Inspired by mom, Lyft art director creates new font to benefit Parkinson's research

Morten Halvorsen’s mother, Vera, and her painstaking handwriting for Shake font
Morten Halvorsen’s mother, Vera, and her painstaking handwriting for Shake font

Morten Halvorsen turned to design to make a difference and raise awareness.

Morten Halvorsen, associate creative director and art director at Lyft, has watched his mother, Vera, suffer from the progressively worsening effects of Parkinson’s disease for eight years. Unable to change her diagnosis, Halvorsen did what only an art director would think to do: He created a new font.

It is named Shake and the font is based upon the increasingly tentative lettering of his mother’s. A sign of Parkinson’s is the deterioration of fine motor skills, including micrographia, untypically small, compressed handwriting.

"I was home over Thanksgiving, and like every other person with older parents, I am the go-to tech support in the family," said Halvorsen, who works for the San Francisco-based Lyft, while his mother and stepfather live in Klofta, a small, farm town outside of Oslo, Norway.

"I was in the middle of updating her iPad,* when she handed me a note with a password on it. The letters were small, uneven and shaky, and it just struck me that she will lose her handwriting soon. I asked her to write out the entire alphabet on the spot. Without even asking why, she got started."

Halvorsen’s mother unquestioningly wrote out upper-case and lower-case letters, along with typographic symbols. He then formatted them to create the Shake font, whose proceeds will go toward Parkinson’s research. 

"I have asked my mom to pick which charity she wants to donate the money to and will reach out to whoever she picks to see if we can partner up, and get their help to spread it even further," said Halvorsen. Currently, they are examining the American Parkinson’s Disease Association and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

The project has already drawn many eager supporters at Lyft and elsewhere. Halvorsen joined forces with CodeWave, a digital production company based in Poland, which has worked pro-bono to create Shake’s website, write with Parkinsons

At Lyft, Halvorsen credited his writing partner, Matt Vitou, for helping with the copy and executive creative director, Tim Roan, for choosing the name for the font. 

"The creative department at Lyft is completely ego-free, so everyone is eager to help each other out on Lyft projects or side projects alike," said Halvorsen.

"It’s always nice to get praise from fellow creatives and the industry, but the most heartwarming feedback is the messages I’ve received from people who have Parkinson’s themselves or know someone who suffers from it," said Halvorsen. "Also, my mom’s pretty proud, and let’s be real, nothing beats a mother’s love."

As for Lyft, one of his favorite assignments is also service-oriented. He worked on Lyft’s "The Ride to Vote" project that offered free and discounted rides to polling places for underserved communities during the 2018 elections. 

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