Not My Type

From the layered, blurry, blaring layouts in Wired
magazine to the flaky new type faces cropping up on album covers,
beer commercials, Web home pages, and everywhere else in hip
graphic space, there’s something profound going on in the world of
graphic design — and design writers are trying to come to terms
with it.

In the most recent issue of the pathbreaking graphics magazine
Emigre (Spring 1995) a cluster of articles more or
less defines the graphics revolution as a generational battle. In
one corner: youthful, computerized postmodernists who love crowded,
quirky pages and Mac-generated, mixed-up type fonts. In the other,
designers still wedded to the clarity and cleanliness of modernist
design, which has been the norm of mainstream graphic-shop practice
for seventy years. For aggressive postmods like type designer
Jefferey Keedy, modernism’s claim to universal human values and its
heritage of rationalism (expressed in design as clear, legible
space and use of a handful of lucid type faces) is a dead weight.
While modernists dismiss the newer, rawer graphics as nihilistic
and merely trendy, for Keedy the new graphic order expresses the
age’s preference for ‘specificity and complexity’ — it’s an image
of our multicultural, multi-subjective world.

Many thoughtful designers see this battle for the soul of design
— really a battle over profound social values–as an opportunity
for graphic design to come out of the studio and into the world. In
the same issue of EMIGRE, Putch Tu urges designers to get to know
the style experts out on the street — people like the
punker-bikers in her favorite San Francisco country-western bar.
Writing in Eye (Vol 12, No. 3, 1994), Edward
McDonald suggests that it’s time for design to stop being the
handmaiden of the corporation and the younger brother of ‘fine’ art
and step forward as a liberal art in its own right, with its own
unique perspective on art and social change. And Frances Butler
suggests, in the AIGA Journal (Vol. 13, No. 1,
1995), that through incongruity and discontinuity, designers are
registering changes more profound than merely social ones —
they’re charting the final demise of ‘linear structure in thought’
and the rise of a graphic order that operates the way the brain
does: via discontinuity, juxtaposition, metaphor, and ‘wild’

For More Information

EMIGRE (Spring 1995). Subscriptions: $28/yr. (4 issues) available
from 4475 D Street, Sacramento, CA 95819;

Dan Friedman, Radical Modernism (Yale University
Press, $65).

Web Sites
(Cutting-edge British typographical magazine, with fonts by
Jefferey Keedy and others)

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