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Type and Design Philosophy Differences

Last week I was craving to learn something. It started when I was reading Art Adam’s stuff on cinematography and optics over on ProVideoCoalition. I was going up to the cabin for a few days so tromped off to the local bookstores for something to get me learned.

I live in a town of just over 100K people. They don’t carry much in the way of books here. So I wandered to the design section. (Typography is another aspect of my job I rarely feel confident in.) I scanned across the lines of “dummy” books and every-man’s user guide for varios Adobe apps.

My eye settled on a book called, Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. written by Ellen Lupton who has multiple design credits from various university’s and other design establishments.

What made me walk to the counter with this book was that it was about three areas of type: Letter, Text, and Grid. But beyond that, each element was USED in the book very creatively as a finished work. It was attractive, creative and got my mind moving.

Anyway, this post isn’t about the book but what I read in it last night (made it half-way through). The following quote is from page 69 in the second part on Text- the context being that historically, text and information is presented in sequence. But in recent years and specifically the internet and it’s database like attributes, turn design into a space that text is placed into fluidly:

“Databases are the structure behind electronic games, magazines, and catalogues, genres that create an information space rather than a linear sequence.”

This  statement explained all my struggles in designing things here at the non-profit. For example a recent newsletter we were working on caused much consternation among me, being the primary designer, and my superiors, being the primary clients and brains behind it.

I approached it like a magazine- a space that text gets plugged into that might have graphic inserts or touches splitting the linear structure of sentances and paragraphs. They approached it like a sequence. Page one is point A and it ends at page 4 being point D. Nothing breaks that sequence. While I completely understand their desire for uniform sequence and direction so the reader can follow easily, it did however, leave a very bland completed print. We compromised in the end but I never really new WHY we disagreed.

I believe much of it also stems from generational differences. “They” were over 45. “I” am 30. It’s only fifteen years, but technology have grown so rapidly in that time-span. I grew up in a database generation, this type of thinking makes sense to me. It’s also a worldview with which I approach most of my design and production. Conversely, they grew up in an industrial, uniform, linear, information-oriented society with which they approach their work.

While the author makes no claim as to which is better but simply explains the difference historically, and philosophically- I believe her intention with the book succeeded. It’s caused me to examine my own thinking so I can understand how I approach design, why that makes a difference, and what I can do to make it even better.

I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s not heady, but it’s rich with history and use and philosophy of design and approach to using letter, text and the grid on to which it’s placed. I can say I have a much greater appreciation for Serif fonts which I don’t normally gravitate to.


©2019 by Jay Friesen.

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