Typography Now: The Next Wave
Rick Poyner, one of the editors of this book, was prescient when he wrote in the introduction: “Some [of these works] will stand the test of time; others will prove to have been representative of their period, but of no greater significance.” Many of the works in the book do fall into the latter category.
Though it seems somewhat counter-intuitive, the use of computers in design and typography (quite new in the early 90’s, when this book was published) allowed these designers to create works with less precision, more randomness, and more expression than preceding methods. Thus, many of these works read like the result of someone playing with a new tool and taking it to its extreme. In fact the designers represented here owe a lot to earlier typographical experimenters profiled in Pioneers of Modern Typography. You’ll find total illegibility, warped type, layers of type, type in extreme sizes and crazy directions, much of which looks highly stylized and dated. Interestingly, most of the works lean towards non-commercial use, like posters for design schools, art exhibitions, musical performances, etc.
These folks (or some of them anyway) were arguing that the designer is not just an arranger of content, but an interpreter of it. They claimed (to me contradictorily) that “the aim is to promote multiple rather than fixed readings” but also that “designers must be able to function as visual editors who can bring acute perception to their readings of the text.” How can the designer promote multiple readings while also developing and promoting his/her own? In hindsight, these arguments read like justification for their play and experimentation with type. In any case, this perspective on the role of the designer is interesting to consider, especially applied to web design, where the focus is so often on user-centric design.
This book is worth having for a few reasons. One, there are some interesting pieces that stand out from the rest and will spark ideas. Two, the designs serve to remind us that just because you can make a piece of text jagged, cluttered, and obscure doesn’t mean you should. Three, it will get you thinking about the place of the designer/typographer/graphic artist.
A version of this review was originally posted on Amazon.com
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