Aug 09

Thinking with Type, by Ellen Lupton  ★★

This book had an initial very strong appeal to me, that quickly wore off. While the title of the books seems to suggest that the principle topic of the book is typography, it is not. Rather, it is a manual of modern design ideas. Ellen suggests that her goal is not to encourage readability, but to encourage the reader not to read. I quote “Although many books define the purpose of typography as enhancing the readability of the written word, one of design’s most humane functions is, in actuality, to help readers avoid reading.” This thinking is quite consistent with the decontructionist philosophical school that she tends to often quote, especially with Jacques Derrida. That is fine and dandy, except that the fact that Ellen is writing something suggests that she hopes that somebody will read what she writes. She is correct about one thing, that this book was not easy of the eyes to read. Her efforts to be different or unconventional made it very tense to get through her book. The book is laden with illustrations and the first impression of the plethora of examples of design that she provides is that they are cute. Subsequent impressions of her examples are less complementary, in that they are a tremendous strain on the reader (user, if you wish) to interpret the message being conveyed. Unfortunately, as she has received many favorable comments on, there will be many budding young graphic designers out there trying to establish their position in the world of graphic design, and are spurred by this book to be bizarre rather than effective in communicating an idea. If one has no ideas or thoughts to communicate, then this book is excellent for you. Allow your imagination to run wild, defy any convention, and never think about whether your message (if you have one) has been sent to the “other user”, i.e., the reader. I can only presume that most “readers” of this book actually never read the book, but only looked at the “pretty” pictures. Her design style has much tension to it. It is crowded, busy, disorganized. The important readable type, such as the announcement of an event, is not immediately obvious, or written quite small and at an obtuse angle, making it a challenge to identify a purpose for the illustration. Deviations from convention rarely are effective at conveying or symbolizing anything, such as when she decides to arbitrarily and occasionally defy the text box of the main text. Perhaps the only value of this book is to suggest that deviations from convention can occasionally improve the efficacy of communication of a message, and for that it received two stars.

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