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Subverting Conventions in Typographical Design and Layout

David Michael Bird BA (Hons) Graphic Design

Hull School of Art and Design University of Lincoln February 2011

for you Jayne thank you x

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I see this record as the culmination of learning that I have achieved over the last 6 years and my thanks and appreciation go to all those at the Hull School of Art & Design including Isabel Willock, Julie Husband, Chris Dimmack, Domanic Li and Eric Jowett, who have each given their time and patient support to encourage and guide me over this period, opening my eyes to a whole new visual culture. Without their help and support, none of my achievements would have been possible. My unreserved and sincere gratitude is given to my Academic Tutor, Jill Howitt, who has taught me a whole new language and has enthused me to learn and develop my appreciation of the arts. The encouragement, guidance and direction afforded has successfully steered me through this dissertation project from start to finish, smoothing the way when the going was tough, and so allowing me to develop a good understanding of a thought-provoking subject.

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Since its earliest inception as a primitive means of communication, the evolution and development of civilisation and society has had a major impact on the evolution of typography and the way in which we communicate. The advent of modern typography has its roots firmly placed during the early 20th century with the Avant-Garde art and design movements who rejected historicism and whose experimentation with typographical form questioned the need to make words, sentences or phrases in a conventional sense and in doing so liberated typography from the constraints that had developed hitherto. In contrast, postmodern composition, whilst still allowing type to be free from constraint, looks to embrace the past and combine it with current practice and thinking, frequently appropriating and borrowing references and sentiment from the early Avant-Garde movements, however, in doing so a question arises: Does the contemporary use and application of type whose design and layout subverts the traditional conventions of clarity and syntax actually communicate? As current thinking has made a philosophical shift from the clarity of meaning to a plurality of meaning, the emphasis on the clarity of interpretation has moved with it. Modern typographical arrangements do communicate but not in the manner in which we were taught during our childhood development, when codification and syntax were firmly and formally entrenched. Today, designers look to fully exploit semiotic systems that were first theorised during the latter part of 19th century alongside the Avant-Garde movements, to convey a sense of meaning that is in keeping with their design beliefs. Postmodernist communication takes place via an ambiguous relationship that exists between the designer and the opinions of their readers who now interpret meaning in their own way as they seem fit.

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Table of Contents. Acknowledgements ................................................................................................................iii Abstract....................................................................................................................................iv List of Illustrations Introduction. .............................................................................................................................1 1.0

Typographic Development............................................................................................3 1.1 Pictograms, Cuneiforms and Hieroglyphics..............................................................3 1.2 Development of the Modern Alphabet. .....................................................................5 1.3 Scribes, Manuscripts and the Gutenberg Press.......................................................7 1.4 Relationship Between Image and Type....................................................................8


Structuralism................................................................................................................10 2.1 Semiotics ................................................................................................................10 2.2 Types of Signs. .......................................................................................................12 2.3 Binary Opposition. ..................................................................................................14


The Avant-Garde..........................................................................................................17 3.1 Cubism....................................................................................................................17 3.2 Futurism. .................................................................................................................19 3.3 Dadaism..................................................................................................................21


Modernism....................................................................................................................23 4.1 Late Modernism - Swiss International Style ...........................................................23




Conclusion ...................................................................................................................31

Appendix A - Semiotic Terminology ....................................................................................38 Appendix B - Comparison of Poster Design Features .......................................................41

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List of Illustrations. Figure 1 - Petroglyph Carved in Rock, 2010, from Digital Extraordinaire (2010). .................................... 3 Figure 2 - Translation from Object to Cuneiform, 2010, from Penn Museum (2010). .............................. 3 Figure 3 - Cuneiform Tablet, 2010, from British Museum (2010a). .......................................................... 4 Figure 4 - Hieroglyphic Characters & Determinative Signs, n.d., from Anon (n.d.). ................................. 4 Figure 5 - The Rosetta Stone, 2010, from The British Museum (2010b).................................................. 5 Figure 6 - Evolution of Character Forms, 2010 from Chicago School of Media Theory (2010)................. 5 Figure 7 - Evolution of Roman Alphabet, 2010, from McGill University (2010). ....................................... 6 Figure 8 – Serif Chiselling, 2010, from Ayiter (2010a). ............................................................................ 6 Figure 9 - Roman Codex, 2010, from Ayiter (2010b). .............................................................................. 6 Figure 10 – Italian Choir Book, Feast of Corpus Christi, 15th Century, from Hendrick & Kwak (1997). ... 7 Figure 11 - The Gutenberg Bible, 15th Century, from The British Library (2010)..................................... 8 Figure 12 - Saussure’s Model of Signification, 2010, by author, derived from Chandler (2010). ........... 10 Figure 13 - Four Levels of Signification, 2010, by author, derived from Streeter (2010). ....................... 11 Figure 14 – Illustration of Highway Code Warning Sign With Semiotic Meaning, 2010, by author. ....... 13 Figure 15 - Binary Opposition In Corporate Identity, 2010, by author, derived from Cobbold (2010)..... 15 Figure 16 - Braque, Georges. – ‘Le Portugais’ (The Emigrant), 1911-1912, from Artchive (2010). ....... 18 Figure 17 - Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. – ‘Après la Marne, Joffre Visita le Front en Auto’ (After the Marne, Joffre Visited the Front by Car), 1915, from Getty (2007b)...................... 19 Figure 18 - Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. – ‘Une Assemblée Tumultueuse. Sensibilité Numérique’ (A Tumultuous Assembly. Numerical Sensibility), 1919, from Getty (2007c) ...................... 20 Figure 19 - Hausmann, Raoul., ‘ABCD’, 1923-1924, from Centre Pompidou-Musée (2006) ................ 22 Figure 20 - Bayer, Herbert. Universal Type, 1925, from Typophile (2010)............................................ 23 Figure 21 - Müller -Brockmann, J., ‘Radfahrer-Achtung, Achtung-Radfahrer’ (Cyclist-Attention, Attention-Cyclist) - Poster, 1958, from Müller (2000). .......................... 24 Figure 22 – Reid, Jamie., 'God Save the Queen', 7” Vinyl Sleeve, 1977, from Stock-Allen (2010b)..... 27 Figure 23 – Reid, Jamie., ‘Anarchy in the UK’ – 7” Vinyl Sleeve, 1977, from Stock-Allen (2010b). ...... 27 Figure 24 – Carson, David., ‘Architecture of Patterns’ – Book Covers, 2009, from Carson (2011) ....... 28 Figure 25 – Earls, Elliott., ‘The Conversion of St Paul’, 1999, from Earls (2011b). ............................... 29

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Introduction. Typography has developed enormously over the last 40,000 years. Since its earliest inception as a primitive means of communication, the evolution and development of civilisation and society has had a major impact on the evolution of typography and the way we communicate. As civilisation became more accomplished and sophisticated there became a greater need for a more intricate means of exchanging thought and ideas. Social, cultural and technological developments have all played a major role in the emergence of a simple and effective means of expression. The advent and development of modern typography can be placed firmly in the first 25 years of the last century amidst a period of great change. The new century brought with it a bracing desire to break with the sober progress of the past; a period of immense social, economic and cultural change, a period of war and revolution; an age of escalating technological achievement; an era of consumerism. Modern typographic experimentation began in 1909 with the explosive appearance of Marinetti’s Futurist movement and continued through to the mid 1920s attracting the interest of many groundbreaking designers associated with the avant-garde movements of the time. These pioneers of graphic design - Lewis, Lissitzky, Schwitters, Nagy, Tschichold et al. - were to change, forever, the portrayal of the typographic form and each were to have a long and lasting influence on the application of type over the remainder of the century and through into the new millennium. Just as fine artists were considering the making of pictures that didn’t represent anything in a conventional sense, where line, shape and colour were freed from the role of representing the world, so did the cubists and futurists experiment with letterforms and arrangements that were freed from the necessity of making words, sentences, stories or linguistic sense. In both cases a question arose, how do these signify, if they defy the conventions that frame interpretation? During the early years there was an aggressive approach to experimentation, a breaking with the traditions of the past and an echoing of the feel and nature of the “forward thinking” Futurists who were intent on making themselves heard, both LOUD AND CLEAR. This was a period of enormous exploration where function was sub-ordinate to form and an almost playful mix of composition emerged. As the century evolved so did the progression towards a more measured approach to typography. Function began to determine form and the aggressive experimentation of the avant-garde was replaced with the considered approach of the modernists. The desire to communicate simply and effectively, the use of clean lines, sans-serif fonts and grid structures emerged, culminating with the ground breaking publication of Jan Tschichold’s “Die Neue Typographie” in 1928. The latter part of the century again saw a reaction, a reaction against the forward thinking modernists and their rigid structures, with a return to the explorative styles first encountered Page 1

with Futurism. This post-modernist approach can be traced back to the emergence of a youth culture that, ironically, were once again reacting against the staid development of the recent past, the development of computer technology and the age of information. Earlier timeconsuming experimentation could now be carried out with great speed and momentum allowing for ever-increasing opportunities of discovery. This reconsidered approach also reflected a philosophical shift from the clarity of meaning and communication implicit in modernism to a new emphasis of audience interpretation and plurality of meaning entrenched in post-modernism. Throughout the 20th century, the development of new technologies has provided unsurpassed opportunities for freedom of expression, especially during the latter years with the exponential development of Information Technology. From the first use of decorative typographic features, fashioned by the Cubists who appropriated ready-made and massproduced words and letter-forms from the sphere of popular culture in their one-off art collages, through to the post-modernist deconstruction of the grid, there has been both progressive and controversial development in the design and application of typography. It is clear that there are links and visual similarities between current typographical compositions and those developed during the early decades of the last century when the conventional rules of syntax and layout where literally smashed. The following chapters examine the correlation that exists between the typography used in contemporary graphic design practice and that developed by the avant-garde & modernists during the turn of the last century, assessing the impact that experimental typographical composition has made on visual communication when conventions in typographical design and layout are subverted. Letterforms have both visual appearance and linguistic meaning. Each carry messages but in our culture it is the linguistic meaning that takes precedence, some believe that the typographic design should be invisible so as not to detract from linguistic communication. What is interesting, however, is when linguistic communication and visual expression conflict or where the visual supersedes the linguistic. This dissertation sets out to establish how typography is interpreted - how it is read and how it signifies, and discusses how explorative and experimental typographic expression in design and layout impacts visual communication.

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Typographic Development.

The letterforms we use today have evolved over the past 40,000 years together with the developing needs of civilisation. From early cave paintings, Sumerian cuneiforms, inscriptions and the development of moveable type; the means by which we communicate has undergone radical change.


Pictograms, Cuneiforms and Hieroglyphics.

The earliest forms of communication began 40,000 years ago with the Cro-Magnons who drew primitive designs on rocks or the caves they inhabited. These markings, described as “pictographs�, usually formed part of a series of illustrations that depicted a story or the account of a particular event.

Figure 1 - Petroglyph Carved in Rock, 2010, from Digital Extraordinaire (2010).

The first truly written style of communication emerged around 3300 BC with the Sumerians who would use abstract pictograms to record everyday scenes or objects. Pictograms were drawn in vertical columns on clay and baked in ovens to form solid tablets of information. Cuneiform writing, a speeded up means of communication utilising wedge shape forms, evolved from the pictogram and this method was used to convey various sounds or abstract meanings.

Figure 2 - Translation from Object to Cuneiform, 2010.

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Figure 3 - Cuneiform Tablet, 2010.

As civilisation began to rapidly develop, a more sophisticated means of communication began to emerge. The Egyptians (circa 3100 BC) devised a series of ideograms or hieroglyphics to communicate both concept and thought rather than the simple abstract representation of events, previously adopted by the Sumerians. Hieroglyphic writing is considered to be the true beginning of the development of the alphabet with most modern alphabets referencing this method of communication. The deciphering of hieroglyphic forms did not emerge, however, until after the 1799 discovery of the Rosetta stone, which depicts a council decree that is inscribed in three differing language forms.

Figure 4 - Hieroglyphic Characters & Determinative Signs, no date.

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Figure 5 - The Rosetta Stone, 2010.


Development of the Modern Alphabet.

The Phoenicians (1300 BC) were the first to develop a true alphabet composed entirely of letterforms. Derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphics, it was known as an ABJAD system in that it contained only consonants. The Greek’s (Circa 1100 BC) further refined the Phoenician alphabet by incorporating vowels into the character-set as did the Romans who (Circa 400 BC) built upon the Greek alphabet by increasing the number of letters [in upper case] and by introducing thick & thin strokes along with the use of serifs. The Romans were also the first to introduce a baseline upon which letters would sit and introduced the Codex - a rudimentary book made from wood that replaced the scroll.

Figure 6 - Evolution of Character Forms, 2010.

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Figure 7 - Evolution of Roman Alphabet, 2010.

Figure 8 – Serif Chiselling, 2010.

Figure 9 - Roman Codex, 2010.

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Scribes, Manuscripts and the Gutenberg Press.

Illuminated manuscripts, predominantly produced by the monastic scribes, emerged at the beginning of the middle-ages (AD 400-600). Scribes meticulously handwrote texts and in order to speed up the copy process, they would introduce a lowercase font. Illuminated panels comprising of decorative features and illustrations, accompanied many of the pages of text and early manuscripts were produced on a codex or parchment containing, for the most part, religious or biblical text. Secular information began to appear after the 13th Century, as did the introduction of paper as a substrate.

Figure 10 – Italian Choir Book, Feast of Corpus Christi, 15th Century.

Books would continue to be handwritten by scribes up until the development of the Gutenberg Press and mechanical printing in 1450. Mechanical printing with movable type revolutionised the speed and manner in which information was communicated and was a noticeable improvement over the previously arduous, handwritten and woodblock processes. As a result, the cost of book production fell sharply and there was a rapid development in both the arts and sciences though the swift transmission of written texts, contributing greatly to the renaissance. In 1456 the Gutenberg Bible became the worlds first mass-produced book and over the 50 years that followed Guttenberg’s invention, over 10 million books were produced. A new practice of typography started to emerge with many great designers creating a sizeable array of typographic styles and experimenting with layouts to efficiently convey the written word.

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Figure 11 - The Gutenberg Bible, 15th Century.

The Guttenberg process became the principle method of print production and this changed very little over the 450 years since its inception. The efficient and repetitive means of production was particularly constraining and this cultivated an uninspiring product that became predictable and repetitive in both layout and syntax.


Relationship Between Image and Type.

Throughout the development of typographical design and layout there has been a kind of tempestuous relationship between image and type. During the early stages of linguistic development the use of image was the predominant means by which society communicated. The Cro-Magnon, Sumerian and Egyptian use of pictographs, pictograms, cuneiforms, ideograms and hieroglyphics to describe events, scenes, and sounds or abstract meanings had a distinctive illustrative feel. During the mid stage of linguistic development, pictorial representation gave way to character depiction as the evolution of the modern alphabet began to emerge. The Phoenician development of the ABJAD system and the further refinements afforded by the Greeks and Romans saw the emergence of a more formal approach to typographical structure through the development of uppercase character sets and a baseline upon which they would sit. Furthermore, the use of Scrolls and latterly Codex provided distinct boundaries inside which Page 8

textual information was constrained, and so began the emergence of early conventions in typographical layout. The Roman use of thick and thin strokes resulting from stone mason chisel marks, saw the first signs of a more visual approach to the creation of letterforms. The use of image was re-introduced by the Scribes who, through their illuminated manuscripts, combined decorative illustrations and features within attractively handwritten text. This was a highly visual approach that often saw annotations for text omissions being elaborately decorated within the margin panels. This would continue relatively unchanged, apart form the introduction of paper as a substrate, for over 1000 years until the introduction of moveable type. The development of the Gutenberg press saw a separation of type and image due to the constraints inherent within the process. The development of movable type did not have within it the means of carrying images. The conventions of typographic design and layout had become firmly established after Guttenberg and as the 20th century approached the prosaic arrangement of the written word had run the test of time and was about to experience an explosive change in direction.

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The dawn of the 20th century was a time of great change, there were many developments taking place especially from a political, cultural and industrial perspective. Technology was rapidly progressing leading to a growth in consumerism and consequently, design activity, especially Graphic Design, which was born in response to a growing need to communicate effectively with the consumer. The arts were about to undertake a significant step in the manner in which the likenesses of objects were (or were not) to be portrayed, which academics and critics would increasingly look to theorise and explain. A greater understanding of linguistics was also evolving theorising how society utilises language as a means of expression. This led to the development of Structuralism, whose leading proponents were the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913) and the American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914).



Semiotics is the study of not only what we refer to as a ‘signs’ in everyday speech, but of anything that ‘stands for’ something else. In a semiotic sense, signs take the form of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects (Chandler, 2002, p.2). Although signs are comprised of a variety of material forms, “such things have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning” (Bal and Bryson, 1991, p.174). “Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign” (Pierce, 1931-1958, p.172). For the purpose of this dissertation, semiotics is important because it treats the visual and linguistic equally, as signs that communicate within a set of conventions. Semiotics distinguishes between the iconic nature of imagery and the symbolic nature of words. In an investigation of communication that links linguistics and the visual it is probably as important to reflect on the differences as much as the similarities. Semiotics was first theorised by Ferdinand de Saussure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who established that we communicate meaning through signs. Signs, which are considered the basic form of meaning, are comprised of two differing elements, the “Signifier” and the “Signified”.

Figure 12 - Saussure’s Model of Signification, 2010.

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The “Signifier” is a material representation of the sign, or the physical form that the sign takes; for example, words, gestures, pictures, dress code. In essence the signifier is something that can be recognised by any of the physical senses; touch, taste, feel, hear, see. The “Signified” is the concept that the signifier evokes; for example, in body language, the folding of one’s arms (signifier) can be considered as someone who is adopting a defensive position (signified), the wearing of a dark suit accompanied by the wearing of a bowler hat may signify a corporate city culture or banking & finance, ransom type could signify kidnapping or antiestablishment. The “signified” is considered to be a ‘psychological’ representation of a sign. After the initial depiction of a sign there follows a series of sub-conscious behaviours that culminate with the subliminal comprehension of a variety of “codes” or “maps of meaning” (Streeter, 2010). The 1st order of signification provides a literal meaning or “denotation” of the sign, this denoted sign then becomes the signifier at the 2nd level and provides a “connotation”. The connotated sign then becomes the signifier in the 3rd order to provide “narratives and myths” which in turn generate “codes” or “maps of meanings” at the 4th level. (Ibid., 2010).

Figure 13 - Four Levels of Signification, 2010.

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Types of Signs.

According to Peirce (Atkin, 2010) there are three types of signs - icon, index & symbol; that are used to describe the relationship between the signifier (material representation) and the signified (concept). In iconic signs the relationship is one of resemblance. The material representation of the signifier appears somewhat similar to the concept signified and is represented by either appearance, touch, sound, taste or smell (Chandler, 2002). A good visual example of this would be the use of an appropriate photographic image within a passport that is representational of the passport holder. Symbolic signs carry little resemblance between the signifier and signified. The relationship is more subjective, requiring an understanding of the rules that underpin the correlations that exist between the two, for example, “language in general (plus specific languages, alphabetical letters, punctuation marks, words, phrases and sentences), numbers, Morse code, traffic lights, national flags” (Ibid., 2002). The cuneiform scripts discussed in the previous chapter (page 3 & 4) are good examples of symbolic signage. The rules or associations that underlie each “wedge-shaped” sign are required to be learnt in order to foster an understanding and, with resect to cuneiform writing, these associations have evolved over generations after the first appearance of iconic pictograms. Indexical signs have a relationship that is directly connected in some way, either physically, casually or existentially that can be observed or inferred: e.g. 'natural signs' (smoke, thunder, footprints, echoes, non-synthetic odours and flavours), medical symptoms (pain, a rash, pulse-rate), measuring instruments (weathercock, thermometer, clock, spirit-level), 'signals' (a knock on a door, a phone ringing), pointers (a pointing 'index' finger, a directional signpost), recordings (a photograph, a film, video or television shot, an audio-recorded voice), personal 'trademarks' (handwriting, catchphrase) and indexical words ('that', 'this', 'here', 'there') (Ibid., 2002). A good graphic design example that illustrates a combination of iconic, indexical and symbolic signs is that of road signage that is included in the UK Highway Code (Barnard, 2005, p.34). The red triangle is a symbolic sign that conforms to a group of signs stipulated in the Highway Code as “Warning Signs” (Directgov, 2010). In this particular example the meaning of the sign should be interpreted as – “Warning, There is a Crossroad Junction Ahead”. The sign is considered symbolic, because in order to recognise it’s meaning an understanding of the rules associated with the UK Highway Code is needed. There is also a cultural aspect to this as its sense of meaning will generally be restricted to those who are qualified to drive in the UK, or those eligible to drive in countries that adopt a red triangle as a warning sign when driving. It may not be generally understood by those driving say, in the USA, whose rules and conventions are different to that of the UK. Page 12

Figure 14 – Illustration of Highway Code Warning Sign With Semiotic Meaning, 2010.

The “Black Cross” is both iconic and symbolic. Iconic in the sense that it is an illustrative example of a cross-road junction and symbolic in that the rules associated with the image need to be learnt if it is not to be confused with say, the symbol for a church (Barnard, 2005, p.34). Finally, the location of the sign is “indexical” in that it has some relationship to the junction ahead - it is a pointer as to what is to come.

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Binary Opposition.

Binary Opposition is a concept of critical theory that is related to Structuralism and is derived from the “linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, which hold that language is a selfcontained system of signs, and the cultural theories of Claude Lévi-Strauss, which hold that cultures, like languages, can be viewed as systems of signs and analysed in terms of the structural relations among their elements.” (Britannica, 2010a). Central to Structuralism is the notion that “Binary Oppositions (e.g., male / female, public / private, cooked / raw) reveal the unconscious logic or ‘grammar’ of a system. Literary structuralism views literary texts as systems of interrelated signs and seeks to make explicit their hidden logic.” (Ibid., 2010a). These pairs of opposing elements are organised in a hierarchical structure with one constituent occupying a “prime” or “fundamental” position and the other adopting a “secondary” posture (Ibid., 2010a). The notion of hierarchy is derived from the work of Jacques Derrida who proposed that a “philosophical and literary” analysis of work can be carried out by “deconstructing” each opposing aspect, allowing for the exploration of the “tensions and contradictions” (Ibid., 2010a) across each element in order to gain a better understanding of the overall meaning. The significant boundaries for this essay are word and image along with the associated pairs of conscious + unconscious and rational + irrational behaviours. Words and image when viewed from a visual perspective stimulate our unconscious receptors and irrational behaviours and is associated with our earliest stages of child development – Imaginary Development. During this “mirror” phase we unconsciously embrace our visual surroundings and start to recognise familiar shapes and objects, beginning with an acknowledgement of our own self-image as we play and interact with “pictures” that are reflected back through mirrors. When viewed from a linguistic perspective, words and image arouse our conscious receptors and rational thoughts. It is during this secondary “symbolic” development as a child that we begin to learn, accept and adopt the commands and constraints that govern our capacity to communicate in a linguistic sense. Development at this stage firmly establishes the conventions of word patterns and sounds that condition us to converse in an orthodox manner, without question! Imaginary development provides the capability to decode visual or iconic signification whereas symbolic development provides the know-how to decipher linguistic or typographic signification. By and large it is words that dominate images. We foreground linguistic meaning over visual communication, although where combined we might find word and image interact together to work on our conscious and unconscious responders. In the case of experimental typography the hierarchy is reversed and the letterforms signify visually prior to linguistic signification. Examples of this can be found in Graffiti or Psychedelia.

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Within the conventions of business communication, logos typically use the linguistic and visual to signify meaning. To explore analysis building on binary oppositions, two logos can be compared, one that foregrounds words, in the form of abbreviations for the name of the company (IBM), and one that uses a pictorial symbol to signify the company name (Apple). Both companies are major multi-national brands, regarded to be major corporate players in the provision of computer hardware & software for business & personal use with each targeting similar corporate and domestic markets. Their similarities, however, come to an sudden end when it comes to communicating with their client base and conveying their corporate image. When analysing the logos adopted by each organisation, each individual design transmits totally opposite meanings to such an extent that the Apple brand practically subverts everything that the IBM brand stands for. Against this backdrop the Apple brand possesses a free and organic feel through its use of rainbow colours and “apple” logotype. There is also a curious “bite me and try me” feel suggesting an expressive and experimental nature (Cobbold, 2010). In direct contrast to this, the IBM Brand, through its alternating use of bold stripes across a bold and solid slab-serif font, conveys an impression of regimental stability and a distinct corporate authority through the primary use of the colour blue.











New York








We Know

I’m Curious

Figure 15 - Binary Opposition In Corporate Identity, 2010.

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The IBM brand is relatively mature when compared to that of Apple and for them to adopt a similar corporate identity to that of IBM when starting out could have been potential commercial suicide. In contrast they chose to promote a totally opposite representation to such an extent that they portray the concept that Apple is everything that IBM is not. It’s almost as if Apple are taunting IBM by mocking the brand (Ibid., 2010). This concept is further typified by the recent Apple “I’m a MAC - I’m a PC” advertising campaign where there is a playful mix of binary opposites in that the “PC” is portrayed as everything corporate - stuffy ‘nerd-like’ character, business suit, data processing, life is serious - in fact everything we would choose not to be, whilst the “Mac” character in contrast is portrayed as everything we would like to be - cool, playful, casual, trendy, laid back, ‘life’s a breeze’. The Apple brand is a complete binary opposite to that of IBM. A further example of the binary opposites that can be used to deconstruct images into their constituent parts in order to evaluate key features and draw comparisons is shown in Appendix – B.

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The Avant-Garde.

The Avant-Garde were a cultural, political and artistic collective that generally existed at the turn of the last century, who were predominantly small in numbers and sought to challenge the status quo and established behaviours of the time. Those that embraced the avant-garde notion adopted a radical and innovative approach to their subject matter (Tate Modern, 2010a) and were deemed to be cutting-edge, experimental and often controversial, determined to push the boundaries of what was considered “normal” or “mainstream”. Amongst others, the Avant-garde included such movements as Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Constructivism, De Stijl, Fauvism and Vortism, embracing such pioneers as Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Lissitzky et al. Those movements that proved to have a major impact on the progressive development of typography and so go on to subvert conventional design, layout and syntax, comprised of Cubism, Futurism and Dadaism.



The development of Cubism (1907 – 1919) at the beginning of the last century, partly influenced by the work of Cezanne (Tate Modern, 2010b), brought about a radical departure from the conventional means of portraying objects. The Cubists - Picasso, Braque, Gris et al, looked to present all visual surfaces of an object onto one single plane making use of “fracture lines” to cut-up 3-dimensional objects, assembling all facets onto one single visual plane. This new approach brought about a radical change to the established portrayal of image matter, moving away from traditional a resemblance to more adventurous and abstract representations. The early “analytical” approach looked to pull a subject apart, analysing and re-assembling it in a 2-dimensional format utilising the fracture lines and shading to create shallow depth. The later “synthetic” approach was “characterised by the introduction of textures, surfaces, collage elements, papier collé and a large variety of merged subject matter” to create a flatter space with less “planar shifts” & shading. This was the beginning of collage materials being used as an important element of fine art work. As Cubism progressed, objects became more and more fragmented and paintings “increasingly abstract” (Ibid., 2010b) and in order to counteract this, words were incorporated into the visual arrangement along with “a collage” of real elements, such as newspaper articles and sheet music that were employed as a representation of themselves as well adding identity and decoration. This fresh and invigorating approach to composition released both image and type from the traditional means of signification. No longer would words and image be compelled to a predictably accurate means of depiction, they would become more audacious & abstract, truncated, less absolute and more visually challenging, providing greater interest and a vitality that demands greater imagination and interpretation from the viewer.

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“In the spring of 1911 Braque introduced a new element into one of his paintings which was of vital significance. Across a painting entitled 'Le Portugais' Braque stencilled the letters BAL, and under them numerals. The stencilled letters and numbers are assertions of [the realistic intentions of Cubism]….. In 'Le Portugais' [the characters] fulfil several obvious functions” (Golding, cited in Art Archive, 2010a). Letters are utilised to emphasise the 2-dimensional character of the painting reconciling solid form with the picture plane. They provide an associative value - the letter ‘D’ suggests the ending of a word, possibly the word ‘Grand’ contained within a dance hall poster hanging in a bar which helps to convey an atmosphere for the painting. Letters also add to the composition providing decoration and serve to present a unique identity for each painting (Ibid., 2010a).

Figure 16 - Braque, Georges. – ‘Le Portugais’ (The Emigrant), 1911-1912.

I agree entirely with Golding; the fragmented use of letterforms within a composition signifies a binding relationship between the broad, illustrative qualities of the abstracted elements and the definitive subject matter of the theme. This marriage is cemented further as the viewer is drawn into the painting, gathering clues and examining each compositional element as the narrative unfolds. The two-dimensional characteristic of letterforms reminds the viewer of the two-dimensional structure of the canvas as the words collaborate with the shallow perspective of fragmented objects. The use of letters within the context of the composition provides the opportunity for the artist to create sentiment & feeling and serves to provide a subtle description or explanation of the abstracted subject matter. The use of truncated words and individual characters are able to provide a unique identity for each work of art, especially when many paintings appear to be similar in tone and composition.

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Italian Futurism (1909 - 1944) was an art and design movement that emerged at the turn of the last century and continued for 35 years through to the end of the WWII. Consequently it was to become “the longest-lived and broadest…. artistic movement of the 20th century” (Hulme, 1995). The movement was born out of a frustration at the stagnating social and economic climate that prevailed in Italy at the turn of the last century and was predominantly a reaction against the historic political and academic thinking of the time. Futurists despised all things past, especially the arts and politics; consequently, they looked to discard the irrelevant politics and art, looking to embrace the future with vigour. Forged out of the “beauty of speed” and the “glorification of war”, the movement was not merely constrained to the visual arts but was an all embracing ideology, representing a broad range of creative arts, including literature, poetry, music, theatre, sculpture, architecture and cinema from a strikingly visual perspective. Marinetti’s – ‘Apres la Marne’ - adopts letterforms to create a striking visual illustration of a poem, celebrating the Battle of the Marne in the Great War (Getty, 2007a). Composed in the style of a map it illustrates winding roads through the distorted use of the letter S, employs the letter M to resemble the outline of the mountains and make reference to "Marne" and utilises columns of numbers as a metaphor for the assembled troops.

Figure 17 - Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. – ‘Après la Marne, Joffre Visita le Front en Auto’ (After the Marne, Joffre Visited the Front by Car), 1915.

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Marinetti's – ‘Tumultuous Assembly’ - is a visual poem that celebrates the ending of the Great War. References are made to 1918, the year the war ended, and metaphors are used to reference gathered crowds, the dead & missing and the celebratory march (Ibid., 2007a).

Figure 18 - Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. – ‘Une Assemblée Tumultueuse. Sensibilité Numérique’ (A Tumultuous Assembly. Numerical Sensibility), 1919.

The two pieces of work serve to illustrate the use of text as a visual connotation showing how the traditional conventions of typographical design and layout were being subverted. The exploratory use of divergent characters and typographic forms was typical of Futurist work as they looked to liberate the traditional syntax associated with literature and poetry. Futurists despised the rigid linearity of the book along with its written word and espoused dynamism as a means of expression. They utilised animated characters otherwise known as “Words-inFreedom”. Without doubt, both images possess a striking visual appeal, but how do they communicate meaning? The abundant use of letterforms as metaphors are, in Peirce’s terms, “symbolic” to the extreme and, without being given a purposeful explanation of the “new rules” and conventions proffered by Marinetti’s Futurists across their “Words-in-Freedom”, the statement of meaning is extremely difficult to decode from a pure linguistic perspective. The binary oppositions at play here are ones of visual expression over linguistic signification, with each design utilising visual structure as the prime means of communication to good effect. This experimentation with letterforms was to have a profound and lasting influence on the future application of type across various media, especially in the development of typographic illustration and the later evolution of concrete poetry. Futurists were a major inspiration for other early avant-garde movements such as Dada and Vortism, whose supporters pushed the concept of typographic experimentation even further.

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The Dada movement (1916 – 1923), founded by the writer Hugo Ball, were a reactionary group of writers, poets and artists, reviled by the horrors of the First World War who questioned all aspects of a society that was “capable of starting [the war] and then prolonging it” (Tate Modern, 2010c). They immersed themselves into the arts and looked to disperse with traditional values replacing them with a new, “anti–art”, and proclaiming that “While the guns rumbled in the distance, [they] sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all [their] might' (Ibid., 2010c). Their nihilistic viewpoint brought about the creation of an array of absurd, scandalous and chance designs that were clearly meant to shock and provoke. The progressive use and development of type was of particular interest to the Dadaists who were keen to further develop the Futurists visual approach to typographic design and layout releasing it even further beyond the previous process constraints, and the Cubists use of type as an ornamental feature, by experimenting with fonts, punctuation and the irregular placement of type and phrases that were borrowed from published articles. Tristan Tzara (Cited in National Gallery of Art: Washington, 2010) stated that “Each page must explode, either by deep and weight seriousness—the whirlwind, the vertigo, the new, the eternal—by the crushing jokes, by the enthusiasm for the principles, or by the manner of being printed". The various print media produced by the Dadaists demonstrated a free expression of type and layout, illustrated through the pamphlets, books and posters they created. They were not constrained by current know-how and looked to fully utilise the recent technological developments in print processing to freely produce experimental typographical arrangements. Raoul Hausmann’s – ‘ABCD’ - is a self-portrait of the artist who “searched for a vital, disruptive, and realistic art, piecing together scraps of word and image—the detritus of the real world—to make symbolic and explosive new pictures” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010). In this image, Hausmann demonstrates a clear subversion of typographic design, syntax and layout through a mixture of photomontage imagery complimented with a selection of fonts, borrowed texts, randomly chosen symbols and anarchic punctuation presented in a multi-directional layout. The poster is an announcement of his performance of a phonetic poem. “The letters VOCE (Italian for "voice") appear inside an earlike ellipse, and the letters ABCD, [the title of a typical] poem, are shown clinched between the artist's teeth. The tickets to the Kaiser Jubilee [placed] in his hat indicate the empty formalities of the social background in which he functioned, while the intentionally provocative gynaecological diagram alludes to the organic necessity of his art” (Ibid., 2010).

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Figure 19 - Hausmann, Raoul., ‘ABCD’, 1923-1924.

As with the Futurist illustrations described earlier, this image also carries a strong visual attraction, however, unlike their “animated characters” which attempt to communicate entirely through an illustrative representation of typography, this design carries more communicative meaning. There is less dependence on the abundant use of deeply symbolic metaphors and more of a balanced reliance on the use of iconic, symbolic and indexical signs that are significantly less in number. Exploring the image and decoding the specific elements that are attributed to the title and venue for the reading of verse enables the statement of meaning to be arrived at. The fact that it is a poster advertising such a performance would have been decoded from the indexical signs gathered from the locations and venues of the posted bills. There is a strong visual element to the whole composition with the binary elements of image and typography being equally balanced - no single element appears to dominate.

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As the century evolved so did the progression towards adopting a more measured approach to the design and use of typography. Function began to replace form and the aggressive experimentation of the avant-garde was replaced with the more considered approach of the contemporary modernists. The desire to communicate with “clarity and purity” emerged (Tschichold, 1995, p.73), heavily influenced by the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements with their advocacy for constructing simplified visual arrangements through the use of clean geometric lines and elementary form structures.

Figure 20 - Bayer, H., Universal Type, 1925.

One of the key proponents of the move towards the use of modernist principles in typographic design was Jan Tschichold who was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus school and was drawn to the movement after visiting the first Weimer Bauhaus exhibition in 1923. He adopted a thoroughly considered approach to design and a desire to provide a simple and effective means of communication, where form follows efficient function. His publication of ‘Die Neue Typographie’ in 1928 established a system of guiding principles that advocated the use of sans-serif fonts within mathematical grid structures, differing types, type-size & weights to convey hierarchical information, asymmetric layouts and a standard size for paper.


Late Modernism - Swiss International Style

Tschichold’s advocacy of the mathematical grid and use of sans-serif fonts was adopted, in the 1950’s, by a newly emerging Swiss design school that developed a unique [Swiss] style, perfectly suited for the post-war global development in consumerism. The school taught the principles and techniques of both the Bauhaus and “Die Neue Typographie” and because of the idealistic use of typographic elements in its arrangements, it also became known as The International Typographic Style. The fundamental principles taught by the school were to adopt the use of mathematical grids in order to provide a unified structure to design layout, to use sans-serif typefaces in order to communicate efficiently and effectively with ’clarity of meaning’ and to use photography in place of ornamental illustration. Page 23

One of the leading proponents of Swiss Graphic Design was Josef Müller-Brockmann whose designs embraced grid structures and imagery that was devoid of any superfluous illustration, communicating efficiently to a wide international audience. Brockmann “always aspired to [have] a distinct arrangement of typographic and pictorial elements, [and a] clear identification of priorities” (Schwemer-Scheddin, 1995). According to Müller-Brockmann (Cited in Schwemer-Scheddin, 1995) “The formal organisation of the surface by means of the grid, a knowledge of the rules that govern legibility (line length, word and letter spacing and so on) and the meaningful use of colour are among the tools a designer must master in order to complete his or her task in a rational and economic manner”. Müller-Brockmann’s - ‘Radfahrer-Achtung, Achtung-Radfahrer’ – is a prime example of Swiss Graphic Design style. The use of black and white imagery, white negative space and simple typographic elements adds drama and communicates meaning in a clean and efficient manner making use of a series of iconic, indexical and symbolic signs to convey the message.

Figure 21 - Müller-Brockmann, J., ‘Radfahrer-Achtung, Achtung-Radfahrer’ (Cyclist-Attention, Attention-Cyclist) - Poster, 1958.

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The viewer is first presented with the dominating position of a cyclist set at an angle which adds dynamism and suggests an order of vulnerability, the eye then moves diagonally down to the left and right towards a frustrated motorist and finally moves up to the phrase, “Radfahrer-Achtung, Achtung-Radfahrer”, located in the top left corner of the composition and set in a red Helvetica typeface. The whole composition is set against a prevailing background of white negative space that contrasts strikingly with the black and white images, elevating the vulnerability of the cyclist to the top of the hierarchical order. The use of analogous hand gestures each carry symbolic meaning – the cyclists gesture is to advise and warn the approaching motorist of his intention to turn left whilst the counterbalanced gesture of the motorist contrasts its meaning with that of the cyclist and communicates frustration. The angular composition of the “upright” cyclist is symbolic suggesting vulnerability and the combined images of both the cyclist and motorist are each iconic, communicating to a wide audience the common message of impending danger. The relative position of the cyclist to the motorist is indexical signifying the possibility of danger to come. This predominantly visual message is finally underpinned by the symbolic German phrase highlighted in red, which in western culture is a symbolic sign that is used to signify danger. The overall composition demonstrates the clear use of a grid structure along with an orderly arrangement of pictorial and typographical elements and meaningful use of colour. This poster clearly conveys its message with the binary element of visual depiction dominating that of typographic representation, which merely serves to underpin the pictorial message. The composition hardly subverts typographical design or typographical layout and serves as an example of the efficient clarity of meaning that is achieved in communication when “rules” are obeyed. Iconic images dominate the composition thereby interacting with a wide audience that transcends international boundaries, the iconic vulnerability of the cyclist carrying out his manoeuvre against the frustrating backdrop of the approaching motorist cries out “Cyclist - Attention, Attention – Cyclist”. Because of its simple and effective means of interaction, Swiss Style became the principal design standard up until the 1970’s and was largely used in corporate communication and informatics, after which it started to loose its momentum. The advent of Post-modern thinking in the late 60’s confronted the tenets of modernist principles and espoused, once again, a move away from the strict adherence to the prescribed boundaries that limited individuality. The emergence of a youth culture, progressive attitudes on the representation of image, rapidly advancing technology and the evolution of information technology created an environment for radical thought and unhindered experimentation, unimaginable at the beginning of the century.

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Postmodernism arrived towards the latter part of the 20th century by way of a mounting reaction against the purity and structural form previously championed by the post-war modernist movement. As the century steadily progressed towards the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the energy of modernism so passionately revered over the past 40 years had started to wane – ‘less is more’ (Mies van der Rohe, n.d. cited in Open University) became ‘less is a bore’ (Venturi, 1966 cited in Buszek, 2011). “Design in the sixties was no longer just about form and function, it was about style”. (Raimes & Bhaskaran, 2007, p.136). Postmodernists sought to do away with the conformity of direction that previously restricted individuality, and looked to dissolve the boundaries and conventions cultivated over the past decades – grids were established and then smashed – in essence there were no rules. Its proponents were inspired by a whole manner of preceding art and design movements, and they encouraged the exploitation of modern, mixed media formats, including those of the computer and information technology. An emergent youth culture, despondent with the social, political and economic order, shaped during the aftermath of 1950s and ‘60s conservatism, were keen to liberate themselves, quick to have fun and eager to experiment. A philosophical shift was also emerging where the clarity of meaning implicit in modernism was giving way to a wider sphere of interpretation and a plurality of meaning derived from a greater interest in complexity and ornament. Letterforms were signifying more and more from a visual perspective with linguistic meaning taking a secondary role. Jamie Reid was renowned for his prolific and explorative use of DIY graphics, ransom-note lettering and cryptic slogans. His unique, easy to copy, DIY aesthetic ripped the heart out of the establishment and inspired a whole subculture – Punk. He captured the anarchic sentiment of the 1970s to such an extent that Malcolm McClaren asked Reid to artistically interpret the Sex Pistols – which he did to extreme effect. His “Anarchy flags subverted the Union Jack ….. images of the Queen were lifted from postage stamps with swastikas replacing the eyes ..... ransom note lettering ….. and safety pins that pierced the very heart of the establishment” (Kingston, 2000), were used to powerful effect. Reid’s – ‘God Save the Queen’ – is a vinyl record sleeve for the Sex Pistols 7” Single of the same name. The image is a classic example of letterforms that are designed to communicate first and foremost from a visual perspective. The shock positioning of DIY, cut-and-paste, hostage takers ransom type, across the disfigured, torn-out eyes and gagged mouth of the Queen, set against a blue background, piercingly signifies anti-establishment.

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Figure 22 – Reid, Jamie., ‘God Save the Queen’, 7” Vinyl Sleeve, 1977.

Figure 23 – Reid, Jamie., ‘Anarchy in the UK’ – 7” Vinyl Sleeve, 1977.

Reid’s –‘Anarchy in the UK’ –subverts the Union Jack and again utilises letterforms for visual impact. The use of paper clips and safety pins hold the fragile image together. Both images possess strong visual appeal and are clearly designed to shock, but how do they signify? The provocative use of letterforms are primarily utilised to signify from a visual perspective, providing iconic representations of anti-establishment. The statements of meaning are easy to decode and each image sub-consciously stimulates our emotions through visual representation. The linguistic messages are secondary and, although easily deciphered, they carry little value in transmitting any sense of meaning except for an underpinning of each visual message. Each of the designs replicate methods practiced by the Avant-Garde at the turn of the last century, the appropriation of ready-made typographic images imitating the works of Cubists and Dadaists and the appropriation of a deliberate intention to shock adopting the sentiment of the Futurists. Page 27

David Carson is renowned for his experimental typographic work through magazines such as “Beach Culture” and “Ray Gun”, breaking all the rules and pushing the boundary of legibility to its extreme through his chaotic arrangements and a disconnection between image and type. He is notably recognised for “totally shattering the Modernist grid [that] subverts the personality of the designer to the primacy of the corporate” (Anon., n.d. cited in Art+Culture, 2010), creating page numbers that are larger than the headline, pages that are placed out of order and, in what he describes as “A dull interview with Bryan Ferry” (Art+Culture, 2010), copy text presented entirely in a Dingbat font – totally shattering conventional syntax akin to that championed by the futurists. Carson’s covers for the book “Architecture of Patterns” primarily signifies from a visual perspective and displays an interesting combination of alpha characters and symbols. The use of fonts that carry differing styles, size and weights, sentences interjected with reversed symbol forms, the repetition of words complimenting that of multi-patterning, the use of symbols as a substitute for letters and words that collide with each other are appropriations of Futurist and Dadaist works that communicate both iconically and symbolically through resemblance. In essence it is an array of copy type layers and symbols that combine to make a piece of art that challenges the reader to journey through each piece in order to discover its contents. From a linguistic perspective the syntax is not particularly challenging to decipher but it has to be worked on, for example decoding the symbolic use of the + character form. It’s as if Carson wants the reader to earn the right to decipher the content.

Figure 24 – Carson, David., ‘The Architecture of Patterns’ – Book Covers, 2009.

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Figure 25 – Earls, Elliott., ‘The Conversion of St Paul’, 1999.

Elliott Earls’ – ‘The Conversion of Saint Paul’ – is one of a set of posters which formed part of a body of work entitled ‘Throwing Apples at the Sun’ comprising of an enhanced CD, four posters, thirty minutes of pop songs and spoken word tracks, and a collection of seven original typeface designs. In Earls’ words (2011a), after being sacked from Elektra Records, “’Throwing Apples at the Sun’ felt the full brunt of my rage, hopes, aspirations and idealism”. I believe that Earls angst this is strongly conveyed in this image with its iconic characters forms and Christ-like depiction of a contorted naked torso which appears headless and full of tension, the symbolic use of religious phrases in type that is written about-face, the double meaning of the word “Saint” which, when combined with the word “Saul” underneath, can be interpreted in the negative sense as the serifs of the U interplay with the letters A & I of “Saint”, the use of two colours with the colour red symbolically signifying death – maybe this is Earls’ statement of his recent loss of position and consequential frustration with the “system” or maybe a breaking with the past. This is a prime example of the designer portraying a plurality of meaning that is typical of Post-modern compositions.

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Artists since the 19th Century have carried with them the image of the romantic, imaginative and the uniquely individual and I believe that Carson and Earls’ typographic layouts display a beautiful arrangement of character forms that combine the appropriations of the past with the thinking of the present to exhibit their own celebration of the unique, creative and imaginative that is reminiscent of the attitudes and work created by the artists of the 19th Century, albeit in a post-industrial context. This is in stark contrast to the predictable and repetitive qualities of the modernist compositions, evident during the mid to late 20th century that rejected historicism and evolved efficiently in a design context, during the period of industrial and consumer development. Whilst the early art movements also included romanticism in their celebration I believe that today’s typographic arrangements are more practical and communicate a new sense of meaning that is in keeping with the demands of a postindustrial, consumer society. The pursuit of the ornamental and complex, prevalent during the 19th century, are echoed in today’s postmodern pieces and this approach to composition and layout becomes increasingly attractive and economically appealing as the efficiency of creative production increases.

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This dissertation has sought to establish the correlation that exists between the typographic compositions of today and the arrangements created by the Avant-Garde at the turn of the last century and to determine whether the current trends towards experimental type-forms that subvert the prescribed conventions of typographical design actually connect with the end user, or do they disturb the concept of fixed meaning. In answering the question a broad outline of the development of typography has been described, tracing its roots from early through to its present day use utilising a range of theories and illustrations to clarify if communication actually ensues. The typographic forms and word patterns that we view today have undergone many transformations as civilisation and society have developed from both the necessity to communicate and a desire to advance. Countless influences are wrapped up in the contemporary application of letterforms that we now view and almost take for granted. The origins of the current post-modern typographic explosion can be firmly placed at the beginning of the last century, with the Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists and other Avant-Garde art & design movements who aggressively set in motion the tenets for change, unafraid of challenging the rules and experimenting with visual representation and the linguistic sense of meaning. The manner in which they presented their typographic arrangements, which were freed from the necessity of making words, sentences, stories or linguistic sense, have inspired many great pioneers of graphic design and have paved the way for the unnerving typographic exploration that we see today. Current trends in post-modern design are the culmination of a progressive reaction against the rigid constraints of modernist layouts, an embracing of the changing philosophies associated with the representation of meaning and the evolution of a profession that now relies almost entirely on the use of computers. The rapid advances in printing technology and image making techniques along with the theoretical developments in the way life-like images were being portrayed, inspired early 20th century designers. Like their contemporaries, current designers are also inspired by a similar advancement in technology and philosophy, with the computer and information technology being pushed to the extreme in order to challenge and fully exploit the changing attitudes on “clarity of meaning”, providing unsurpassed opportunities for creative freedom at the potential expense of the designers control of signification. With graphic design firmly entrenched in the digital realm, current compositions display a wide variety of layout and structure, allowing for varied interpretations of meaning that draw upon the theories defined by Structuralism.

The question as to how postmodern design

communicates is a complex one in view of the fact that “sense of meaning” is derived from an intricate series of signifying attributes that contribute towards the synergistic composition of Page 31

signs – the relationship between signifier and signified, the types of sign, the prevalence of binary opposites and hierarchical structures. I believe that the answer to the “question” indeed lies in the understanding of Structuralism and the theory of Semiotics. In order to convey a sense of meaning, designers exploit the interactions that exist between the essential elements of a sign in order for them to satisfy their desired outcomes, within the framework of their fundamental beliefs on design philosophy. Modernist thinking adopts an unambiguous relationship between the signifier and signified from which clarity of meaning is almost guaranteed. Linguistic meaning takes precedence where the structured use of word and image work efficiently together to create messages that are readily understood and consistently interpreted by a broad audience. In early Avant-Garde and Postmodernist thinking, the interplay is less clear and relies upon the audience to interpret the purpose of meaning in their own individual way. The less structured and highly visual appearance of ambiguous letterforms and image combine to create unstable meanings that rely less on their linguistic significance and more on visual impact. Some compositions rely so little on the linguistic interpretation that the words go almost unnoticed and serve only to underpin the uniquely subjective messages that are being conveyed. Kinross succinctly captures this when he asserts, “Meaning is unstable and has to be made by the reader. Each reader will read differently…. Designers should make text visually ambiguous and difficult to fathom, as a way to respect the rights of the readers” (Kinross, 1997, p.19 cited in Barnard, 2005: p.144). Without doubt, some modern typographical designs communicate primarily through visual structure and this challenges our societal notions of linguistics that were encouraged and nurtured during our childhood development – the codification of language and syntax. Reid’s work exemplifies a highly visual means of communication that relies very little on linguistic meaning when achieving his communicative outcome, which is to create a tantrum of shock through the sharp use of iconic signs. Carson’s work relies on a mix of the visual and symbolic to express his intended meaning through the use of graphic characters that symbolically represent letters and so communicate linguistically as well as visually. The work of Earls’ adopts highly ambiguous letterforms and imagery that give a general impression of his intended messages and totally relies upon the reader to interact and decipher, as they seem fit. What is undeniably clear is that there currently exists a vast array of postmodern, typographic arrangements that are now being generated from an increasing pool of adept creative talent who are willing and able to fully exploit, without caution, fear or constraint, the ever-changing opportunities presented to themselves through rapidly developing media technologies. In essence they are operating amongst contemporaries that practice without bounds in a cabaret of creativity in which there reigns a deep philosophy of "no more rules” ....... Literally!

Total Word Count: 8,800. Page 32

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Appendix A Semiotic Terminology

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Semiotic Terminology Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, symbols, and signification. It is the study of how meaning is created, not what it is. Below are some brief definitions of semiotic terms, beginning with the smallest unit of meaning and proceeding towards the larger and more complex: [Streeter, 2010]. Signifier:

Any material thing that signifies, e.g., words on a page, a facial expression, an image.


The concept that a signifier refers to.


Together, the signifier and signified make up the Sign, the smallest unit of meaning. Anything that can be used to communicate (or to tell a lie).

Symbolic (arbitrary) signs:

Signs where the relation between signifier and signified is purely conventional and culturally specific, e.g., most words.

Iconic signs:

Signs where the signifier resembles the signified, e.g., a picture.

Indexical Signs:

Signs where the signifier is caused by the signified, e.g., smoke signifies fire.


The most basic or literal meaning of a sign, e.g., the word "rose" signifies a particular kind of flower.


The secondary, cultural meanings of signs; or "signifying signs," signs that are used as signifiers for a secondary meaning, e.g., the word "rose" signifies passion.


A kind of connotation where in one sign is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.


A kind of connotation in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor).

Collections of related connotations can be bound together either by Paradigmatic relations:

Where signs get meaning from their association with other signs, or by

Syntagmatic relations:

Where signs get meaning from their sequential order, e.g., grammar or the sequence of events that make up a story.


A combination of paradigms and syntagms that make up an oft-told story with elaborate cultural associations, e.g., the cowboy myth, the romance myth. Page 39


A combination of semiotic systems, a supersystem, that function as general maps of meaning, belief systems about oneself and others, which imply views and attitudes about how the world is and/or ought to be. Codes are where semiotics and social structure and values connect.


Codes that reinforce or are congruent with structures of power. Ideology works largely by creating forms of "common sense," of the taken-for-granted in everyday life.

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Appendix B Comparison of Poster Design Features

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Comparison of Poster Design Features When considering the posters used for the 1936 and 1964 Olympic Games the differences between the key features of each of the designs quickly becomes apparent when binary opposites are placed beside each other. It is clear from the table below that neither of the designs carries any similar features and as such they are considered to be binary opposite.

1936 - Berlin Poster

1964 - Tokyo Poster

62 cm x 100 cm

55 cm x 100 cm

Detailed Design

Simple Design



Diagonal Movement

Vertical Movement

Many Colours and Shades

Two Colours

Serif Font

Sans Serif Font

Full Inscription

Partial Inscription

Classical Style

Modern Style


Geometric Shapes

Used for Propaganda

Used for Publicity



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Subverting Conventions in Typographical Design & Layout  

Dissertation submitted for BA(Hons) Graphic Design

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