Critical Typography

Critical typography is not functional or practical. It is not interested in legibility or transparency.

Its purpose is to disrupt and arrest the reader/viewer.

It interrupts the unconscious state with dissonance. It is often achieved by creating a gap between what is seen and what is understood.
It doesn’t fit expectations.
It seems out of place.
It’s somehow not right.
Often it involves an unexpected context, re-contextualization, and juxtaposition.
It can seem unfinished or unresolved; it can seem like something is missing.

In freeing typography from its function as arrangement of language, critical typography blurs the boundaries between text and image.
Text becomes image.

Critical typography is not concerned with perfection.
Critical typography may not identify its source or author.
It is ambiguous and purposely designed to challenge.
It is unexpected and frequently experienced by walking in public  spaces.
Its purpose is to make those that come in contact with it think and question fundamental assumptions.
It can be uncomfortable, and funny.

The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is NOT in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.
Dylan Thomas
from Notes on the Art of Poetry, The Poems of Dylan Thomas

+ + + + +

Project 1  Critical Typography  Aug 27–Sept 24

In this project you should use a published text, on a subject of your choice, to design an expression with only typography. Your typographic design—its content/form, style, scale, medium, location, etc.—should provoke and inspire, making those that come in contact with it to re-think and question fundamental assumptions. (intro to vinyl cutter/Risograph in printmaking shop).

Readings for Sept 1: Critical Design, Design Noir, and Critical Design FAQ, Dunne & Raby
Conversations With the Network, Khoi Vinh
Practice From Everyday, Goggin
What is This Thing Called Design Criticism?, Rock, Poynor

Resources:  Critical Typography TumblrType Only TumblrType Class Tumblr (Germany)

Robert Indiana

Ko Siu Lan

Rebecca Donald


Aram Bartholl


Ed Ruscha

Peter Fischl, David Weiss

Ken Lum

Abe Bookman (designer of Magic 8-Ball)

Installation (anonymous) – inventory of German cottage possessions?


John Phillip Abbott


Ryan Molloy

Lawrence Weiner (short film here.)

Chermayeff and Geismar

Paula Scher

Sarah Schultz

Cambridge Seven, Where’s Boston?







Banksy Dismaland/Holzer







Wilson Chin


two more in miss
The Graphic Workshop

Andrew Sloat



Dunne & Raby

Exhibition of Lists at Smithsonian, 2010

Daniel Eatock and ‘no photos’ here

Class Action

Lawrence Weiner

Jenny Holzer


Barbara Kruger

Charles Demuth


Jacques Villegle

Bob Zoell WET2

Bob Zoell



Richard Artschwager


On Kawara

moma applied design
MoMA Design Office

Robert Montgomery, more here

korean mall sign


Words We Like


Glenn Ligon


Last Words, Tom McQuaid, 2012

last supper

Julie Green

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.48.59 AM

Lisa Ann Auerbach

fine arts gallery sign

Penn Fine Arts Thesis Exhibitions


Jack Pierson


Allan McCollum: YOUR FATE

Additional Readings/Resources:

Words We Like, Stacey Tosedland, 2011

Day 1 Themes 2015.pdf

Selected Work, 2015

Adv Des 2015 selected.comberg.pdf
comberg projects 2014
Selected Work from Adv Design 2013


Forms of Inquiry: exhibition featuring graphic designers who base their work in critical investigation.


Rick Poynor speaks in Helvetica, (on

Type is saying things to us all the time. Typefaces express a mood; an atmosphere. They give words a certain coloring.
Graphic design is the communications framework through which these messages, about what the world is now and what we should aspire to; it’s the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people putting their wires into our heads.

—Rick Poynor, Helvetica

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + ++ + + + +

Shannon Ebner

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 1.57.46 PM

Paula Scher, Design, Play – TED Talk

Yale-poster typetalk2015.AdvDes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s