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. <;.



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.