Joan Pons Moll launched an international movement by running the alphabet. He’s a graphic designer based on the tiny island of Menorca, Spain, or “the middle of nowhere”, as he calls it. Still, his open-source typeface transformed runners from around the globe into design collaborators, with only their sneakers and GPS as tools. Makeshift caught up with Moll to talk about how seeing the physical landscape as a canvas can enhance how we experience it.
Makeshift: What inspired you to create the Running Alphabet?
JPM: I was trying to come up with a side project that I could do for myself because all my design work was for clients. It was a natural combination for me because I love typography and I love running. I had all these ideas around, but the way that they combined was spontaneous: I went out running, and I saw that the route I ran was a specific shape. It was funny to me.
How did you design the letters?
I used an app called RunKeeper, which has a route planner to calculate distances and shapes. Sometimes I would run a route, but the trail would be closed, so I had to go back and redesign it. On the website, I set a minimum of five kilometers each. Shorter than that wouldn’t have been significant. I think the longest letter I ran was around 25 kilometers.
What made this project meaningful to you?
The most interesting part for me was opening it up to outside collaborators. I didn’t expect to have many entries, but I got contributions from most of the continents. The “O” was made on the big lake in Central Park in New York City. I got letters from Japan, a lot of people from Canada—I don’t know what happened there—Spain, France. What really made it so special is that I was able to get people moving through design. It was something really healthy—and not just because of the running. I understood that what I felt while running is what other runners felt: they also had to plan the routes for each letter, then get out there and check their maps.
How did running the alphabet change your relationship with your surroundings?
I used to run just one way and then run back. Menorca is surrounded by nature; there are forests and beaches. This project got me to explore. And not only roads—also trails, mountains and beaches. I discovered so many new places. It made the whole experience of running way more exciting, discovering places you know but in a different way. You really rediscover your environment by designing on top of it.