“To categorize typography as traditional, liberal conservatism or avant-gardism is to ignore the overall question of how typographical design can best serve as an acutely sensitive instrument for communication between divergent ideas and divergent peoples.”
This piece of writing was part of my graduate thesis application which attempted to answer several questions concerning the state of typography in 1995 through the eyes of a graphic designer. One of my goals from the outset was to produce a scholarly body of work on typography, breaking new ground in critical design thinking.
The target audience is a mix of design practitioners, design educators, and design students. My intent was to discuss how the differences between digital typography and traditional typography have led to a new design aesthetic and how this has changed the role of typography in graphic design. I supported my belief that the current state of graphic design is a continuum in the evolution of graphic form with many historical precedents which validate the new typographic forms. The role of the Macintosh in the proliferation of graphic design was investigated. Also explored were different theories of legibility as they pertain to appropriateness of content.
The visual concept of the application is the presentation of multiple levels of information. There are three blocks of copy on each page, each having the same content, but different typographic treatments. This allows the viewer the opportunity to access the information at a level of ease/difficulty that is comfortable to them. One block of copy is set centered and justified in Bodoni book; this represents a more classical use of typography. The second block of copy is set flush left, ragged right in Futura book; this block represents a more modern use of typography. The third block of copy is set flush left in Beowulf; this everchanging typeface represents the transformation of traditional typography to digital typography.
In choosing a thesis topic I paid especially close attention to past and present design writings. It was an article written by noted design historian/writer Steven Heller entitled “The Cult of the Ugly” (Eye, vol. 3, no. 9) that sparked my interest in contemporary typographic thinking. I continued by researching typography and discovered critical writing on typography in the digital realm was scarce at this time (1994-95). I felt it was important to reflect the radical changes in the field of graphic design, as well as, design education. The most noted writing was featured in the design publication Eye. I felt that by dealing with typography in the digital era I would be unveiling a relatively new area of critical study.
When designers think of typography, we invariably consider semiotics which consists of semantics (the relation between signs and the concepts they represent), syntax (the formal relation between signs in a system), and pragmatics (the study of signs in use). Depending upon our concept and our sensibility to typographic form the type can be our main concern or the invisible carrier of our message. In this sense typography becomes “... the raw material that goes into communication, serving man and his exchanges”.1 However, this definition does not take into account the expressive nature of typography. Type can take on a painterly quality creating an inviting visual texture much the same way as a Jasper Johns painting. It has been said that art director/designer David Carson uses type the way a painter uses paint - to create emotion, to express ideas. Carson uses new typographic forms in his layouts to express the meaning of his concepts and ideas.
When looking at the work of designer Neville Brody one gets the feeling that he too, is striving towards a painterly quality. Brody's designs are visually and mentally dense and there is a certain emotive quality that his typography exudes. It is the typography of our time and culture. It is dependent on the technology, pushing the technology in that Brody is interested in the formal qualities afforded to him by the computer. Brody himself says, “Digital design is like a painting except the paint never drys. It is like a clay sculpture that is always being twisted into new shapes without ever being fired”.2 Emigre magazine, too, with its focus on new typographic forms has become the paradigm of this computerized composition. In many instances Emigre questions what graphic design is in this digital environment.
Herbert Bayer, Bradbury Thompson, David Carson, Neville Brody; upon hearing these names, what do you think of first, designer, typographer or both? All of the aforementioned are both designer, one who works with type and image and typographer, one who designs letterforms. Matthew Carter, Adrian Frutiger, and Zuzana Licko are more known for their typographic achievements. The interesting phenomenon brought upon by current computer technologies is that because of the ease of manipulation in the software, the designer may more readily cross over and design the type that will be used in the communication of his/her message removing typography from the exclusive domain of the specialist, placing it once again in the hands of the designer. This has seemingly contributed to the breaking down of many past design barriers.
There have been many different “definitions” given to typography throughout the history of graphic design. Some very utilitarian, such as this definition by Stanley Morison: “Typography may be defined as the craft of rightly disposing printed material in accordance with specific purpose; of so arranging the letters, distributing the space and controlling the type as to aid the maximum the reader's comprehension of the text. Typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally aesthetic end, for the enjoyment of pattern is rarely the reader's chief aim. ... It follows that in the printing of books meant to be read there is little room for “bright” typography”. Morison continues, “the good type designer knows that, for a new fount to be successful, it has to be so good that only a few recognise its novelty”.3 This is on the continuum of typography described as a purely technical and utilitarian act. Type is much more than this; it is the visual representation of language. Typography is part of everyone's environment and therefore should be considered as a greater contributor to our culture.
The forms of the “New” New Typography are at the fore of blurring the lines between graphic design and fine art. These typographic experimentations did not start on their own but took their cue from the innovations that took place in the world of fine art at the turn of the century. Many of these “fine” artists of the avant-garde worked commercially. The proponents of Futurism, Dada, Constructivism, De Stijl, etc. moved freely between painting and book design as well as advertising.
Just as Futurist painters attempted to bring movement to the two-dimensional space so too did the Futurist poets who, through typographic innovation, tried to bring movement to their words. They broke from the traditional vertical and horizontal structure of the page, setting it in motion. In his poster for the New Futurist Theater Company, the painter turned designer, Fortunato Depero, illustrated how the use of flat planes of vibrant color, diagonal composition and angular repetitive forms contribute to a dynamic page layout.
Dada, with its rejection of art and tradition, stretched the visual vocabulary of Futurism. By releasing the letterform from traditional phonic symbolism Dada pushed the Cubist concept of the letterform as a concrete visual shape. Dada continued to push typography further from it traditional usage “through a synthesis of spontaneous chance actions with planned decisions”.4 The designer Kurt Schwitters created an offshoot of Dada which he entitled Merz. In his work, Schwitters, combined a strong sense of design with the elements of chance and nonsense proposed by the Dadaists. He wrote and designed poetry in which he played sense against nonsense, defining poetry as the interaction of elements: letters, syllables, words, and sentences.5 In the early 1920's Schwitters was deeply influenced by the work of the Russian Constructivists as well as, contributors to de Stijl, especially designer/painter/writer Theo van Doesburg. He and van Doesburg collaborated on a book design entitled, Die Scheuche Marchen which had as its characters typographic forms. Also, between 1923 and 1932 Schwitters produced twenty-four issues of his periodical Merz which continued to push the bounds of graphic expression.
In his work of the 1920's the designer El Lissitzky pioneered a new approach to typographic art which had a huge impact upon graphic design. In designing For the Voice, (also translated For Reading Out Loud) with its strict use of Constructivist motifs, Lissitzky proved that a graphic designer can have a definitive style and philosophy and effectively use it to interpret the specific message and content of an assignment. In both Lissitzky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy we see emphasis placed upon the element of expression - the expression of content through form. In contrast, the designer/typographer Jan Tschichold was more concerned with order and organization. Contrast was emphasized in order “to reveal the logical arrangement of the printed text”.6
In 1925, in the article Elementaire Typographie, a twenty-three year old Jan Tschichold wrote of a new typographic standard that was meant as an introduction for printers to the avant-garde practices of El Lissitzky's pioneering design work. It spoke of the merits of sans serif type, asymmetric compositions, the benefits of white space and the limiting of typefaces. It also berated the standards of nineteenth-century printing and its static visual qualities created by the symmetrical compositions imposed. This article was a synthetic re-statement of the principles of elementary, functional, and modern typography being practiced by Lissitzky, Schwitters and the Bauhaus. These were the “master sources” of the emerging New Typography. In 1928 Tschichold published Die Neue Typographie which became the revolutionary textbook for functional typography.7 In publishing Die Neue Typographie Tschichold introduced, for the first time, a theoretical look at typography devoid of concerns for printing practicality. Tschichold continued to express a need for typographic clarity in his 1935 statement: “Typography is the arrangement of words to be read”8 and “All typography is an arrangement of elements in two-dimensions”.9 Typographer Hermann Zapf reiterates Tschichold's statements in 1960 this way: “Typography is fundamentally two dimensional architecture”.10
Around the same time the young designer Herbert Bayer became the head of the typography workshop at the Bauhaus where he began to draw his Universal type. An interesting historical lineage is apparent when one looks into the development of Bayer's type. Bayer's interests in designing this type came about from the increasing technological nature of the world and his belief in the rational methods of engineering. He designed letterforms that were reductions of Roman letterforms consisting of interchangeable parts, and thus represented his attempt to express the purity of geometry and an increased functionality. Bayer was rejecting the organic nature of the crafts tradition in an attempt to represent the essentials of the letterform. His search for universality and efficiency lead him to do away with capital letterforms and use only lowercase letters. His most interesting hypothesis was that since speech did not recognize upper-case letters, they were not needed in his typeface.
Following Bayer's attempt at simplification designer/painter Josef Albers, in his stencil typeface, employed a building up method based on elementary forms (squares, triangles, half-circles, etc.) which translated into a typeface that expressed purity, regularity and simplicity. Similarly, Paul Renner, in designing his typeface Futura, relied heavily on precise drafting tools such as the compass, T-square and the triangle. This allowed Renner to escape the traditional methods of type design in favor of the rigidity of mechanical constructions.11
Beginning in 1928,Tschichold also attempted to do away with two signs for one symbol, but his attempt at designing a Universal type looked much different than that of Bayer. He mixed both upper and lower-case letters thereby creating a single-case alphabet. In his Universal type design Tschichold reiterates that clarity is the highest goal. Interestingly, he also attempted to create an alphabet that would be much more closely related to speech. This work predates Bayer's fonetic alfabet by some thirty years. This is not unlike what concrete poetry, Dada, and Futurism were attempting to achieve in the early part of the century. In his Futurist Manifesto, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti states the need for this type of typographic expression one which would more closely mirror verbal expression.
As it turns out much later we see Tschichold reject the values he proposed in Die Neue Typographie. In 1959 at the Type Directors Club seminar, Tschichold stated that “good typography has to be perfectly legible and as such, the result of intelligent planning. The classical typefaces such as Garamond, Janson, Baskerville and Bell are undoubtedly the most legible. Sans serif is good for certain cases of emphasis, but is used to the point of abuse”.12 His explanation for this “more prudent” evaluation of typography was that his earlier principles too closely paralleled that of national socialism and fascism, indicating that he believed that there are social implications to both graphic design and typography.
Designer Bradbury Thompson followed both Bayer and Tschichold in their attempt to create a typeface using only lowercase letters. His Monalphabet of 1940 used only lowercase letters but increased their size at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns. In 1950, Thompson designed Alphabet 26 in which he combined both upper and lower-case letters to create an alphabet consisting of only 26 signs. Thompson's goal was an attempt at clarity and simplicity.
In comparison to the typography of today, through which designers are attempting to expand the normal pretense of the letterform, the designers who worked at the Bauhaus during the 1920's and 1930's looked at a new and ever-changing society and decided that the present form of the letter was possibly no longer valid. There was a drive for simplicity, clarity and humanity that ran through all of these designers work. They looked beyond the traditional utilitarian view of typography and were designing with absolute clarity in mind. They seemed disconcerted with the salability of their experimentation rather were more interested in searching for much more universal truths connecting the written word and the spoken word along with the growing industrial nature of their contemporary society.
But when the “look” of Modernism was appropriated by industry and named the International Style, it lost its moral authority. The letterforms of the past had no place in this modern industrial society where the machine was king. If we project this idea into the post-modern era, the posters that accompany the experimental typeface designs in Fuse magazine, which started distribution in 1990, highlight how letterforms might once again become objects of beauty and inspiration rather than the tools of commerce.
Before the inception of the personal computer, typography was limited to the few who had studied the drawing of letterforms, had the skills to be able to manipulate the precise drawing tools and processes, quality of handiwork and understood the history of type. There was a guild-like sentiment to type design. This inhibited the lay person from designing type because of its technical, craft-like nature. With the advent of the personal computer and the computer programs that allow for the ease of type design, the laborious task of letterform design has been democratized. Now anyone with a computer and the accompanying software can, to a certain extent, design a typeface. What has this meant to typography? This can be answered simply by comparing a type specimen book circa 1985, only ten years ago, with a specimen book of a digital type “foundry” of today. The first thing that stands out is the pure number of typefaces that are available today as compared to 1985 (over 9,000 in some cases as compared to 1,000). This proliferation of type has allowed the designer an expanded voice, the ability to better visually express language. It has allowed the type designer a vehicle to design type that may be specific to each poster, newsletter, etc. with a much greater ease than hand drawn type. It seems that this democratization is a good thing for typography and graphic design, but not a well received one. It has lead to a great deal of experimentation and variety of letterforms, both good and bad.
Hermann Zapf contributed this explanation for the need to expand the perimeters of typographic form in 1959: “As there are many splendid types of earlier centuries that we still gladly use in printing, it may perhaps be asked why new types are designed. Our time, however, sets the designer other tasks than did the past. A new type must, along with beauty and legibility, be adapted to the technical requirements of today, ... Just as musicians and artists seek to create some new expression of our time and link it to a rich past, so too must the work of type designers and type founders remain bound to the great tradition of the alphabet”. 13 Interestingly, Zapf looks outside of graphic design to explain the inner workings of typography indicating the interconnectedness of design, technology, fine art and music. Similarly, Matthew Carter likens the proliferation of typography to the fashion industry in that it is not necessarily a question of need but want for new typographic forms and their expressive qualities.14 The Dutch graphic designer Gerard Unger views the need for the expanding typographic choices as a way to excite readers, rather than designers, stating that, “One of the reasons why there is a constant demand for new typefaces is the fact that we get used to the peculiarities of older typefaces. What you see too often doesn't work anymore”.15
Postscript, the common language of the computer, is a page-description programming language created by Adobe Systems that handles text and graphics, placing them on the page with mathematical precision. Postscript has become the industry standard. Before Postscript, type was device dependent, meaning that it was dedicated to the particular equipment used to produce it. What Postscript has allowed for is a competitive field of typeface purchase because the type does not have to match specific equipment (except in the case of platform be it IBM, Macintosh, etc.)
When looking at the effects of technology on society on the whole and design in particular one discovers many interesting parallels. At the time of Gutenberg's movable type the printing press made mass distribution of information possible, encouraging the steady erosion of oral traditions, but in turn lead to the Renaissance, a steady increase in literacy and the educational system. Since the mid 1980's the Macintosh computer has become a common tool for all kinds of creative processes, a way for creative people in all fields to communicate in a common language.16 The Macintosh has eliminated many, if not all, of the laborious tasks of graphic design and type design freeing these disciplines from the constraints of tradition.
Never before have technological advances completely overtaken an industry, or for that matter a society, as rapidly as the computer has. It is hard, if not impossible, to avoid computer technology in today's society. Whether we are using the ATM at our bank or “surfing” the internet the computer has become an integral part of our daily lives. Digital technology has thrust itself upon typography and design, as well as, other industries such as music with it's conversion to compact disk technology, with breakneck speed. This close tie of technological advances to typographic advances is not uncommon. When there was an improvement in router technology in the mid-1800's there was also a proliferation of wood type. The invention of the Linotype and Monotype machines brought upon significant changes in the present society; allowing machine-set typography to be printed on machine- manufactured paper opening a new era of knowledge, education and again expanding literacy.17
In the digital era, typography has limitless conceptual boundaries which until a few years were unthinkable. If one looks at the type designs of the Dutch typographers Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland it is clear that they are no longer interested in duplicating the type of a past. They are using “the computer to expand the way people think about type”.18 Their 1990 type design Beowulf defies the idea that letterforms are identical every time they appear. By programming Beowulf's characters to change with every keystroke, the type crumbles on the screen. This begins to question the overstated smoothness and sharpness that has become the attainable ideal in printing They are more interested in the imperfections that are reminiscent in handwritten text. Contradicting the theory that new computer technology has lead to new typographic forms, British designer Phil Baines feels that much of the typography of the last 15 years is not the result of new technology, but a reaction against previous held creeds about communication.
Some Modernist designers such as Paul Rand and Milton Glaser refuse to see the formal changes that are unavoidable with the shift in technology and culture. Rand refers to the work coming from some of the more prominent design schools in this coun- try as “chaos”. Yet, if placed in the context of its time Rand's work might have been considered “chaos” as well. His visual referencing of the avant-garde in his advertising was in total contrast to much of what was considered “good” advertising at that time. Glaser, when asked about RayGun magazine, which is designed by David Carson, states, “It is provocative and breaks new ground, but at the same time, the magazine does not seem to understand fundamental laws of communication”. What “laws” are Mr. Glaser referring to? Are there specific laws on the way a magazine has to look regardless of its intended audience? It seems that what Rand, Glaser and others are overlooking is that these “New” New Typographers are designing to communicate in a much more pluralistic society where the design solutions of the past are not always appropriate. It is this inability to see beyond the present forms of graphic design that devalues the Modernist's argument.
As much as there is an attempt to distance oneself from the traditional letterform it is quite difficult for we have been linked to these traditions for some 300-500 years. It is much easier to convey ideologies when one can break with these conventions and design a typeface which can better express ones thoughts rather than relying on preconceived types that are better for expressing the concepts and ideologies of the past. Old type designs speak to old ideas and cultures and the expressiveness of the designed piece is inherent in these type designs. In opposition to this theory the British designer Phil Baines believes that “new typography is about attitude; arrangement is more important than typeface choice ...”19 in essence saying that old letterforms laid out in new ways is more progressive than new letterform by themselves. This statement is only partially true. In many instances it is not the type alone that pushes the boundaries of design, but the way in which it is used. This, however, does not lessen the significance that these new typographic forms have made on the process of communication. Seemingly contradicting himself, Mr. Baines also states,“I cannot think of any “classic” typeface which works well in the digital environment”20 voicing the need for new typographic forms.
By designing type that is more appropriate for our time designers are once again taking a leading role in the shaping of societal conventions. This is a much closer adherence to design under the true Modernist umbrella which was seen as an activity that can help to improve society and the human condition.
Semiotics and structuralism view the alphabet as nothing more than a coding system for our verbal language. The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure introduced the principle of linguistic value which theorizes that the identity of a signifier (letter) rests not in the signifier itself, but solely in its relation to other signifiers. This would suggest that independent of words and sentences the individual letterform has no intrinsic value and therefore must be judged in this holistic way. When one looks at the intentions of the De Stijl and Bauhaus type designers one immediately recognizes their desire to call attention to the system of their fonts as a whole rather to the individual letterforms. This seems to support, in typographic terms, what the post-structuralist Jacques Derrida was looking for in his pursuit of “a form or function organized according to an internal legality in which elements have meaning only in the solidarity of the correlation or their opposition”.21
Saussure described writing as a sign system separate from speech itself, with typography being one aspect of the broader picture. He saw speech as the original, natural medium for language, defining writing as a system of signs which represent speech. He was infuriated by the opacity and inconsistency of writing and felt that the alphabet had violated the purity of the original, natural, spoken language and was an inadequate form of communication.
Derrida introduced his post-structuralist concepts to the United States in 1966. Post-structuralism, or as it is also referred to, deconstruction involves the examination of texts in terms of language and ideas of which they are composed. It refers to the breaking down of an idea, a word, or value in order to understand how interpretation is based on these parts rather than their actual meaning. Deconstruction brings into question the entire typographic vocabulary, the orientation of the page, and whether type itself should do more than perform its basic historical function of being readable.22
Typography, because of its basis on words and language, is a logical visual extension for deconstrutive theory. These theories first found their way into the American design aesthetic around 1978 when students of Cranbrook Academy designed an issue of the design journal Visible Language. The particular issue (Vol. 12, no. 3) was concerned with post-structuralist theory. But this aesthetic has its roots in European design. It is apparent that both Dada and Futurist typography was interested in the visual interpretation of the meaning of words to provide emphasis and how it was possible to portray the sounds of words. This deconstruction of the text continues today in the work of David Carson and the London based design firm Why Not Associates, as well as many others.
In an interview with the designer/educator Edward Fella, a Cranbrook graduate, he reveals how deconstruction manifested itself in his design work: “irregularity is rigorously thought out, based loosely on deconstruction. If deconstruction is a way of exposing the glue that holds together western culture, I thought 'what is it that hold together typography? It's space' ... So the idea was simply to play with that little bit of space and see if you had a bit of room to maneuver with that glue that holds it all together”.23 In Fella's work we see the conventions of legibility ignored with wild, irregular compositions that turn out to be surprisingly readable. Fella has suggested that the search for perfect letter-, word-, and line-spacing has led to the stifling of typographic expression.
“The whole duty of typography ... is to communicate to the imagination, without loss by the way, the thought or image intended to be communicated by the author”.24 The previous quote by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, a bookbinder who worked in the late nineteenth-century, brings to mind an interesting concept, “... communicate to the imagination ...”. This suggests that there is a certain amount that the designer/typographer should leave to the viewers imagination, bringing ambiguity into the equation. Is the designer of new typographic forms pushing the threshold of this ambiguity? The advent of the television age has increased our ability to recognize letters and words at a faster rate. Because of this, Neville Brody suggests that fine detailing in typography is no longer important but the overall shape of the letterform is. It can also be said that the negative shape is just as important as the positive shape. Playing with the idea of what is figure and what is ground adds a certain ambiguity to the communication thus increasing viewer participation.
The typographer/designer/educator Jeffery Keedy feels that we have robbed society of all ambiguity and therefore interest in our typographic forms. He has stated, “Many people in life feel it's their role in life to destroy all ambiguity. I think that ambiguity is life itself and it's what makes life interesting. We too often assume that people are so stupid that they can't deal with ambiguity. I think people live for ambiguity ...”25 Keedy creates ambiguity to provide the viewer a place to participate in his message making. This is not a totally new idea when it comes to creating graphic form but when applied solely to typography it has rarely been the case.
One of the major debates surrounding the emergence of the new typographic forms is legibility. It seems that the old theories and “rules” concerning legibility are outdated. How does an optimum line width of between 18 and 24 picas, which was determined in 1929, communicate to the readers of today, who have a better tolerance for longer line widths? It is hard to validate these old rules when one looks at the many different ways that we receive information (television, movies, video games, computers, etc.), and understand that society is more visually literate and used to a sophisticated level of coding and pace. Clearly, there is a need to update our thinking concerning legibility.
There is a gray area between what is readability and what is legibility. In studying legibility Dr. Miles Tinker, an internationally recognized authority on print legibility, defines legibility as concern for perceiving letters and words, and the reading of continuous textural material. He theorized that the shapes of letters must be discriminated, the characteristic word forms perceived, and continuous text read accurately, rapidly, easily, and with understanding. In earlier writings he had used the word readability to define what he would later term legibility. It can be said that a minimum requirement for text type is that it be legible, which means that it be large enough and distinct enough so that the reader can discriminate between individual word and letters. Readability is the quality that make text easy to read, inviting and pleasurable to the eye. Text can be legible, but if the reader gets bored and tired, the designer has not achieved maximum readability.26
After an intensive study of letterforms which included both serif and sans serif, done in the 1970's, Adrian Frutiger concluded: “the foundations of legibility are like a crystallization, formed by hundreds of years of use of selected, distinctive typefaces. The usable forms that have stood the test of time are perhaps permanently accepted by human-kind as standards conforming to aesthetic laws ...where there are excessive innovations of form of designs of poor quality, the typeface encounters a certain resistance in the reader and the reading process is hindered”.27
Some of the most recent thoughts in the debate on typographic legibility are by two of the leading typographers in the digital medium. Typographer Matthew Carter sees the difficulty of defining legibility/readability this way, “It's difficult to measure readability. Legibility can be measured because successive degradations demonstrate how letterforms hold up. But readability is difficult to measure. People read and comprehend best those typefaces which they are most familiar. There is a congeniality factor where type is concerned”.28
Zuzana Licko, designer of many of the typefaces in the Emigre library states, “Typefaces are not intrinsically legible. Rather, it is the reader's familiarity with faces that accounts for their legibility. Studies have shown that readers read best what they read most. Legibility is also a dynamic process, as readers' habits are everchanging. It seems curious that blackletter typestyles, which we find illegible today, were actually preferred over more humanistic designs during the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Similarly, typefaces that we perceive as illegible today may well become tomorrow's classic choices”29 A much more progressive thought emerges when Dutch designer Peter Mertens states, “Letters are legible. If some things are not legible then they are not letters. Illegible letters do not exist. Illegibility does not exist. ...Every text can be made optimally legible. That is, as long as every publication can be poured into a mould, a universal shape, a universal form”.30
In summary, legible type and typography require distinction of characters in order to have meaning, but beyond that there is not necessarily such a thing as readable typography. Legible type only holds meaning in relationship to our aesthetic senses, our previous reading experiences, our cultural background, and the time at which we experience said typography.
What is the role of graphic design in this development of new typographic forms? It seems that graphic design is going to have to take a good hard look at itself and possibly re-define its parameters. The role of the designer has been simply stated as the communicator of messages. Designers should consider these new letterforms when designing a piece so that it may speak to our time and our sensibilities not to some preconceived notion of what design should look like. Our fall back aesthetic as designers has been the Bauhaus style and its Modernist credos. These ideas of design and communication were fine in their time but our time calls for design which expands the semantic role of graphic communication.
The type faces of the digital era are quirky, personal and subjective, while the typography of the Swiss International Style strove for simplicity and objectivity. By designing and using new letterforms designers can advance the communication process of generations to come, most of which will rely less on the present forms of communication. Dutch designer Gert Dumbar defines graphic design as a “creative profession and creativity is by definition driven by innovation. It is not easy to convey this characteristic and still be able to transmit a message clearly”.31 I would agree that it may not be easy but it must continue to be a goal of the designer to convey messages in the most innovative way possible as to promote growth and interest in the field of graphic design, as well as, keep abreast of the needs of a changing society.
When viewing the typography employed in many of today's design solutions, one must remember the many influences that have driven these typographic innovations. First, there is clearly a reference to historical motifs leading to renewed typographic experimentation. The “New” New Typography has it roots in the turn of the century avant-garde. It is important to realize that there are these historical precedents inherent in the “New” New Typography. Understanding that nothing happens in a vacuum, the “New” New Typography came about as a reaction to the communication credos of Modernism which called for design to be the timeless, minimal, geometric,and a self-referential carrier of our messages. In our post-modern society, designers need to be more conscious of the content, expanding problem solving across new territories. Second, not unlike previous typographic expansion, technology is a major contributor to the “New” New Typography. The advent of computer technology and the ease in which it has made the drawing of letterforms has spurred on many of these new typographic forms.
The Macintosh has broken down the barriers between designer and typographer and placed typography firmly back in the hands of the designer. The typography of the digital era is no longer privy to the schooled typographer or printer but is in reach of anyone who has access to the software. This increases the democratization of typography which, in the long run, can only be beneficial to the proliferation of graphic design. Typography has taken on a new, significant, role in this proliferation of graphic form. Lastly, the expansion of what is the duty of our alphabetic coding system has lead some to challenge our sensibilities and our role as viewer in the communication process. In a society where most of the information received comes from the television, and other digital sources, our old “rules” concerning communication and legibility are in need of re-thinking. It is clear that these “rules” are outdated. Those who continue to harp on the supposed illegibility of many of today's typographic forms refuse to see the unavoidable effects that changes in culture have had on our ability to comprehend these new letterforms. In this post-modern society “typography is to be seen as well as read”.32
1. Chloe Braunstein-Danos, “The Birth of a Typographer,” Graphis, 295, January/February 1995, p.44.
2. Jon Wozencroft, The Graphic Language of Neville Brody (New York: Rizzolli, 1994), p.6.
3. Lewis Blackwell, Twentieth-Century Type (New York Rizzolli, 1992), p.90.
4. Philip Meggs, A History of Graphic Design (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), p. 249.
5. Meggs, p. 246.
6. Robin Kinross, Modern Typography (London: Hyphen Press, 1992), p.90.
7. Arthur Cohen, “The Avant-Grade in Print,” Video, October, 1981.
8. Jan Tschichold, Asymmetric Typography (New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1967), p. 54.
9. Tschichold, p. 58.
10. Blackwell, p.133.
11. Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, The ABC's of Triangle, Square, Circle: The Bauhaus and Design Theory (New York: Cooper Union, 1993), p. 41.
12. Blackwell, p.99.
13. Blackwell, p.133-4.
14. “An Interview with Matthew Carter”, Axis, vol. 54, p. 147.
15. Gerard Unger “Legible?”, Emigre, no. 23, 1992 p. 6
16. Hitoshi Koizumi, New Typo Graphics (Tokyo: PIE Books, 1993), p. 7.
17. Meggs, p. 141
18. David Redhead, “Beyond Beowulf”, I.D., 41, no. 6, November 1994, p. 81.
19. Phil Baines, “Ten thoughts which come to mind about design in the 1990's”, in Graphis 95, ed. Martin Pedersen, (Zurich: Graphis Press, 1994), p. 9.
20. Baines, p. 10.
21. Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, “A Natural History of Typography”, in Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design, ed. Michael Bierut et. al., (New York: Allworth Press, 1994). p. 23.
22. Chuck Byrne and Martha Witte, “A Brave New World: Understanding Deconstruction”, Print, 44, 6, November/December 1990, p. 81-2.
23. “Interview with Edward Fella”, Emigre, no. 17, 1991.
24. Rob Carter, Ben Day, Philip Meggs, Typographic Design: Form and Communication (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), preface.
25. Rudy VanderLans, “Interview with Jeffery Keedy”, Emigre, no. 15, 1990, p. 17.
26. Designer's Guide to Typography, ed. Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel and John Fennell (New York:Watson-Guptill Publications, 1991), p.19.v 27. Blackwell, p. 172.
28. Matthew Carter quote (source unknown).
29. “Interview with Zuzana Licko”, Emigre, no.15, 1990 p. 12.
30. Peter Mertens, “Legibility”, Emigre, no. 15, 1990, p. 4.
31. Gert Dumbar, “Essays”, The 100 Show: The Twelfth Annual of the American Center for Design (New York:Watson-Guptill Publications, 1990).
32. Katherine McCoy, “American Graphic Design Expression”, Design Quarterly, 148,1990, p.16.