The Digital Type Revolution: Establishing Typography as Art

With the emergence of digital typography in the late 20th century, typography has greeted the 21st century with a completely new role in the world of design. This typographic revolution is shown quite obviously by the fact that, using expensive but accessible programs, anyone can create a typeface and/or font. Enormous libraries of fonts exist, offering everything from digitized classics to the avant-garde. However, as further exploration of the subject shows, the true revolution has occurred below the surface. It is the newfound attitude towards and understanding of the typography of the digital type revolution that pushes this design tool into a new realm of importance in the 21st century.

A picture of typographic layout with PageMaker from the book "Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces." The caption states that "prior to the release of PostScript display technology..., precise typographic placement was almost impossible" (Meggs and McKelvey 41).

A picture of typographic layout with PageMaker from the book “Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces.” The caption states that “prior to the release of PostScript display technology…, precise typographic placement was almost impossible” (Meggs and McKelvey 28).

From its inception, digital type has had a huge impact on how designers view the written form. In Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, the author states: “During the mid-1980s and early 90’s, a typographic revolution as radical as Gutenberg’s invention of movable type matured rapidly. Using microprocessors, personal computers, Adobe’s PostScript page-description language, and page-layout software…designers combined type and images into seamless on-screen layouts” (Meggs and McKelvey 28). All at once, type entered a new domain. Instead of being a separate part of the artistic process, titles and text became part of the same field as imagery. The author of Typography & the Screen: A Technical Chronology of Digital Typography, 1984-1997 echoes this thought perfectly in the statement: “By making it possible for designers to conceptualize and realize letters in new ways, digital technology provided the platform through which words could be ultimately subsumed in the larger pictorial space of the image, leveling the relationship between the two” (Staples 34). No longer pieced together–but, rather, composed on the same layout system–graphics and typography became a fluid medium.

In light of these advances, the late 20th century saw a rise in new, artistic uses of typography. In the 1990s, Kyle Cooper became famous for his radical use of animated typography in film titles; embodying the message of each film in the movement and style of the type that he chose, he elevated this element of cinematography to an art form (Kyle Cooper).

A Shot of the 3D virtual reality cave from Stephen Fry's Film "Spreading the Word."

A Shot of the 3D virtual reality cave from Stephen Fry’s Film “Spreading the Word.”

One source also declares a new interest in “dynamic type,” such as “ ‘meta-font’…where each instantiation of the font produces a new set of character shapes” (André and Adams 17). In a film on the evolution of typography, a contemporary artists shows his work–a 3D virtual reality cave, where text moves in all directions on each side of the cube (Fry). While clear communication once dominated the field of typography, words now appear secondary to the qualities of art and movement.

As the 21st century progresses, the field of typography continues to evolve at a rapid rate. The digital type revolution, allowing imagery and type to be composed in a single layout, pushed typography alongside graphics in the design process. Now, though typography remains important as a means of communication, it has taken on a new role in the field of design; in today’s world, it is not just a means to a message, but a true art form, considered worthy of vast experimentation. With this in mind, places such as the MIT Media Center are exploring the uses of interactive books and taking typography into yet another realm of design (Fry). First a means of recording history, then a form of artistic imagery, and now entering the domain of interactive media, typography has maintained its relevance to–and perhaps in some ways caused–the contemporary era of art, due to the advancements of the digital type revolution.


Works Cited:

André, Jacques, and Debra Adams. “New Trends in Digital Typography.” Raster Imaging and Digital Typography 1 (1989): 14-17. Print.

Fry, Stephen. Spreading the Word. Films Media Group. Film.

Meggs, Philip B., and Roy McKelvey, eds. Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces. New York: RC Publications, 2000. Print.

Staples, Loretta. “Typography & the Screen: A Technical Chronology of Digital Typography, 1984-1997.” Design Issues 16.3 (2000): 19-34. Print.

Kyle Cooper Demo Reel. YouTube. N.p., 7 Feb. 2007. Web. 12 May 2014. <;.


Local Flavor Typography

010In strolling through my town, I found this typeface not just on the sign for “Bill’s Music,” but also on three other storefronts. For “Music City Maryland,” I feel that this typography is appropriate. Catonsville is a small town, but not a cute, quaint one; rather, the growing downtown has a working class feel. This typeface is simple and straightforward, and the curves add fun; free of flair and intricacies, but full of a lively spirit, this typeface embodies the local flavor of this town.


011Graffiti is a style of typography that may not be ignored during a thorough research project of typography. Though it is usually not appreciated by businesses, it is scattered across the buildings in both urban and suburban regions. This style of typography carries interesting undertones; the artistic curves are usually illegible, making the forms more important than the message. Perhaps, if graffiti was seen as an art form, rather than vandalism, it could be used for business promotion rather than harm.

Suburban Typography

005 I feel that this picture embodies the typography of suburban America. Shopping centers thrive in cities and towns surrounding metropolitan areas; though everyone would love to be able to walk to a local grocery store, shopping centers like these are often the main source of everyday goods and services for the working and middle classes of the suburbs. The typography, I noticed, does not have to be fancy or establish a brand; it simply needs to deliver the store names. Besides the “Giant” logo on the top of the sign, each title on the shopping center sign is written in a plain, straightforward sans serif typeface.

Neon Typography

016Another great example of typography from the local liquor store – neon typography. Neon typography, I noticed, is used sparingly in most storefronts – except liquor stores. The reasons are obvious. First, these signs simply do not have a professional, corporate look; the viewer not only sees the neon type, but also the unlit parts that provide structure to the typographic forms and graphics. In addition, liquor stores receive most of their business in the night hours; neon typography is perfect for these conditions, as the colors and lights are easy to see. Most businesses, however, do not operate under these conditions. It is clear that neon typography is an important design choice for some businesses, but definitely does not fit into the aesthetics or needs of most stores.


Distressed Typography

015The local liquor store window is a montage of different typefaces.

Displayed in this image is the distressed type of “Magic Hat.” In my opinion, this poster was not a very successful use of this typographic style. Perhaps if the poster was smaller in scale, the distressed areas would not be so bulky and unnatural. This is something that any designer must keep in mind when creating a work for print–the scale at which the design will be produced.

Childlike Typography

moosemunch With my next wave of research, I revisit items in my home and town.

One of the first typographical items that stands out to me in my kitchen is the design on Harry and David’s “Moose Munch” container. The type is unlike many large brands; it features childlike writing to identify the product. Not only is “Moose Munch” written with the charming print of a child, but it is also styled to look as though it was written with a crayon. This choice of typeface stamps the product with a fun, familiar feeling–completely appropriate for a beloved snack food.

As shown by this product, friendly, informal typefaces can be utilized successfully to distinguish a brand.


Inspirational Forms

RdQuite obviously, the idea of logotype inspired me… And after watching this video (posted by Professor Sullivan for my ART620 class), I thought to myself: I have nothing to lose. I’m ready for serious play! I took my first steps toward typeface design.

So, already having a business idea at work in my mind from earlier this year, I set to work. I settled on the name of Restoration designs and registered.

Next, the fun part: creating the logotype! I started a sketchbook of thumbnails and got to work in Illustrator to create the type forms. Utilizing the grid view in Illustrator, the formation of type seemed to flow naturally. I made sure to keep curves uniform and include the Old Style contrast that I love. The only aspect of these designs that is not crrd_typeeated from scratch is the tagline, which features Baskerville (italic).

Sans serif, though…Even a surprise to me!

I fully expect this logotype to evolve over time, and I am open to discussion. However, as my first attempt, and truly an act of serious play, I am content.

For more information on my newly registered business, please visit Side note: Adobe Muse is an absolutely wonderful program.



asusLooking through my closet, I find an ASUS monitor box, and I snap a picture of the logo. I immediately recognize that what I truly love is logotype.

There is something so special about a typeface that defines a company, especially if it is designed specifically for that business. This type does not use the stroke contrast that I so dearly love, but with sliced letters, it creates a swift feeling of purpose. It completely embodies the concept of the company. Like hand-painted typography, it is unusual and singular in purpose. However, for this singular purpose, it may be reproduced endlessly. It contains the beauty of both worlds.


Industrial Typography

CAMIndustrial typographcockeysy: so simple, so graphic, so solid. For the sake of being a well-rounded researcher, I also document the typography of these industrial businesses. The CAM Construction sign may be found on Maiden Choice Lane in Catonsville, and the typography of Cockey’s Enterprises, Inc. is on the trash container in my yard.

Cockey’s typeface is clearly used for readability and identification, not branding or beauty. The CAM typography has more noticeable qualities, although it is still very basic and straightforward.

I understand the importance of using simple, direct, and highly readable typefaces; however, they are not visually stimulating to me. It is clear that I am more interested in creating a more recognizable typeface, with provocative contrasts and greater differentiation between strokes.