Typography & Language

This weeks lecture topic was “Typography and language”. After doing the required reading I still had some doubts about this subject as it sometimes becomes more philosophical than I would prefer it to be.

No one can argue that the role of typography in design is significant, but the way it should be exposed hasn’t been stated unequivocally.

Some designers like Beatrice Warde believes that typography should be invisible. She puts content before form and doing so clearly indicates that form is a mean of communication and not a communicate itself. “Type well used is invisible as type” (1955, p.13) says Warde. She divides typography into three sections using windows as a metaphor. “The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author’s words” (1955, p 15). First type of window is a beautiful stained-glass one – exquisite itself but a failure as a window. Second is absolutely transparent – perfect as a window, and the last one being caught up somewhere in between. It goes without saying that Beatrice favours the second type of windows.

So how should we design a layout in order to make it transparent? First of all we should avoid using decorative type that only distract us from the studied content. Such type has mainly an ornamental value and shouldn’t be used absent a proper justification, same goes with adding colour. If you want to find a good example of an invisible layout try to memorise something that you have already read and remembered the content but not the actual layout (best to memorise a novel). Find that book and study the way it was designed.

Nevertheless we should never forget that transparent ≠ undesigned. Typography should be transparent in a way that focus reader’s attention on the content (not the form) and guide him through the text in the right order and in the right speed, highlighting only what must be highlighted.

GOOD EXAMPLE                        BAD EXAMPLE

achristie Fraktur-201020122994

(2011, p. 7)                                   (Duden, 2015)

You may say its easy to design a transparent layout for a book (such as novel for example) and in a way you will be right. Its much more challanging to design a poster in such way that the form itself is attractive but doesn’t mask the entire message. Foucusing just on typography, what one should do in order to make it almoust invisible in the poster? Choosing a proper type is essencial. Most notably is should be legible from further distance. Next step is to avoid unnecesary transformation of the chosen type.



However not every designer consider typography as a transparent window. Some tend to be more experimental about type.

hardware vaart


8vo is a group of designers who use typography as their main source of communication. Founded in 1984 group has designed numerous posters, packaging and other project for companies across the globe (8vo). One of the cofounders is Hamish Muir, famous typographer who teaches at LCC since 2002 (MuirMcNeil’s). We pass his posters every day and therefor are familiar with his designs. He clearly disagrees with Warde statement about typography and experiments with it. Moreover he adds image to his work to interact with type.

There are some designers that went even further with this kind of interaction. San Diego state university honours graduate David Carson called “Master of typography” (by Graphis Magazine) uses type and image as an adjacent media in constant collaboration with each other. He sometimes even treats type as an image. Some may argue that in few examples of his work type has become even illegible, as it is the case with an interview in Raygun Magazine from 1994.

Type + Language2

Carson found the interview so boring that he decided to replace the actual text with pictograms treating text as an image in most notable way.

There comes a question: is there a right way to use typography? There certainly isn’t one! It is a matter of an individual judgement, but we must never forget that we are not designing for our own pleasure. We design to communicate. It can be our own message our someone else’s but one must always remember who his target audience is.



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