During my investigation and experimentation of concealing words amongst geometric shapes, the question arose to the importance of legibility within a design, leading to exploration to the current and historic debates amongst other designers regarding this issue.

My work method involves researching the initial basic background of an idea before experimenting graphically. Following this I then investigate further into the depth of the subject. I develop solutions in this manner by having the academic background before embarking on the practical task.

The subject of legibility is one which has ben approached from alternative viewpoints by major graphic design movements. Should the communication be instantly visible, or would the idea be further implanted and hold greater meaning if the audience were required to search for it.

Within the progression of the Swiss (International) Style legibility remained key. The use of sans-serif type, grids and layouts to boost legibility were all promoted. Simple communication of the message was paramount.

With the Josef Müller-Brockmann book jacket featured below, this 1962 design focuses entirely on the conveyance of the message. There is no extraneous ornamentation and the type is set in what he believed to be the most legible fashion, suitably fitting the purpose, a type specimen book for Helvetica under its original name.

Müller-Brockmann, J., 1962. Die Neue Haas Grotesk. [electronic print] Available at: <http://wlt.typography.netdna-cdn.com/data/images/2009/03/die-neue-haas-grotesk-cover.jpg> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

Alternatively the work of the PostModernists, who aimed to break all that Modernism held dear, smashes the grid and rejects the simple lettering.

Compare the following image, by Jeffery Keedy a type specimen series for the Emigre typeface. This post-modern design contrasts that of Josef Müller-Brockmann with the composition, variety and colour.

Keedy, J., 2002. Emigre Type Specimen Series Booklet No.4: Keedy Sans. [electronic print] Available at: <http://shanny12.wordpress.com/modernism-vs-postmodernism/> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

Here the information is not immediately legible, and the audience is required to engage further with the piece in order to reveal the message.

Looking further into this, the work of Irma Boom sprung to mind, within book design she has further heightened the debate of functionality over “beauty”.

Irma Boom’s work, emerging to the forefront at the turn of the century, has been met with an array of criticism relating to its legibility.

Described initially in Eye as “nearly senseless and virtually illegible” by Teal Triggs,2 in a review of a forthcoming book in 1991, Boom’s work was initially poorly received.

See below, a promotional poster for the Jan van Eyck Akademie in 1999 a collaboration between Irma Boom and LA Raeven. This poster is in direct contradiction with the Swiss Design Theories on legibility and requires the audience to search for the words not immediately recognisable.

Boom, L. and Raeven, L., 1999. Jan van Eyck Akademie. [electronic print] Available at: <http://www.johanna.sk/POSTERS/poster-JVE.html> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

In 2008 a glowing review of her work as an “internationally acclaimed book designer” for Metropolis Magazine paints an entirely different story to that over fifteen years previous, demonstrating how acceptance of new ideas has changed.3

Anon. n.d. Biography in Books. [electronic print] Available at: <http://bintphotobooks.blogspot.com/2011/01/oog-eye-rotterdam-eye-hospital-graphic.html> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

Irma continues to fuel the debate regarding the legibility of design; considering if clarity is more important than style. In a recent article in Eye magazines she reveals “I only recently read about Jan Tschichold’s rules for legible typography. They made me laugh, because everything I do is forbidden. Maybe if I’d learned how to use typography at art school my work would be completely different.”4 Unlike Tschichold, who dictated strict rules in order to maximise legibility with his new typography dictum, Boom follows a combination of experience and intuition within her acclaimed book design. Culminating in achieving the award for “Most Beautiful Book in the World” for her Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor at the 2007 Leipzig Book Fair her work is obviously accepted even in its most unusual format.5 It is interesting to note the attraction received from her work, which I believe is due to the interactive and unusual element, requiring the audience to engage with the work and search more for the meaning. This is something I wanted to bring into my own work, fuelled by Booms success.

Below is a talk given by Irma Boom at the Walker Art Centre in 2010, which reveals further how she tackles her work.

Irma Boom lecture at the Walker Art Centre.

Insights Design Lecture Series: Irma Boom. 2010. [online video] Available at: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nZbMEGxSN7s> [Accessed 18th December 2011].


1. Poggenphol, S.H., 1993. What is Graphic Design? [online] Available at: <http://www.aiga.org/guide-whatisgraphicdesign/> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

2. Triggs, T., 1991. Graphic Design and Typography in the Netherlands: A View of Recent Work. Eye Magazine, Issue 6 (2) [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/review.php?id=35&rid=304&set=365> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

3. Nagler, E., 2008. Irma Boom’s Visual Testing Ground. Metropolis Magazine. [online] Available at: <http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20080229/booms-visual-testing-ground> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

4. Farrelly, L., 1994. Clarity and Contradiction. Eye Magazine, [online] Volume 13. Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature.php?id=42&fid=51> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

5. Nagler, E., 2008. Irma Boom’s Visual Testing Ground. Metropolis Magazine. [online] Available at: <http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20080229/booms-visual-testing-ground> [Accessed 18th December 2011].