Page 1

Mindset promotions present:

First Things First. Nine online lectures unpacking the relationship between typography and consumption.

Preface Introduction

2 3

Vince Frost// Introductions Biography


5 9

Jonathan Barnbrook// Design beyond commodification Biography

12 19

Ken Garland// I design, therefore I am Biography

22 27

Katherine McCoy// There is such a thing as society (wake up and smell the coffee) Biography

30 36

Ellen Lupton// Introductions Biography

39 43

Andrew Blauvelt//


Towards a complex simplicity Biography

46 52

Jessica Helfand// You are under our control Biography

55 61

J. Abbott Miller// The idea is the machine Biography

64 68

Ruby VanderLans// Introductions




Sian Cook// Infiltrate, infect and mutate:


the problem with choice




Zuzana Licko// The big reveal: theatrical typography




Teal Triggs// The endless library at the end of print








Ellen Lupton: Biography.

Like an interpretation of a musical score, reading is a performance of the written word.

Ellen Lupton - 1963 - Philadelphia - USA

-Ellen Lupton

Ellen Lupton is a writer, curator, and graphic designer. She is director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, where she also serves as director of the Centre for Design Thinking. As curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum since 1992, she has produced numerous exhibitions and books, including Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office (1993), Mixing Messages: Graphic Design and Contemporary Culture (1996), Letters from the Avant-Garde (1996), and Skin: Surface, Substance + Design (2002). She recently has focused on bringing design awareness to broader audiences. Her book Thinking with Type (2004) is a basic guide to typography directed at everyone who works with words. D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself (2006), co-authored with her graduate students at MICA, explains design


processes to a general audience. D.I.Y. Kids (October 2007), co-authored with Julia Lupton, is a design book for children illustrated with kids’ art. “It’s never too early,” they explain, “to talk to your child about design.”

Her most recent book is Graphic Design: The New Basics (with Jennifer Cole Phillips, 2008). She is the co-author with Abbott Miller of several books, including The Bathroom, the Bathroom, and the Aesthetics of Waste (1992), Design Writing Research (1996), and Swarm (2006).

Lupton is a 2007 recipient of the AIGA Gold Medal, one of the highest honours given to a graphic designer or design educator in the U.S. Ellen Lupton has contributed to various design magazines, including Print, Eye, I.D., and Metropolis. She has a regular column, “The El Word,” in Readymade magazine. Her editorial illustrations have been published in The New York Times. A frequent lecturer around the U.S. and the world, Lupton will speak about design to anyone who will listen. Other exhibitions she has curated and co-curated include the National Design Triennial series (2000, 2003, 2006), Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500–2005 (2006), Solos: New Design from Israel (2006), and Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age (1999), all at CooperHewitt, National Design Museum. 33

Andrew Blauvelt:

Towards a complex simplicity.

In the face of global branding , designers are seeking inspiration from the everyday, the quotidian experiences found in the routines of daily life. What defines contemporary graphic design today? The shelves of your local bookshop provide at least one answer. Most books published on the socalled avant-garde of contemporary design represent the institutionalisation of graphic experimentation, only confirming that the radical signs surrounding design in the late 1980s and early 1990s have become thoroughly predictable. Not only has this kind of work become a marketable aesthetic niche, but it is perpetuated by educational institutions that dutifully churn out the latest incremental variations in formulaic fashion, fuelled by the twin myths of expressionism and stylistic pluralism. In his analysis of the 1980s art scene, the critic Hal Foster describes at least two conditions that identify a state of pluralism: a proliferation of accepted styles in the marketplace and a profusion of educational programmes that together constitute a new academy. I believe that graphic design operates under similar conditions today. The problem with pluralism is that styles become relative options, not critical choices. Although pluralism ensures many styles from which to choose, we lose any sense of critical alternatives because, as Foster states, “tolerance and acceptance doesn’t threaten the status quo”. Instead we have incremental or, in the parlance of 1990s economics, “managed” change. Just as the last round of “radical” graphics entered the profession in the late 1980s, many critics predicted an immedi38

ate opposite reaction, not understanding perhaps the speed and depth of

and visual, rather than the next round of

The diagrammatic and the eccentric converge in Timothy McSweeney’s, a

assimilation such work would engender.

stylistic permutations. This shift away from

literary journal in which words reign supreme. This is confirmed by the ad-

the simply complex and towards a complex

monishment on the cover of issue two: “If words are to be used as design

The prevailing notion of what defines contemporary graphic design took hold

simplicity is a condition that I would like to

elements then let designers write them.” Prone to confabulation, this small,

early in the 1990s – variously and problematically referred to as Decon-

read against many of the most celebrated

book-like journal is set in only one typeface, Garamond, about which is

structivism, grunge graphics, or simply, the “cult of the ugly”. In antithetical

characteristics of design produced in the

provided a five-page pseudo-colophon. McSweeney’s is typically bereft of

fashion, some critics foresaw an inevitable reaction to the trend by predicting


imagery, especially photography, preferring small line illustrations and the

a return to more minimal or reductive approaches. Emigre magazine devoted an issue to the subject (“Starting from Zero”) as early as 1991, in which the idea of reduction was taken to mean a return to the primal, and in 1995

occasional diagram or dingbat. Its well crafted covers evoke Victorian typo-

A complex simplicity.

Carel Kuitenbrouwer presciently saw the turn in contemporary Dutch design

charts structure the contents of each issue in much the way that nineteenthcentury physiognomy charts tried to map human nature. McSweeney’s relies

away from its baroque excesses and towards a “new sobriety” (Eye no. 17

In the realm of the simply complex, frag-

on verbal explication and finds a visual corollary in the diagram. The contents

vol. 5). The prophecies continue with the recent publication of Less Is More,

mentation is preferred as the viewer as-

of issue two, for example, are represented by the number of words per ar-

by Steven Heller and Anne Fink, a collection of contemporary design defined

sembles various bits of text and image to

ticle and approximate reading time, and by a pie chart that categorises the

by familiar yet retrograde notions of simplicity. In the wake of these predic-

form an aggregate message. Such work

offerings by percentage, for example, “Stories that want you to be happy:

tions has the cult of complexity given way to an ethos of simplicity?

tends to treat language as a free-floating

19%.” Carefully ordered, but abhorrent of white space, it leaves no place

talisman, isolated words drifting across the

unused. Witness, from the third issue cover, messages such as “This area

page in search of meaning. By contrast a

was blank for the longest time” or “Nothing need happen here”, or an article

complex simplicity relies on enumeration

printed on the spine. For McSweeney’s the modernist principle of “activated”

and explication, a series of digressions and

white space seems empty, both wasteful and useless, because every place is

elaborations linked in the flow of language.

a seen as a potential space to hold meaning.

Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas. -Beatrice Warde

graphic guises with elaborate extended prose and marginalia, while intricate

What seems trivial and tangential becomes essential – like so many bits and pieces of

It is also possible for the form to structure itself. For example, various bits

data in the detritus of the information age.

of data taken together form a powerful gestalt in Jeremy Coysten’s poster

At the beginning of the decade it seemed as if there was an ever-expanding

This abundance of information is employed

series on aeroplane crashes and traffic accidents. Coolly rendered as scat-

universe of graphic possibilities, yet now it feels as if we have reached the

to dramatic and occasionally humorous

terplots, Coysten’s Civil Airline Disasters 1950-1998 fixes the location and

limit. Is there no way forward when everything seems possible? In this infinity

effect. Structure becomes paramount in or-

death toll of 607 aviation tragedies, their resulting dispersal pattern forming

of possibilities, we may arrive at zero. But to begin again does not mean re-

der to handle large quantities of texts and

an image of the world. Coysten’s poster was prompted by his own near-miss

turning to the “good old days” of clarity, legibility and objectivity. Starting from

images: a penchant for charts, diagrams

incident aboard a flight to Australia. A second poster in the series docu-

zero does not mean that contemporary design arrives free of the past.

and maps prevails. But in the most inter-

ments road accidents in the uk over one week. In both instances the rational

esting work what appears to be good old

forms of information design have been employed to register the seemingly

There are signs of different forms of design taking hold, projects and solu-

information design reveals, upon closer ex-

irrational loss of life. The calculated nature of the statistics contrasts with

tions that embrace reductive not additive working methods, explicit rather

amination, something more subjective – a

random events or accidents. The posters are produced for sale and are not

than implicit structures of organisation, a preference for the literal over the

kind of over-rationalised explication – that

commissioned for public safety campaigns. In this way information becomes

ambiguous, and where the ordinary and the quotidian, not the exoticised

undermines its historical associations of

both a product and a surrogate form of experience.

subcultures of the vernacular, are sources of inspiration. At their best such

neutrality and objectivity.

projects are a critical encounter with problems of representation, both verbal 39


subsequent layout of 1,056 pages. The aim of the project is interpretative, not exhaustive, therefore the body of the text comprises only 144 expressions

Sublimating expression.

used by Krauss in Die Fackel. The purpose of this dictionary is to register the nuances of Krauss’s concepts and expressions. Representing a decidedly postmodern “tissue of quotations”, Burdick has structured the pages

While the overt intervention of the designer figured prominently as a signifier

so that the central column of text includes excerpts from Krauss’s writings,

of self-expression, one can detect the suspension of many of the designer’s

while the left column contains citations and cross-references, and the right

more subjective decision-making tasks. Like forms of conceptual art, the

column contains texts that perform “interpretative actions” on the main pas-

preferred mode is more detached, relying on systematic approaches to pro-

sage. Because Krauss often used typography and imagery semantically in

duce solutions. Sol LeWitt once proclaimed that “the idea is the machine that

his writings, the central column frequently contains images and passages of

makes the art”. The systematic nature of a predetermined process generates

text lifted directly from the original. Burdick acknowledges that conventional

its form, and in this way it is the process itself that becomes the concept.

assumptions of design authorship were hampered by both the scope of the

Although the designer has not been entirely removed, what is foregrounded is

project and the barrier of a foreign language. Relying instead on a series of

the visible traces of the process. Unlike some Modernist attempts at aban-

instructions, Burdick’s solution nevertheless bears the traces of the designer’s

doning subjectivity in favour of machine-like rationality, certain projects provide

close attention to the details that would allow the project to realise its most

a framework for future actions outside the usual control of the designer and

appropriate polyphonic form.

are often completed by the viewer. Simple complexity demands typographic experimentation, highly articulated An example of such participatory, rather than prescriptive, design is a poster by

structures and eccentric typefaces. By contrast, a complex simplicity revels

Paul Elliman for a conference on the work of the French writer Lautréamont

in the spartan vocabulary of what might be called “vanilla typography”, where

(see Eye no. 25 vol. 7, page 31). White boxes have been inserted between

typography has been reduced to a near-zero degree of expression – neither

the words “image”, “Maldoror” and “text”, for conference participants to com-

pretty nor eccentric, but quite plain. This is an inverted world where the or-

plete, alter or negate. This simple gesture allows the project to generate a

dinary stands out from the crowd as a distinctive gesture. By comparison,

multitude of responses, which as an action echoes the nature of the event’s

yesteryear’s shaped paragraph blocks and micromanaged type treatments

interpretive agenda. In a similar but more extreme vein, Daniel Eatock’s utilitar-

look like fussy affectations, so many histrionics in the passion play of design.

ian poster project, essentially a generic form silk-screened on newsprint paper,

This change in typographies signals not only a shift in fashion, but also helps

methodically guides the user through the steps of creating their own adver-

expose the expressionistic fallacy behind much 1990s design.

tisement, and includes blanks to insert relevant information, such as titles of events, images, persons to contact, etc. In this instance the work is wholly

Expressionism denies its existence as a language, and thus a style, in order

dependent on viewer response, the absence of which denies the piece its

to preserve a sense of immediacy, a supposedly unmediated or direct con-

essential content.

nection to individual desire and the unconscious. Indeed, in most forms of contemporary design, expressionism has become synonymous with individual-

Anne Burdick’s design for Wörterbuch der Redensarten, a dictionary of

ity. While modern typography in the 1960s and 1970s could be easily linked

idioms, demonstrates an intricate form of complexity that weaves together

with the increasing rationality of the then-emerging industrial technocracy,

various texts. Gathered from the work of Karl Krauss’s Die Fackel, a literary

today’s similar but simpler typography is aligned with the cultural sectors

journal published between 1899 and 1936, Burdick worked with a group

of fashion and art. This simplified approach to typography, while relatively

of researchers in Vienna to generate a series of design directions for the

common to many culture magazines, is most often employed in conjunction 42

In this image world, life is collected in

(a man and a woman) appear fresh from a sexual encounter – replete with

pictures documenting the everyday in the

small beads of perspiration on their faces. Inside, the clichés of sex are

face of a highly mediated, spectacularised

distributed accordingly – sexual innuendo and phallicism, photos of stained

existence. The moment preserved by the

mattresses and bits of blacked-out (“censored”) texts. Importantly, the sub-

snapshot is valued because it signifies

jects of re- are ordinary people, not celebrities. The texts remain first-person

“realness”. This theme appears in cultiver

accounts, either testimonials, diaristic thoughts, or confessions.

notre jardin, by Jan van Toorn. Using a structure of perforated and folded pages, Van Toorn alternates between colour and

The ordinary made extraordinary.

black and white images – pictures taken mainly by him – of people, friends and places

With the reconsideration of the ordinary and everyday within graphic design,

around the world. Interspersed through the

one may ask whether we are witnessing the end of what was once referred

with the nouveau realist photography of the

book are quotations about social reality,

to as “the society of the spectacle”. It is more likely that with today’s cam-


mediated experience and notions of public

paigns for global branding – the process that transforms the ordinary into

and private space, including a quote by

the memorable – we long for the less-mediated experiences found in the

social critic Mike Davis, who argues for a

routines of daily life. Perhaps we can’t recognise the spectacle because it

re-examination of nineteenth-century real-

exists all around us.

Picturing the everyday.

ism and its relationship to everyday life.

One of the more influential publications in this

Van Toorn extols us to “cultivate our own

After attending America: Cult and Culture, last year’s AIGA [American Insti-

genre is Paris-based Purple, which surveys

garden”, by carving out a space in the pub-

tute of Graphic Arts] conference in Las Vegas (Reviews, Eye no. 34 vol. 9),

the worlds of art, fashion, fiction, prose and in-

lic sphere in what have become expanding

it seemed all too easy to leave the spectacle behind as my plane departed.

teriors. Segregating the verbal (prose, fiction)

corporate and institutional fields.

Watching television at home, a group of rather ordinary young men and

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.Design is how it works.

from the visual (art, fashion, interiors), Purple’s

representation. Eschewing visual ambigu-

moment it was difficult, but not impossible, to remember that the truly ordi-

of professional, commercial photography, with

ity, including the clichéd stylistic affecta-

nary lies in opposition to the brand. I was reminded of the architect Deborah

-Steve Jobs

its requisite need for elaborate lighting set-

tions of blurriness, the preferred mode of

Berke’s warning, in writing about the transformation of the landscape from

ups, make-up, styling and retouching. While

pictorial represent-ation is documentary

banal to branded: “To confuse ubiquitous logos with generic identity [is] to

images have undergone extensive digital

realness – not an attempt at capturing the

mistake successful marketing for ‘popular’ culture.” At the eclipse of the so-

manipulation in the past decade, the recent

authentic, but a much more studied trope

ciety of the spectacle, the ordinary is made extraordinary and the trivial and

resurgence of the snapshot makes one won-

that signifies the real but does not try to

mundane become memorable.

der whether this form of representation is a

stand in for it. This strategy is evinced in

critical alternative or simply a fashionable one.

Jop van Bennekom’s self-initiated project,

The extensive presence of fashion advertising

re-, a magazine about everyday life. In an

that mimics this look in the pages of Purple

issue devoted to sex, the cover models


women dressed casually but alike were singing along to an old Madonna

preferred image is the snapshot, the most

Rather than striving to record moments

tune. The minimal white stage set and the uninflected karaoke ushered in

immediate form of photographic address.

of realness as it happens, other designers

the autumn season of clothing for The Gap and I found myself transfixed:

Uncomplicated, unstudied, and frequently un-

prefer a much more mediated approach to

ordinary clothes worn by average people elevated to a new aesthetic. At that

staged, the snapshot negates the conditions

suggests the latter.

Originally published in Eye Magazine. Text copyright Eye Magazine © 2001.



Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing.No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty.


-Emil Ruder


First Things First  

A typography and editorial exercise, to make a book detailing transcripts and biographies from the First Things First manifesto.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you