Archives for posts with tag: Typography

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: <> [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: <> [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: <> [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: <> [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: <> [Accessed 18th December 2011].


1. Poggenphol, S.H., 1993. What is Graphic Design? [online] Available at: <> [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: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

3. Nagler, E., 2008. Irma Boom’s Visual Testing Ground. Metropolis Magazine. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

4. Farrelly, L., 1994. Clarity and Contradiction. Eye Magazine, [online] Volume 13. Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

5. Nagler, E., 2008. Irma Boom’s Visual Testing Ground. Metropolis Magazine. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18th December 2011].

After considering the possibility of hiding messages amongst the designs I have been creating, forming an amalgamation between type and geometry, I chose to research into the field of visual cryptography.

Forming images which can only be viewing in a certain manner is not a new technique. As many of you may remember the Magic Eye books, first appearing twenty years ago, where an image was only revealed if the reader were able to facilitate the parallel viewing technique. Beginning with a discovery by Bela Julesz alongside MacArthur Fellow in 1959 first highlighting the possibility that depth perception was a neurological process not something occurring within the eye itself as previously considered.In 1979 Christopher Tyler created the first single-image random-dot stereogram allowing the brain to see 3D shapes from 2D images. This formed the basis for the Magic Eye phenomena. Until you master the process of deciphering the stereogram within your brain you be unable to see the 3D image. Unfortunately those without stereo vision will be unable to decipher the image as it relies on the information from the two alternative viewpoints.

To reveal these single-image stereograms the viewer must train their eyes to focus beyond the image, creating a parallel viewpoint opposed to one focussed on the page. As this is not the natural focus position for the eye, the viewer will not see the image until they have managed to complete this process.

Normal Viewing Method

Anon., n.d.  Normal Viewing. [electronic print] Available at: <; [Accessed 17th December 2011].

Parallel Viewing Method

Anon., n.d.  Parallel Viewing. [electronic print] Available at: <; [Accessed 17th December 2011].

Example of a Magic Eye image.

Anon., 2011.  Magic Eye Image. [electronic print] Available at: <; [Accessed 17th December 2011].

Those capable of mastering the parallel viewing technique will be able to reveal the image of a car.

Visual cryptography method

Originally developed by Moni Naor and Adi Shamir in 1994,2 Visual cryptography allows images and information to be decrypted by human sight. By separating the image onto two or more separate sheets it is possible to make the image impossible to decipher without having both halves of the cipher.

Anon., n.d. Visual Cryptography, [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

This method has been utilised by Kai Jauslin in their ‘Visuelle Kryptographie” project, where the image is only recognisable when the box is in the correct position. This invites the viewer to interact with the box.

Jauslin, K., n.d. Visuelle Kryptographie. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 25th November 2011].

A simpler method which many will be familiar with is that to place a red filter over the hidden image.

People are always fascinated with hidden messages, designers alike. The thrill of uncovering a secret message is engaging for the audience and this was something I wished to carry through into my design project.

Developed by Professor Shinobu Ishihara the pseudoisochromatic colour blind test is utilised on this elephant in Antwerp. Here only those not suffering from red-green colourblindness will be able to see the M on the elephants back.

Price, R., 2008. Ishihara Elephant. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

John Locke and Jackie Caradonio were experimenting with hiding text with the following image from their studio, Lioninoil.

Locke, J., and Caradonio, J., 2008. What you are looking for hidden in plain sight. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

Many graphic designers also experiment with hiding hidden messages in their logo design. It is a way of engaging with the audience, providing stimulation and a reward for their effort.

Aguad, S., 2009. Toblerone Logo. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

Initially with the new design for the Museum of London the audience is likely to only appreciate the colour and flowing form. However the shapes used are not arbitary, they represent the changing shape of London throughout history.3

Porter Bell, C., 2010. Museum of London Logo. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accesed 17th December 2011].

Optical illusions such as the image below, which revels something different at different distances is something I wanted to consider with my design. By being able to read the hidden word at some distances but not others will engage the audience.

Anon, n.d. You Are Close. [electronic print] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

In researching the history of visual crytpographic methods and looking at methods used by other designers to hide and reveal messages offered several alternatives to hide the message I wanted to among my design. By comparing to the work of others I am able to not only analyse which methods work effectively.


1. Anon. n.d. History of Magic Eye 3D Pictures. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

2. Wikipedia, 2011. Visual Crytography. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

3. Anon. n.d. Coley Porter Bell. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17th December 2011].

From my Research and Enquiry module I have chosen to publish the bibliography section below, detailing important and canonical texts within the field of typography.


Bayer, H., 1967. On Typography.

In: Bayer, H., 1967. Herbert Bayer: Painter Designer Architect.

New York: Reinhold. pp.75-77.

Anon, n.d Front Cover. [electronic print] Available at: <; [Accessed 26th December 2011].

Herbert Bayer, a principle instructor within the Bauhaus School, was responsible for the reduction of typography to the bare essentials. Within On Typography, Bayer begins by assessing the disgruntled designers awaiting the typographic revolution. This is a useful text for dispelling old beliefs and explaining the requirements for a revolution, coupled with Bayer’s idea’s for prior advancement. Themes remain similar to Beatrice Warde (1930), with regards to the fundamental purpose of typography, as a ‘service art’; the successful communication of the written word. Disappointingly some reproductions of the essay are printed in serif type and occasionally with the re-introduction of the uppercase, dis-regarding Bayer’s fundamental typographic concepts outlined within the text. Read the rest of this entry »