Explanation of my dissertation so far.

Yesterday some friends and I were discussing our dissertation subjects, which made me realise a few things;

1. “What is good design” is a too farer question from typefaces used in travel.
2. I couldn’t seem to sum up my project.

So this blog post is a kind of summarisation for myself and also to get myself to focus on what I am actually looking at and the point for it.

Also today while doing the usual dissertation house keeping I accidentally put my title for my project together. Obviously it will develop some more, but at lest now it is a bit more specific.

The Rejection of Ornament: How the Industrial Revolution Shaped Modern Typography

To me that pretty much sums it up, so if I explain my project further then it may become more apparent why I have put together that title.

The Explanation

The subject of my dissertation stems from the question of “What is good design” as throughout the history of design that is a question that gets raised again and again, perhaps not this exact question but variations of this e.g Principles, what are the rules, the equations etc.

However this question is far to vast, as encompasses far to many subquestions. Therefor to lead onto my subquestion I want to focus on something that is an issue for me in design. For example when I create a design piece I am always conscious of the fact to not decorate the design and to create something which I can justify (and not with the reason – “because it looks good”)

This functional outlook all comes from the saying “form follows function”. From looking into this area I came across an architect called Adolf Loos who also followed this rule, Loos once wrote a Essay titled Ornament is Crime. Which had a huge impact on design as a whole. Loos felt that ornamented design was something that was outdated and suggested society was backwards.
From this background information I have a hypothesis that ornamentation has no place in modern design.

As I am looking a modern design, for my case studies I am looking at the time when modernism was something everyone strived for.
I have chosen 3 case studies, specifically looking at typefaces which are all sans serif. I have chosen typefaces as in design I believe they speak a lot about the era which they were created, and pre victorian and during in fact typefaces were usually hand lettered and extremely floral. So it should be clear to see the demise of the ornament and decoration.

My first case study is Gill sans – The typeface used on the NER ( North Eastern Railways).
Second case study is Transport (Calvert & Jock) – Typeface used on all british road signs.
Third case study is A.M. Cassandre (not sure which typeface but the one used on the) Normandie Poster

All these case studies are not exactly about the typefaces, but about the space that defines them and how the typefaces impact on the experience of time and space.
These typefaces were created in a time where standardisation and striving for modernity was a key motivation, by using machine set type there was a sense of conformity (neat and tidy type rather than the unruly hand lettering)
These typefaces were created because of the industrial revolution. To control society.

People (a lot of people) were beginning to move around, the creation of faster trains, better roads, and ocean cruise liners means people are harder to control when they are not in one space (e.g. the city)
The  need for control is all due to the elitist culture and the fear of the masses ( if the people at the top can not control the masses then they may stop the elitists being at the top!). By standardising road signs and train timetables (the timetable was literally a map of time and space), it causes a standardisation of the masses. Meaning they must follow and fit into this system other wise they get left behind. (e.g life revolved around the coming and goings of the trains)
Travel was changing, by being faster, everything else had to become faster. Distances were getting shorter. The people at the top wanted to slow this down. By having to read, naturally slows you down.
Ornamentation was something that did not fit in with this modernisation.

Obviously this is just a brief overview of my cases and I do need to clarify my ideas and cases a lot more. But I think this gives the general gist of what I am trying to write about.

  1. Cassandre’s most used typeface was peignot might be worth exploring if that is the one used in the Normandie poster (isnt it a beautiful piece of design). Interesting topic you have chosen. Typefaces impact on the experience of time and space ………or reflect and interpret a contemporary perception? Just a thought…


    • Thank you for the comment!
      I have tried to figure out which typeface of his is on the poster but I have a feeling that it is some kind of variant to peigont. Either weight or before the official typeface.
      Well I’m interested more so in the society, economy, machinery etc of the time and how it effected the experience. For example gill sans used for the north eastern railways, the bbc and penguin books, these are all big organisations that standardised their identity around the 1930s.
      There is a political and social reason for this.
      Typefaces effect the way we see things therefor experience.
      So gill made the timetables easier to understand, these timetables were a reflection of the complexity of the railway as well as the Industrialisation of Britain. By getting the masses to understand the time table system they were effectively understanding the system / complexity in society.

      Not sure if that’s a response or more of me just trying to construct and understand what I’m trying to write about. But any questions, comments suggestions etc are great!

      Thank you for commenting.


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