Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hamburgers & Peculiarity

Hut’s Hamburgers originally opened as Sammie’s Drive-In in 1939. It was also Eli’s Lounge and then the Picante Mexican Restaurant before 1969 when Homer Hutson converted it into the burger joint that it has been ever since. The restaurant, located on 807 W. 6th St., is decorated from floor to ceiling with old pictures, team pennants, newspaper clippings, and neon signs reflecting the old and new of Austin. Hanging on the front of the building is a hand-painted wooden sign that informs the customers and Austinites passing by about the restaurant’s weekly Blue Plate Specials.

This is just one of the many interesting signs on 6th St. that is full of character and energy. Many signs surrounding this one are neon wire signs, including Frank and Angie’s Pizzeria and another Hut’s sign. Although it is only lit with a spotlight attached above it, the Hut’s sign that I chose draws attention to itself with its unique lettering and red pentagonal border.
The purpose of the sign is served effectively. It reflects the atmosphere of the restaurant with its quirky lettering and hand-made quality, which I think was the intent of the artist who made the sign.
The first word, “Hut’s”, is written in Brush Script: a typeface that was designed in 1942 by Robert E. Smith for American Type Founders. The script is based on an informal hand and the letters are deliberately irregular. Curiously enough, these adjectives perfectly describe the Hut’s atmosphere: informal and irregular.
The closest typeface that I have found for the remaining three lines of text is Kino, designed in 1930 by Martin Dovey for Monotype Classic Fonts:

The modified sans serif type has some odd angular insertions that are very similar to the ones used on the type in the sign. One major difference is that Kino gives the impression of each letter being cut off at the top and bottom, whereas the typeface I am trying to track down does not. The mysterious type in the Hut’s sign has serifs, whereas Kino is a serif-less Latin.
The serifs do not complicate the message, but convey something about the restaurant. The most characteristic letters are the A’s, Y’s, and R’s. The A’s have a triangle pointing downwards as the crossbar, and the leg of the R is oddly interrupted by an indention. It was the strange playful and patterned shapes created by the serifs that drew me to the sign.
The three main lines of text are uniform in size and leading, but some words are kerned to fit on a line unevenly and unpleasing to the eye. When redesigning the sign, I wanted to fix the kerning problem as well as show some hierarchy by giving priority to information that is more important instead of keeping it all uniform. I started by setting Hut’s in thick, bold letters, suggesting the hamburgers they serve. Underneath, “BLUE PLATE SPECIALS” is set in large outlined capital letters for emphasis on what I thought was the most important part of the sign. The last two lines are simply information about the Blue Plate Specials that one wouldn’t necessarily read unless they were already interested, so they are smaller and appear less significant. I set the text in black on white for clarity, and I created a blue border around the edges of the poster for a splash of color that also reflects the content of the text, the Blue Plate Specials. In order to incorporate a little bit more of the original sign into my redesigned poster, I changed the apostrophe in “Hut’s” into a triangle similar to those used in the crossbars of the capital A’s.
When the text was set in Helvetica, I felt that it was more legible but the plainness took away from the character of the original sign. I wanted to convey the eclectic attitude of the restaurant while still keeping the sign clean and easy to read, therefore each of the four phrases is set in a different version of the same typeface while still being vertically aligned with one another. I chose to use Myriad Pro for my final sign because it has just an edge more quirkiness that I think it needed to reflect the attitude of the restaurant; an intent that I think is similar to that of the original maker of the sign.

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