Life Application of Lupton’s Ideas on Typography

For this week’s class we looked at Ellen Lupton’s book Thinking With Type (2010). This book describes design principles involving typography. Until reading Lupton’s book, I never put much thought into the typeface I was using. I didn’t even really know fonts and typographies had a history. I guess I sort of assumed they just somehow appeared on my computer. But there is a rich history behind many of the typefaces we use today. Lupton explains the evolution of type, type weight, and typographical design throughout her book in a compelling way that makes even people with almost zero knowledge, like me, want to keep reading.


Admittedly, this book wasn’t my first primer for typography, entirely. In my Publication, Layout, and Design class I had already learned about the appropriate use of certain fonts for specific styles of writing. For example, some fonts are more appropriate for “fun” things, and others for “serious” or “academic” things. I also was told that sans serif fonts are how children in Europe are taught to read, while serif fonts are how children in the US are taught to read. (Fun fact?) But it all seemed basic, and common sense, that typefaces had different purposes. Lupton delves deeper into the design and aesthetic aspects of typography, which I think will be extremely helpful for me in my Publication class and in future endeavors!


One of my favorite parts of Lupton’s book was her explanation of the way kerning and tracking can give different typography a different feel (105). Her examples of different logos provide a visual representation of her words and really show what she means. Tufte would be proud! Until reading this part, and seeing her evidence, I didn’t put much thought into how certain logos or type achieved aesthetic appeal and personality. It is still shocking to me that changing letter spacing can have this much effect on how we view words!


The more I delve into information architecture, the more I want to put what I have learned to use. From Tufte to Lupton, these new ideas about how to present information to readers has made me totally rethink the way I want to write in the future. From the Lupton reading we are able to see evidence of just how much impact typography can have. Tufte shows us some of the best ways to lay out information and evidence. Now, traditional fiction, with standard gridded pages and uninteresting spacing seems flat. So, how can I apply these techniques and ideas to my hopeful future as a fiction writer?


I have been asking myself this a lot throughout the course of this class, and I think it all comes down to the risks I am willing to take. Books are already moving from the print era to the digital era, so why not push things a little further? Lupton talks about how readers from the digital realm have certain expectations for reading. She writes, “The impatience of digital readers arises from culture, not from essential character of display technologies…They expect to be in search mode, not processing mode” (98). So if we can put to use what we know about how people read in this new world, maybe we can work with the shortening attention span of digital readers, rather than trying to figure out how to fix it. I think we should try something new. We should play with type, manipulate design, and challenge traditional books in another new way. Pictures aren’t just for children, and neither is fun typography. In many realms of writing, we ignore the power (or for me, don’t see the power) of typography and graphic-enhanced storytelling. I think it is time we work with these new ideas and see where they can take us. Lupton presents us with a lot of information in her small book, but I find it all to be very useful. We need to understand the power not just behind words, but how we choose to represent them.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Life Application of Lupton’s Ideas on Typography

  1. I too, enjoyed this book. When I started reading, I wrote a note on the side of a page that said “Like Tufte!” and then, in the next paragraph, I was surprised to find that Lupton actually referenced Tufte! What a small world! I forget what Lupton refers to it as, but I found it interesting when she mentioned a font that had “tales” (like when the stem of the letter a flows outward). I never really considered how typography can distract, or even involve us, in a piece of writing. It’s interesting that you mention that after reading both Tufte and Lupton, you feel our regular way of writing is “flat”, and that it is. As Tufte mentions, we need to climb out of “flatland” and create a new playing field. Lupton seems to give us a few hints on how to do that; use fonts that invite people and place your writing in different grids. Basically, it’s all about experimenting and seeing what words best.

  2. An interesting way I saw Lupton using Tufte’s methods was in the way she kept changing fonts throughout the book. When she was describing a certain font, the description was IN that font, along with a tag underneath saying which font and size it was. A perfect example of beautiful evidence.

    I also enjoyed the way she used historical examples of various posters, etc, to show the way fonts were used around the time they were initially developed. Not only does it give the reader a good glimpse of the way a certain font was used, but it also helps ground the reader’s perception in that historical period. This lends a feeling of authenticity.

  3. tomwink

    I had a really difficult time with this book. I liked that Lupton utilized the different fonts she was writing about, but I felt very disconnected. As the class discussion bore out, it would appear that I do not make emotive attachments to different fonts that some of my classmates appear to. As such, the book kind of fell flat with me. As a historical work, there was a lack of narrative, and as a style guide, I did not think it offered enough instruction.

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