It’s probably a lot easier to remember the last time you sent a text than it is to remember the last time you wrote a letter. While texting seems to be the preferred mode of communication these days, it lacks a personal touch. Chicago-based designer Cristina Vanko decided to challenge that fact when she vowed to write her text messages in calligraphy for a week.
Vanko’s project received a lot of press and it helped her land a TEDx Talk in April. Her week of handwritten texts is showing a new generation that even in our digital world, people still like receiving a handwritten note. “I think we associate better with handmade things most of the time that we kind of miss it,” Vanko says, “and when you get something that is handmade, it’s kind of a novelty.”
Calligraphy Meets Texting
Calligraphy piqued Vanko’s interest in college. She took bookmaking classes while studying abroad in Italy, and at her alma mater Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. She really got into the art of calligraphy when she found her dad’s old calligraphy pen.
Vanko practiced with the help of YouTube videos, but in August 2013 she decided another fun way to get better at the skill would be to text calligraphy messages. For a week, Vanko photographed her written-out text responses with her phone and sent them instead of using her phone’s keyboard. At the time, her calligraphy texts were simply an exercise to improve her skills—she never planned to share them with the world, since they were private conversations and people “overshare their lives,” she says.
But, Vanko eventually did share her calligraphy texts with the internet, and design fans were impressed. The Huffington Post, Mashable and lots of design blogs featured stories about her interesting text method. “It was kind of funny,” she says, “because this one digital detox blog asked me, ‘So is this digital detox?’ I was like, ‘No, I really just wanted to learn calligraphy.’”
While it wasn’t her intention, Vanko’s week of calligraphy texting did turn out to be a form of “digital detox,” and it taught Vanko a lot about her own habits and those of her generation.
Vanko recently shared those observations at a TEDx Talk in Chicago. Hosted in April at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the conference was focused on millennials. “I pitched it to them like, ‘I know this sounds very anti-millennial this project that I did, but it says a lot about millennials,’” she says.
For her TEDx Talk titled “Modern Day Snail Mail,” Vanko talked about what she learned from her week-long experiment, such as how taking the time to write out a text led to a more thoughtful response. Vanko also noticed that people expect text message responses almost instantly. “I remember when I was limited to 200 texts per month and read receipts weren’t around, I kind of wish that that were the case again,” Vanko says. “You just find yourself needing information so quickly, but you’re ok. You’re not dying.”
Vanko has found other ways to share her calligraphy with people. As a freelance designer and calligrapher, Vanko works on a variety of projects such as designing tattoos and wedding invitations. She has learned that even while the world is obsessed with texting and email, there’s still a place for decorative handwriting and technology-free communication. “I think people just miss it secretly and kind of crave something done by hand because it is more personal,” Vanko says.
Try Some Snail Mail
While we can’t all be professional calligraphers, Vanko says it’s easy to include a little note writing into everyone’s life. Vanko loves to write notes, and she often sends letters to her friends, even if they don’t live too far away. “It’s just funny because I send a lot of mail and I love decorating envelopes,” she says. “My friends will Instagram and tweet ‘I just got a letter!’”
Vanko says she’s not sure exactly why her friends and fans are so impressed with all her calligraphy and hand-lettering, but she thinks it’s because it adds an extra step in communication that we don’t see a lot these days. “Whenever I stay at a friend’s house I leave notes under pillows and stuff in places they hopefully will find later,” she says. “Going the extra mile and thinking of that particular person, I think, is always nice.”