Posts Tagged With: thinking with type

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

#iamondays Website Analysis: Ellen Lupton Style

Ryan Scherf’s website (, tweeted by @CassieWrites_, is a perfect example of Ellen Lupton’s ideas about “Letters” and “Grids” from her book Thinking With Type (2010). Lupton addresses fundamental ideas of typography in her book and describes the ways in which we use typography in many areas of our lives.

Ryan Scherf’s website uses some of Lupton’s ideas about “Letters” in his headers. He uses multiple typefaces, which Lupton suggests must be done with care and attention to detail. Lupton writes, “Combining typefaces is like making a salad. Start with a small number of elements representing different colors, tastes, and textures. Strive for contrast rather than harmony,” meaning designers can’t just sneak different typefaces into areas and hope we no one notices (54). Scherf does exactly what Lupton suggests, choosing contrasting typefaces and colors which stand out and make viewers pay close attention to his words. Scherf chooses a more sophisticated, architecture-like font in white on a dark background to describe what type of work he does, and what he will be showcasing on his website.

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He then sandwiches a more playful and colorful mixture of typefaces with different weights and leading to show what type of designing he does, or for what “platforms.” The use of these colors draws the eye down and around, while the different weights make each platform stand out to the eye.

The final piece of the sandwich is his location, which brings viewers back to the sophisticate, clean typeface.

As readers of Lupton will know, choosing a typeface is a big decision. The typeface you pick to represent your business says a lot about who you are. There are things to consider, like the history of the typeface, but there are also connotations that go along with certain typefaces. The two used by Scherf show a clean, almost minimalist classic feeling that seems professional; and a fun, chunky, and colorful feeling that shows a more unique and creative side. For a web designer, I think those combinations seem like a good choice. The typefaces Scherf uses show that he is professional, but also creative. That is the kind of person I would trust to work on my website.

Scherf also uses grids, which Lupton addresses in her book as well. His website runs on a linear grid, where examples of his work are in two columns, running vertically down the page. According to Lupton, linear grids in web design are a good choice for multiple reasons. Most importantly, linear design that uses tables and cells that flow in a line which is the easiest thing for devices for the visually impaired to translate into sound. These devices read webpages in a row by row fashion, so linear design translates most easily and clearly. Also, linear design is best for translation onto mobile devices. While funky, new-age web design may look neat on a desktop or laptop computer, the layout often gets skewed when it translates onto a mobile device. Linear grids in web design work best when there is little room, like on your phone (171)!

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Within his own web design it appears that Scherf follows these same principles. Although not all of his work is completely linear, many of the spaces containing content are styled in a paragraph-like way that reads like a book. He also incorporates different typefaces in a purposeful manner.

Overall, Ryan Scherf’s website follows many design principles that Ellen Lupton stands behind in her book. He demonstrates his ability as a designer on his webpage. He chooses clean, functional typeface and a sensible grid system to make the most of his spaces.

Seeing Lupton’s ideas in practice helped me get a better grasp on many of her concepts. Now that I am more aware of how to put these ideas to work, I think I will pay more attention to these design principles when browsing the internet. How have the readings for class changed the way you look at things, such as websites, in your daily lives?

Works Cited

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. 2nd ed. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2010. Print.

Categories: #IAMondays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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