Revolution Lullabye

January 12, 2009

Lupton, Thinking with Type

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

This book, written for both designers and students, gives a broad overview of the histories and theories of typography and broader text design along with specific techniques on how to analyze and create type, text, and entire documents. The book is divided into three major sections – letter, text, and grid – and each section begins with a historical essay followed by several practical examples of the design elements discussed. Lupton focuses particularily on how typography has answered the typographic and layout design challenges of digital media. Design, she argues, has now expanded beyond the printed page, as designers must create transmedia designs, designs that move from web pages to captions to pull quotes to logotypes to album covers. Designers, Lupton also argues, must attend to the needs of the audience, and today, the reader has become the user, whose time and attention is a valuable commodity which must be accomodated in the design of letters, text, and grids.

Quotable Quotes

Typography is…

“a tool for doing things with: shaping content, giving language a physical body, enabling the social flow of messages” (8)

“what language looks like” (1)

“an interface to the alphabet” (75)

“by and large, an art of framing, a form designed to melt away as it yields itself to content” (115)


“is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking” (67) Importance of white space

“has become a ‘transmedia’ enterprise, as authors and producers create worlds of characters, places, situations, and interactions that can appear across a variety of products” (75)

“is the art of situations” (193) Designers respond to a need, a problem.

“The history of typography is marked by the increasingly sophisticated use of space…Space has become more liquid than concrete, and typography has evolved from a stable body of objects to a flexible system of attributes” (68).

Users instead of readers: “searching and finding, scanning and mining” (76).

Notable Notes

Shift in cultural values throughout typographic history: humanist in the Renaissance and 15th century Italy (looked like handwriting), Enlightenment (fluid, fancy, sharp, clean, precise, use of the grid), Industrialization (monster fonts with big, bold faces made from wood-cut type), Arts and Crafts movement (pure, round, balanced, geometric shapes), Post WWII (mathematical, universal language, Swiss grid design), digital revolution (low resolution, bit-map pixel fonts), late 20th century (play with variation with computer capabilities.)

Type family includes regular, bold, italic, bold italic, small caps, lining numerals, non-lining numerals

databases create non-linear structures, space instead of sequence (69)

Barthes, Derrida, Ong, Raskin, Lunenfeld

Style sheets allow designers to think globally about the design of the entire structure instead of just the present page (74).

The computer has saved text – a “digital phoenix” (Lunenfeld quote – 76) because it emphasizes the printed word in a way TV and film do not.

Grids are about control, establishing systems for organizing content. Even the computer screen, which has so many curves and spontaneous elements, is based fundamentally on grids. This was emphasized with HTML tables, and Flash moves away a little bit from that, though it is based on an x and y grid. (113, 132)

for elegant design, do not have more than three visual cues for each level of hierarchy: symbols (A, B, C), indents, line breaks, font change (keep x-height the same), alignment change, bold, italic, color change, underline, small caps


Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: