Can Conceptual Typography Remain Legible?

Ok so I haven’t made a post in quite a while, but I have come quite a long way with my projet proposal and learning agreement, here’s a re-cap on my journy so far…

The main catalyst for my project proposal has been online type foundries and the way they market typefaces, which portrays them as a fashion statement or must have accessorie. This got me into thinking about the correllation between fashion and typography and how I could represent this visually. This was the basis for my initial project proposal when I first applied for the MA in graphic design.

This then evolved into a new way of thinking into legibility, the majority of typrfaces affiliated with the foundries I was looking at didn’t have an apparent agenda regarding legibility, where as some designers I had looked at such as font smith had addressed the issue of legibility within the typefaces they designed. To me this seemed like a more worthwhile practice regarding typeface design, producing letterforms which where practical and tackled issues regarding legibilty, which wasn’t apparent in other modern typeface design.

From this i began talking to my tutor and researched into emigre magazine. From this research and discussion I came to the conclusion that legibility within typeface design was perhaps not so much of an issue in today’s world (people read best what they read more etc) as when it comes to creative design the choice of typeface comes down to the issue of whether it suits the mood of what the designer is trying to provoke from their audience. This then brings up the issue of the application of type, it is generally believed by most designers that typefaces with an apparent mood or distinctive style will be used as title text or background text to emphasize a particular style. Everything else with in the design is likely to be copy text, which would incorporate the services of a recognised copy text typface such as times new roman or sabon. Much of what I read in Emigre directed towards a way of thinking that legible copy text was something that had already been conqured and that it wasn’t so much the choice of font, but how well it was executed regarding basic typography skills such as the use of kerning and leading.

This mentatlity that copy text has been conqured opens up the focus on heading text, can that too be conqured?

During the nineties and the advent of computer aided design prompted a boom in conceptual typography with journals such as emigre and fuse as well as designers such as neville brody and johnathen barnbrook making a name for themselves. Much of the work they where producing was based around an idea or theme and produced some fantastic work with interesting concepts but often at the cost of legibility. This was not always an issue however as the concept would always prevail within the design and it’s application could strengthen the look and mood of a piece of design work. To reinforce this ethic Fuse magazine in particular would always produce a magazine for each typeface to exhibit the concept and style of the typeface.

I want to extract elements from all of the subjects I have identified so far and with that produce a magazine which is targeted at modern graphic designers. The magazine will be based around conceptual typography, similarly to the fuse and emigre magazines of the nineties, however I want to design the magazine in a similar style to modern graphic design magazines such as computer arts to give them a contemporary look and in some way to feed off this mentatlity of  ‘fashionable’ graphic design falling short of actually utilising or promoting this heard mentality of recreating the same styles over and over again.

Similarly to Fuse and Emigre I would also like to develop a monthly theme for each magazine, for example fuse had themes such as runes or science and generated typefaces based on those concepts. Therefore I have been thinking about a theme that I would like to begin with.

The Two themes that have interested me so far have been ‘broken britain’ and ‘exiled’.

For broken britain I completed a brain storm which threw up some of the aspects of britain which have been the focus of the media in recent months such as knife crime, recession, drug abuse, teen pregnancies, STD’s and also football hooliganism which has had bit of a revival over the past 6 months with rangers fans rioting in manchester and west ham / millwall fans clashing in london and invading the football pitch. I chose to investigate football hooliganism a little further and discovered some interesting government statistics about arrests per stadia and which clubs had the worst reputations. I really like this idea of organised crime and hierachy as well as the culture that surronds hooliganism and how this could be interperatated into perhaps a magazine which uses gorrilla tactics to sell itself. I also read about a firm which named themselves the plastic chair brigade highlighting the plastic chairs usage as a weapon by football hooligans. Using this symbol of rioting I took an image of a plastic chair and broke it up in photoshop to make up letters. I like the concept of this design, but it has very limited application and legibility issues which is something I want to introduce to conceptual typography and raise my initial question, can conceptual typography remain legible?

My second topic of research was ‘exiled’ which refers to the avant garde and bauhaus designers of europe who where exiled to america during world war two in a bid to escape the nazi regime. The main reason this was brought to my attention was previous research into a czech graphic designer named ladislav sutnar who was basically the god father of information designa and installed many of the rules we use as graphic designers today regarding continuity and flow of information. Alongside him there was an influx of european practioners into america such as el lisitzky, maholy nagy, gropius and tschichold. They in turn brought with them a plethora of art movements including european modernism, russian constructivism and the new typography. america was moving into an era of the machine age and mass production opened up an new outlet for creative indiviuals in the form of advertising and consumerism. I want to look back at some of these art movements and research into how they where utilised and absorbed into a new consumer driven world.

So there you have it, an outline of what I want to produce and why I want to produce it. i have also investigated two themes in which to get my idea moving and help me produce some design ideas and concepts.


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