cafés, with their swirling filigree to calligraphy, neon, Art Deco, engraved, vintage and illustrated type by artists like Parra, pictured above.

I like it when typography catches my eye and evokes a response, whether it’s good or bad. Some are almost like art pieces in their own right. I began taking pictures on my iPhone for reference and appreciation really, and before I knew it I had a collection of urban typography design. It’s like curating your very own gallery online.

Design is everywhere – whether it’s the gas sign in the pavement or the historical stone engraved building facade, there’s always a meaning and a message.

My favourite story so far involves a dry cleaner’s – Quick & Quality Cleaners on Hugo de Grootplein. There’s a strange combination of typography in its store façade. I found out that it previously had a modern white plastic sign with the ‘Quality Dry Cleaning’ logo on which needed to be removed for cleaning. When it took down its own sign it revealed a beautiful Art Deco glass mosaic sign, with the words ‘Banket Bakkery W.Blanken’ (the shop was once a bakery). The owners liked it so much they never covered it up again with their own name.

These people aren't artists but they can appreciate the decorative art and historical value of the previous sign. So now it’s Quick & Quality Cleaners with a piece of history captured in the art deco glass mosaic baker’s sign.

I think typography can often be overlooked as a crucial part of the communication mix. Being a designer working in advertising, it can be a challenge when faced with restrictive guidelines which dictate what typefaces you’re allowed to use. It’s not necessarily always right to follow the rules.

I have a profound appreciation of craft. I love typography which is made by hand, like letterpress or painted signs. This kind of typography has soul. It takes skill and there’s a process involved which you won’t see on a computer.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to push this recently by encouraging a client to look beyond its own corporate fonts by having some letterpress alphabets made to be used in its brand book. It felt right as it helped support its brand values of being ‘authentic’ and ‘crafted’. The end result was so much stronger.

I believe good typography has the power to build associations and feelings, whether it’s an ad, brand book, sign or street art stencil.

About the artist

Glenn Doherty is an English artist living in Amsterdam. Spending his days (and occasionally nights and weekends) as head of design at Iris, his downtime is devoted to scouring the streets in hope of capturing the amazing signage that is found in the city of Amsterdam. He is addicted to the craft and has an overly obsessive fascination with how lettering can capture your imagination. See his blog at

This feature was first published in the 15 October edition of The Drum magazine.

Inspiration Photoessay Creativity

Content created with:

iris Digital

Find out more

More from Inspiration

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +