Newspeak is a display typeface based upon Soviet architectural forms from the Stalinist period (spanning the 1930s—’50s). Stalinist architecture is now considered unsightly and without aesthetic merit, yet it has a strange beauty, hinting at an unrealised utopia (while its function was to buttress a brutal dictatorship). Inspiration was also drawn from the Cyrillic alphabet which, to kids growing up in Western Europe in the ’70s and ’80s, was a cipher for an alternative way of living – Cyrillic letterforms represented the exotic, familiarity-twice-removed universe of Eastern Bloc states. When you visited a communist country you were confronted with unfamiliar typography that reinforced your sense of alienation and unease that there existed a real, if imperfect, working alternative to consumerism.
The name Newspeak comes from the fictional language in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a controlled language, with a heavily-reduced dictionary, used by the totalitarian state Oceania to limit freedom of thought, and to prevent citizens from straying from approved ideology: If words do not exist to describe a concept, then that concept cannot be imagined. Newspeak represses concepts that pose any threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality and peace. The name was chosen as an acknowledgement of how typography, as a representation of language, can communicate the subtle nuances of thought.
The poster published to accompany the typeface release featured a picture of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. There remains an obvious connection between the language of Newspeak and the way that Blair’s reimagined UK Labour party (dubbed ‘New Labour’) manipulated the media to a degree never seen previously and changed the way that all British political parties interacted with the media and the general public. New Labour’s iron grip on language and image exerted control over the perception of Tony Blair and also to present neoliberal policies as social democracy.