The Principles of Relational Typography

Wednesday 28 October, 15:40 (20 minutes)

Denise Gonzales Crisp, Professor, Graphic designer, North Carolina State University, College of Design, Graphic Design

We live in strange and exciting typographic times. Supergraphics painted on the walls of Melbourne’s Eureka Car Park are readable as words (“up”, “down”, etc.) only when drivers see the abstract shapes line up to form letters from a particular vantage point. Software with ready-made templates that promote timeworn conventions also offers powerful tools that enable all manner of innovation: dimensional letters that leap from flat surfaces; letters made of sticks and stones, fingers and bones; letters that tumble across the screen. Typographic form — once strictly abstract and readable-as-text — now freely imitates anything in the physical world and may, at times, be unreadable-as-text, but quite readable as image. Today Eric Gill’s letters that were “things, not pictures of things” are both things and pictures of things. Typographic production, reception and interpretation is more complicated than ever. Near limitless options and creativity have outpaced long-held typographic tenets and approaches written by a form-centric discipline, and ratified in a static, two-dimensional, homogeneous world. Classic line and plane grid logic, for instance, only partially informs structures for motion and digital environments capable of supporting dynamic, relational grids controlled by readers. I am completing a book* that repositions typographic “rules” to reveal the relational nature of typography. The one rule permeating my discussion is not a rule at all, but one principle: the confluence of cultural, reading, technological, and formal systems define contexts that shape typographic production and communication. In any given moment, particular reading conventions, technological affordances, materiality, rhetoric and visual language align like stars, reorient like the fluid rings of a gyroscope. These configurations control options and impact the exchange of meaning. To make effective typography, then, is to always compare this in relation to that. Depending on the length of time at the podium, I will present concepts from the book, showing examples of the “Azif Factor”, “Maximus Facillium” (grid genres), “Transformation and Replication Style”, “Real Deal and Token Materiality”, “Armatures, Grids, Grid Systems and Relational Grids”, “The Full Typographic Terrain”, etc. And, yes, I will explain “Typogyroscopic”.