How homeless people’s stories and unique handwriting created a new font

Two Swedish students developed 'One Letter, One Story' after Swedish street paper Situation Stockholm inspired them to turn 26 homeless people's handwriting into a new typeface

Two students in Stockholm have designed a font consisting entirely of letters handwritten by homeless people.

Julia Pagmar and Moa Pålstedt created the ‘One Letter, One Story’ typeface as part of their design course at Bergh’s School of Communication.

Tasked with “using type to celebrate a community,” the classmates set about interviewing homeless people around the city. Pagmar was inspired by reading Situation Stockholm, a street paper in Sweden that follows the same model as The Big Issue.

Homeless font Sonja
Homelessness-font-Sonja
Sonja tells her story in the new font

“It’s interesting to read about homeless peoples’ backgrounds and how many of them are trying to improve their situation,” Pagmar said. “We chose homeless people as our community in this brief because we wanted to raise awareness, but also to learn more ourselves and celebrate them in their journeys.”

Pagmar and Pålstedt collected the letters from people they met while serving food at shelters.

Pagmar said: “We met 26 people, and each person wrote down one letter, the first letter of their name, so for example Lasse wrote L and so on.”

The students were keen to hear their subjects’ stories. “What they told us was very moving. Some opened up and told us about their childhood, how they became homeless and how they stayed positive.”

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

Ulf, 60, described how circumstances led to his current situation. “I lost my driving licence and therefore lost my job as a taxi driver,” he said. “Shortly after I also lost my apartment when I could not afford the rent for one month. Being a driver is all I have ever known and it was so hard to find a new job after that.”

Other participants spoke about their own unique ways of coping with life on the streets. “To me it is important to take care of my looks. When I get the chance I like to paint my nails and I love wearing bright lipstick,” said Jeanette, 53.

Ulf homeless font
Homeless-font-Ulf
Ulf's spiral into homelessness is a familiar one, all stemming from the loss of his driving licence

Pagmar hopes that the project will highlight that people experiencing homelessness are all individuals.

“I think the typeface could offer a new perspective. As you can see, each person has a different style,” said Pagmar. “As Teemu said: ‘Mum taught me the importance of being able to write nicely, it gives you a certain respect.’

“I learned to never judge a book by its cover, it sounds cheesy but some people are truly remarkable people that just have been unlucky. I learned that homelessness can happen to almost any of us if you get ill, lose your job and don’t have family or insurance to back you up.”

Image: Julia Pagmar and Moa Pålstedt