This piece of writing examines the relationship between typography and meaning in connection to the systematic order and structure of modern society. This study will look at typography as an expression of the dynamism of modern life.
The topics to be discussed are of importance because typography in the context of movement and modern society has an implicit connection to technology, control, social classes, speed and politics. The aim of this dissertation is to discuss the way that typographic style and standardisation are related to movement and travel. It will explore this these topics through the perspective of design as well as theory. It will also look at why design began to reject ornamentation in favour of a modernism and how this affected society, movement and travel.
To understand the relationship between typography and movement it is key understand what has been discussed before in terms of theory and design.
The industrial revolution was an event that impacted massively on design and society. Modern society was founded on the industrial revolution this period that focused on the machine and economy. Subsequently the machine brought speed and dynamism.
The machine age created a shift, systems were accepted and attitudes changed to logical thinking. Design was considered to be something that could be put into a system especially within typography. The structure and systems in typography are conceptually a framework that enables an understanding of systems and structures within society.
With the popularity of systems and the machine function was starting to be favoured over form. Designers such as Adolf Loos felt strongly about technological advancements.
Loos wrote an essay titled “Ornament is crime” written in 1908. Loos believed that the industrialisation of design and society should be embraced. Within the essay Loos suggested by using less ornamentation it meant reduced production costs and faster manufacture. This economical and machine conscious approach to design was the basis of standardisation. By standardising industrialisation it subsequently affected societies behaviour and mobility.
Speed, Movement and Systems
A prominent writer in regards to movement is Paul Virilio. In Speed & Politics Virilio discusses the relationship between speed, technologies, individuals, politics and military development.
Virilio defined his logic of speed as Dromology. Dromology also refers to the impact of speed on societies and their mobility as Virilio felt that speed and its importance throughout history has shaped civilisation today.
The technological advancements in the industrial revolution changed society dramatically in terms of mobility, people could move around faster and easier via rail or road. Even though the experience of movement changed Virilio makes it clear that movement is not something that is new or even revolutionary.
“The time has come, it seems, to face the facts: revolution is movement, but movement is not revolution.” (Virilio, 2006, p.18)
Moving is something that civilisation has always done and “In fact, there was no “industrial revolution,” but only a “dromocratic revolution.” It is speed as the nature of dromological progress that ruins progress.” (Virilio, 2006, p.46) The industrial revolution did not create mobility, but changed the nature of movement. Speed changed that way in which people moved, from walking pace to being about to travel the length of the country in a day. Virilio was concerned with this issue of speed as it changed nature; speed allowed faster movement, which allowed what was slower to be dominated.
The themes of speed and social progression are implicit to the industrial revolution; speed was seen as the future. Issues of control arise from the speed of movement and this relationship strengthens where typography is concerned. Typography can be used as a form of control. It controls space, whether it is the surface text is placed or the words that are communicated. Using typography in a system to standardise an area effectively allows control of people and movement.
Similarly to Virilio, Patrick Joyce’s theories surround social systems. Joyce’s suggests that in order to create freedom the system has to rely on a specific type of person who lives in accordance with it. He believes that maps, sewers, markets and parks can be used as a form of invisible control that would create this specific type of person.
Joyce suggests that these ideologies were built into the infrastructure of modern life and the mechanics of the city shaped culture and society. This idea of elements shaping society runs parallel to virilios’ concept of speed forming people and culture. Joyce’s defined this idea as “Sociocultural history of govermentality” (Joyce, 2003, p.6) where mobility, institutions and infrastructure affect the social part of the city.
The masses, social order and freedom in terms of mobility caused implications within the traditional social hierarchy. There was a fear of lower classes experiencing freedom as the masses could turn into “the mob”. In an attempt to control the masses the infrastructure of the city was embedded with structures and systems that would subconsciously cause the masses to behave in a specific way.
Joyce’s writing looks at standardization and creating of systems. An example of standardised system in relation to mobility and movement is mapping. Joyce refers to the modern map as standardised representation of an abstract space.
“[The modern map] measured against an abstract grid of space, what was represented – towns, streets, coastlines – became essentially one. This standardisation of space was further accentuated by the increasingly sophisticated printing of maps, especially in the ninetieth century.” (Joyce, 2003, p.36)
Creating maps of the city formed a classification system of roads and streets; this system ordered how places related to each other. Mapping documented and rejected places. By generating a visualisation of the city it was a way of controlling peoples movements, as the routes are predetermined.
Another writer who looks at structures, specifically grids and how they affect society is Hannah B. Higgins. Higgins states within “The Grid Book” that the “modernist grid is an emblem of industry. It reflects standardisation, mass production, and the newly smooth mechanics of transportation.” (Higgins, 2009, p.6) This connection created by Higgins is the link between Joyce and Virilio theories on movement and its implicit relationship to modern society.
Higgins suggests how individual grids connect to each other and how these connections provide an underlying framework for a modern society.
“They do not, however, evolve in isolation. Rather, the quality of each grid progressing to the next ties them to political, social, economic, and religious histories, each grid aligning with a different universalizing scheme.” (Higgins, 2009, p.8)
Grids are seen as tool for organisation and standardisation. For example a city is usually formed on a disguised grid system that subsequently dictates the movement of people. The popularity of systems within the industrial revolution allowed for grids as an organisational tool to define space and time as well as prosper in visual culture.
Design, Production & progression
Along side the theoretical writing on this topic many designers have also written about the industrial revolution and its relationship to speed, standardization and its affects on society.
The Arts and Craft movement became dominant during the Victorian period along with ornamentation. Ornamentation was seen as a benefit to society rather than functional design element. During this time surface design was highly cluttered with hand rendered typography. Ralph N. Wornum suggested that the reason for ornamentation was due to it being “one of the mind’s necessities, which it gratifies by means of the eye.” (Wornum, 1856, pp.2-3) Wornum also suggests that this kind of gratification was important as it confirmed societies level of culture.
William Morris had a traditional approach to design. Morris opposed the machine and used ornamentation throughout his work and believed ornament to be a key design element, as “the ornament must form as much a part of the page as the type itself.” (Poulson & Morris, 1996, p.151) Ornament showed craftsmanship and was favoured by traditional designers. The rejection of machine production was also a rejection of changes within a modern society.
Christopher Dresser (Dresser, 1873) was member of the Arts and Craft movement. His work differed to Morris’ as Dresser accepted and appreciated the use of technology in the design process. Dresser expressed early ideas of functionalism. “Ornament depends on form, and form is determined by function.” This statement mimics Louis Sullivan’s quote “Form ever follows function” which Sullivan coined in 1896. This acceptance of functionality suggested that there was a shift in attitudes towards the design process. Once design was seen as a standardised process it also meant that perhaps society could also be systemised.
Richard G. Hatton had similar thoughts to that of Ralph Wornum, by referring to ornament as having a “social purpose” (Hatton, 1925, p.1) As Hatton suggested, if ornamented design could have a social purpose then modern standardised design could also fulfil this purpose. Subsequently this social purpose would change into a system that would control and standardise behaviour.
Between the 1800’s to the 1900’s the published work about ornamentation seems positive, until Adolf Loos infamous essay “Ornament is Crime”. Loos’ essay did not only criticize ornament but also the society that appreciated it. Loos suggested that society needed to disregard ornament as the “evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from the objects of everyday use.” (Loos, 1929, p.167) Society was a main concern for Loos, he urged the public that “ornament is not a source of increased pleasure in life.” (Loos, 1929, p.169) Ralph N. Wornum also had suggested this. Loos was confident that the removal of ornament would create modern design and society. This confidence and fresh take on design was what drew him so many followers.
Since Loos’ essay there has been various books published regarding society and ornamentation. David Brett produced both “On Decoration” and “Rethinking decoration”. This suggests that the topic of ornament and its affects on society is a vast one with gaps still in the literature. Brett explains that ornament can be used when “defining characteristics of specific cultures.” (Brett, 1992) In Brett’s latter book, the theories of decorum and progress relating to decoration are investigated. (Brett, 2005) Brett describes the theory of progress, based on social evolution towards modernity, which is something that Adolf Loos was also concerned with.
Paul Greenhalgh suggests that significant historical events have an impact of society and in turn have an effect on design (Greenhalgh, 1990, p.9) For example the Industrial Revolution. Society began to be drawn to simplistic designs as the removal of decoration meant that products could be produced quicker, cheaper and for the masses. This is parallel to Loos’ thoughts surrounding design and social progress.
William Morris and John Ruskin pioneers of the Arts and Craft movement had wanted “good design available to all” (Clay, 2009) of society however their rejection of the machine meant that their products were expensive and slowly produced. By rejecting the machine and speed it allowed the Arts and Crafts movement to be left behind as modern life was changing.