Part 4 – Exercise 5: Hierarchy

Using about 500 words of Lorum Ipsum (or other dummy text) you are going to design three different pages:

• an interview with a TV actor in a listings magazine entitled: Will Sheila tell the
naked truth?

• a review of a new piece of hardware or software in a specialist computer magazine

• a book review in a newspaper’s weekend edition.

Note: My rationale for why I chose certain text combinations and what my intentions were for each design are contained within the text of each layout design. PDF versions of each design are included so that the text is easier to read.

Shaded boxes and circles are intended to represent placeholders for images.

An Interview in a TV Listings Magazine

Interview in a TV Listing Magazine

A Hardware Review in a Computer Magazine

Hardware Review in a Computer Magazine

A Book Review in a Newspaper

Book Review in a Newspaper


Part 4 – Exercise 4: Lorum Ipsum

Select one of the designs from your research that you like and think works. Using the dummy text, try and copy the layout and design as closely as possible. You will need to measure the margins and column widths. If you don’t have the exact typeface get as near as you can. If you are copying a page that includes photographs just leave 10% tinted boxes to indicate their position.

Waitrose Magazine Layout

Original Magazine Page

Replicated Layout

The text is a mixture of serif and sans serif typefaces with the section headings and body text in a serif font and the highlight text (under the headings) in a sans serif font. There are no lines between the paragraphs but each new paragraph is indented. In the original document, the first letter of the first paragraph is large and bold, but I wasn’t able to replicate this effect in Adobe Illustrator.

The ‘ try’ sections also use a serif font for the heading, a bold sans serif font for the product name and a light weight sans serif font for the product description.

The page is based on a three column layout with each section only having text in two columns. The sections are then offset from each other using images in the third column.

The text is ragged and in the lower section, wraps around the edge of the image.


British Journal of Photography Magazine Layout

Original Magazine Page

Replicated Layout

The title is quite long, taking up three lines, and is in a quite unusual serif font, in bold. The subtitle, author and body text are all in a sans serif typeface. The subtitle is mid-sized and the author and body text are printed in quite a small font, the author is bold and the body text is regular. The body text is ragged.

There are no lines between the paragraphs but each new paragraph is indented, with the exception of the first paragraph which is not.

There is also an annotation for the image which is in a very small, italic, sans serif font.

The page is based on a three column layout. The first column holds only the sub-title and author (and lower down, the image annotation). The other two columns hold the body text. The image takes up nearly half of the height of the page and fills the width of  three columns.

Thoughts on This Exercise

This exercise made me appreciate how many different typefaces, font types and font sizes can be used together on a single page. This is particularly evident in the Waitrose magazine page which uses a serif typeface for the section heading and body text, and a sans serif typeface for the highlight text and product description, the product title is bold and the page header uses a serif, bold italic font.

I was also quite surprised at how small the body text could be as I would not have thought to make the text such a small size.

The three column layout that each page is using breaks up the text, making it more digestible and easier to read. In the BJP magazine, I particularly liked how the first column is given over only to the subtitle and therefore introduces a lot of white space into the page, allowing all the elements of the page to breathe. I think this works particularly well with the large image as the white space sets balances the image and lets it stand out.






Part 4 – Research Point: Legibility

Collect as many newspapers, newsletters, magazines and brochures as you can. Start by going through them and dividing them into the ones that immediately look easy to read and those that don’t. Is this due to the typefaces used, the way the type is laid out – the number of words per line and the column width, or its alignment?

Work out from your examples what the designers have done to make things more legible and readable.

Examples of Printed Material Which is Difficult to Read

Craft & Design Fair Flier

There isn’t much text on this flier but I find the whole page quite difficult to make sense of.  I find the mix of colours quite jarring. The image styles are also incongruous, mixing an illustration with two photographs – these two styles do not work together and for one image I can’t tell what it is (a table top?).

The mix of colours of the fonts also doesn’t work for me. I am also questioning why just the words ‘Christmas Contemporary’ are in a serif font. The text on this flier is printed small and is cramped into the bottom of the page, with all points running one after the next. For me, the design of this flier is so chaotic and jumbled that I don’t have the energy to read the text.

Restaurant Menu

The front cover of this restaurant takeaway menu is too busy with too much information crammed onto it. There is some consistency with most of the text being in different weights of the same font but the different colours, font weights and sizes, images and decorative backgrounds all make the page look too busy. Information is broken up over a series of centre justified lines but I think  the lines of text are too close to each other. I find that my eyes wander over this page without actually taking anything in.

Veterinary Financial Information Page

This document provides a lot of quite technical information. Text is broken up with bold headings and bullet points, and the most important information is in red which makes it stand out. My main difficulty with this document is that the text is too small. This combined with the fact that the paragraphs are quite long just make this document feel like a chore to read. It doesn’t help that I know that financial information is already going to be a dry read.

Fortnum and Mason Christmas Flier

The main message on this flier is illegible!It is printed in reflective gold foil and the very cursive typeface used is printed directly over a really busy background illustration. Its a beautiful document but it would have been better without the ‘Together we’re merrier’ (or is that ‘terrier’?) printed on it.

Examples of Printed Material That is Easy to Read

Financial Marketing Brochure

There is a lot of text on this page, the subject matter is quite dry and the body text font size is very small but, despite that,  I do find this document quite legible. Even though there is a lot of text, it is broken up into short paragraphs with a generous line break between them. The information is broken up into sections with bold headings and the text is further broken up into three columns, so the lines of text are quite short. This all makes the text much less daunting to read. Only two typefaces are used and the colours on the page are a harmonious dark and light blue and shades of grey so that the graphics don’t distract.

Craft Fair Flier

The key informaton on this flier is printed in large font sizes and is centre justified. There are only two images on this page which are quite large but they are positioned symetrically which makes the design feel balanced. There are quite a few colours being used but they work well together and more importantly, there is a logic to their use. The two events on this flier are being differentiated by the use of colour with one in gold and one in purple. Because the colours are harmonious and the layout balanced, I am much more inclined to read the text.. I didn’t even notice the single use of the serif font at the top of the page!

Waitrose Magazine Article

Interestingly, I find it is the image here which is really contributing to the legibility of this article! I like the illustration and am intrigued by it which is making me want to invest the effort into reading the article.

There is quite a lot of small sized text on this page but text only fills the bottom third of the page. The text is split into short paragraphs, there is no line break between them but the first line of each paragraph is indented. The text is further split over two columns making it more manageable. Key pieces of information in the text are in bold.

The title of the article is printed in a large font and is easier to read, and serves as a good introduction to the text. The line drawing, white space and tiny hints of colour give this page a calm and balanced feel.


Based on my analysis of various documents, text on a page is more likely to be legible if:

Text does not require effort to read. It is not an issue if the text size is small  but breaking the text up into short paragraphs which are easily discernible and splitting larger blocks of body text across columns, so that the length of the line that the eye needs to scan is shorter, all help .

Images add to rather than distract from the text. I am more likely to invest the effort into reading text if I am not being distracted by confusing images with jarring colours. It also helps if the image placement on the page is balanced.

White space is used to allow text to ‘breathe’. Rather than cram text onto a page, text is more readable if it is broken up and de-cluttered with white space.

There is a logic or harmony to the use of typefaces and fonts. I was more comfortable reading documents where the use of fonts had a clear purpose, such as a sans serif font for headings and a serif font for body text. More chaotic or unstructured use of type was confusing and more challenging to read.

Text is not overlaid on a busy background. Text on plain backgrounds (with good contrast between the background and the text colours) was easier to read.

Part 4 – Exercise 3: If The Face Fits

Create your own sample book of typefaces on your computer that you can refer to.

Typeface Sample Book

My typeface sample book can be seen the in the PDF link below:

Typeface Sample Book

I have a lot of typefaces stored on my PC – some are propriety typefaces that shipped with Microsoft and Adobe software and others are typefaces I have installed from sources such as Google Fonts.

I decided to limit my sample book to typefaces that I have used recently in website designs that I have been worked on as part of my day job, and the typefaces that I chose to use as part of this exercise.

I typically use Google Fonts in my websites as these typefaces are good quality, free to use and can be embedded into the website code.

Mock Ups

Now identify which fonts you might use in each of the following commissions. Then have a go at mocking up each of these. Try different fonts to see how each changes
the feel of the text and make notes in your learning log about which works best and why:

• A short story in a woman’s magazine entitled “I thought I loved him; now I’m not so sure”. 

Version 1

Main Heading: Perpetua Regular 48pt

Highlights: Perpetua Italic 21pt

Body Text: Perpetua Regular 12pt

Womens_Magazine_Mock_Up V1

In this version I used a single serif typeface – Perpetua with the main heading and body text in Regular and the highlights in Italics. The 12pt serif font looks quite small when printed but is still legible, which will be useful for a quite a long story in a magazine.

Version 2

Main Heading: Pristina Regular 48pt

Highlights: Josefin Sans Light 18pt

Body Text: Josefin Sans Light 12pt

Womens_Magazine_Mock_Up V2

In this version I used a Script typeface for the Main Heading and a sans-serif font for the Hightlights and Body Text. I think the Pristina script typeface works well for the ‘spoken words’ of the heading. The style of the font is also quite feminine, which suits the female voice. The Josefin Sans is delicate and modern, which would also work well in a woman’s magazine.

Version 3

Main Heading: Candara Regular 48pt

Highlights: Candara Italic 18pt

Body Text: Lato Light 12pt

Womens_Magazine_Mock_Up V3

In this version, I wanted to use a sans serif font throughout. I used Candara Regular for the heading and Candara Italic for the highlight. However, Candara Regular looked too heavy for the small body text font and there was not a Light version of Candara available, so instead I used Lato Light for the body text. I had chosen the Candara typeface for the heading because it has a slightly informal feel of handwriting which I thought worked well for the ‘voice’ of the title. However, in retrospect, I think the Candara typeface has almost has a child-like quality – it reminds me of the very careful writing you might get in a child’s early-reading book, and I feel it might trivialise what might be a serious story.


• An advertisement in a parish magazine asking for more helpers on the flower

Version 1

Main Heading (Question): Hind Medium 18pt

Body Text: Hind Light  12pt

Email Address: Hind Bold 12pt

This advert is quite small, so I have used a simple, ‘clean’ sans serif typeface throughout. Bold font makes the key text stand out.

Version 2

Main Heading (Question): Cinzel Regular 18pt

Body Text: Lato Light  12pt

Email Address: Lato Light 12pt

Here, I have used a modern, decorative, quite feminine serif, all caps font for the question, with the intention of catching the reader’s eye. The rest of the text is in a lightweight sans serif font for a feminine and modern feel.

Version 3

Main Heading (Question): Cambria Bold 18pt

Body Text: Cambria Regular  12pt

Email Address: Cambria Bold 12pt

Here I have used a more ‘classic’ serif font throughout for a decorative and slightly more traditional feel. The larger font and bold typeface of the question is intended to make the key question stand out.


• A poster to advertise an after-school club for boys aged 13 – 14. 

Version 1

Main Heading (Questions) & Bottom Line: Black Ops One  Regular 110 & 48pt

Body Text: Archivo Black Regular  36pt

Here, the key text is in a heavy weight, masculine, military style stencil font. The rest of the text is in a smaller more readable heavy weight sans serif font.

Version 2

Main Heading (Questions) & Bottom Line: Permenant Marker Regular 125, 60 & 48pt

Body Text: Hind Bold  36pt

Here, the key text is in a heavy weight, handwriting style, marker font, intended to look a little like graffiti and quite informal. Again, thehe rest of the text is in a smaller more readable heavy weight sans serif font.

Version 3

Main Heading (Questions) & Bottom Line: Special Elite Regular 125, 60pt

Body Text: Special Elite Regular  36pt

Here the text is in a masculine, machine-style font.

• Your friends’ engagement party. 

Version 1

Agency FB Bold and Regular in different sizes.

Because the flier is quite small with quite a lot of writing, I have used a single typeface in different weights and sizes to avoid the flier looking cluttered.

Version 2

Iceland Regular in different sizes.

My flier has an outer-space feel and I think this machine-like font works particularly well for this look. It reminds me of ‘Star Trek’!!

Version 3

Cherry Swash Bold and Regular in different sizes.

In this version, I tried with a more decorative font. I think this works because the slab serifs give the font a ‘machine’ feel which fits well with the outer-space theme of the flier but the decorative curls are quite fun.

Thoughts on this exercise

At first, I was quite dismayed when I saw that I had to create my own typeface sample book – I have a lot of typefaces already installed on my PC and I though it wasn’t going to be a very useful exercise to copy them into book. However, having done it, I think there are a number of benefits in doing this:

  • The sheer number of typefaces that exist can make choosing them overwhelming. Collating my favourites into a sample book keeps them together in a way that I can easily reference them. For me it was also useful to add notes about where I had used them with or what other typefaces I had paired them with.


  • It is difficult to see in Photoshop, for example, what the typeface actually looks like, until you type something. The sample book presents extracts of sample text so I can instantly see what written text will look like in different cases and font sizes.


  • The sample book also makes it more obvious which font styles are available (Regular, italic etc.). More than once I chose a typeface and only afterwards realised there was no italic or bold version.

for the mock ups, I also made some interesting discoveries:

  • When using different typefaces, matching font weight was as important as matching styles. A light weight title typically needed a light weight body font in order to look balanced.


  • It is difficult to gauge what a document will look like, and whether the font is the right choice, and is legible, until it the document printed at its actual size.  I found the A3 poster quite difficult in this respect as it is difficult to get a sense for how the poster will look when working on a relatively small PC screen.


  • I was really conflicted when doing these mock ups, between wanting to create something a little more unique and original and wanting to use more obvious ‘visual messages’ that the viewer will understand. I felt I ended up using cliched images for these documents (teenager with a hoodie for the club poster, silhouette of dancing crowd for the party flier).  I am torn between wanting to produce something that the viewer will instantly ‘get’ and something a bit more original.

Part 4 – Exercise 2: A Typographic Jigsaw Puzzle

The typeface Baskerville has been deconstructed so it only contains the strokes, serifs and bowls that are common to all the letterforms. Your task is to try and put it all back together again to read the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

  • The yellow letters are where I have duplicated an element of the typeface.

Thoughts on This Exercise

Having spent some time looking closely at typefaces, has your appreciation of them
increased? If so in any particular aspect? Do you think that understanding more about
how typefaces are constructed will be useful to you in future?

Having looked much closer at typefaces, I now realise how many small and subtle features of a typeface combine together to give it its overall look. Typefaces are certainly more complex than I thought! Typically, I would read text quickly and/or the text is quite small, so the small design elements of a typeface are barely noticed. Now I am more likely to notice the style of terminals on a serif font, the degree of contrast between thick and thin strokes, the angle of stress or distinguishing features such as a tail of a ‘Q’ or ‘R’.  I can now better see the subtle design elements of a given typeface.

I do think that being able to recognise how typefaces are constructed will be useful. In my work building websites, I sometimes have to try to identity a typeface from an existing logo or printed marketing document, in order to match the font on the website – or if I can’t match it exactly, to find a typeface that is similar. Understanding the nuances of how a font is constructed will certainly help with that.

Part 4 – Exercise 1: Playing with Words

Using the following words create typographical representations that present both the word and a suggestion of its meaning.

Sad Safe Sardonic Saucy Scholarly Serious Shadow Shattered Shy Short Silly Sinking Skimpy Sleek Smart Snowy Sodden Soothing Sordid Sophisticated Speed Squat Squeeze Stiff Stodgy Stoned Style Supine Swagger Sweet

Start this exercise by working on A4 sheets of paper. Set the words in 48pt Helvetica Bold, print and cut out the words and then arrange them and stick them to a sheet of paper trying to capture the meaning of the word visually. Think about the composition, using the white space of the page to help you construct your meanings.

The word is hiding away at the bottom right of the page. You need to look down the whole page before you see it. The letters are huddled together as though they don’t want to be seen.

The word ‘safe’, surrounded by protective ‘walls’.

The slight curve of the word represents a sardonic smile.

Saucy – bouncy letters give a sense of fun. Positioning the word at the top of the page means it is a bit of an extrovert and not afraid to be seen.

Squat – the letters have been shortened to make the word shorter than it should be. Positing the word at the bottom of the page gives the sense that it is small.

The positioning of the word is intended to look like a crossword puzzle or game of scrabble.

The letters are positioned to look like a serious, frowning face  (try squinting!).

The tall upright word is casting a shadow.

Silly – the letters are scattered to give a sense of fun and playfulness, as though they are dancing across the page – You also have to look closely to notice that they are also in the wrong order – as though the word is teasing or playing a joke.

Shattered – the word breaks into shards as it falls and hits the bottom of the page.

The word is trying to hide in the bottom, right of the page. You have to look down the whole page before you see it.

Squeeze – the letters are being squeezed.

Short – the word is positioned at the bottom of the page to give the sense that it is small. It is also ‘peeping’ over the edge of the page, as though it is not quite tall enough to see over the edge.

The letters are sinking into the page. The word is positioned at the bottom of the page to enhance the sense that they are moving downwards.

Skimpy – part of the word is missing.

Stodgy – the letters sticky and clumped together.

Smart – the letters are intended to look like the working-out of an anagram.

Sleek – the letters are angled to give a sense of being streamlined and aerodynamic.

Circles are cut out of the word to look like falling snowflakes. The word also looks like it is standing in a snow drift.

The word is crumpled and torn as though it has been soaked in water (which is was!).

The letters are positioned in a gentle, calming curve, like a smile.

The letters are positioned as though they are looking through a peep hole.

An abstract layout, intended to look like modern art.

The letters travel diagonally across the page to give a sense of motion and dynamism.

Stiff – the letters are rigid and upright and positioned up against the side of the page.

Sweet – the word has bites taken out of it, as though it was good to eat.

The letters are ‘floating on the ceiling’, and afterwards, the last letter has come down and is crashed out on the ‘floor’.

Style – the last two letters are intended to look like a jaunty hat or french accent.

Swagger – the letters are intended to look as though they are ‘walking’ with a confident gait.

The word is lying along the bottom of the page.

Then work digitally using any of the software you have available. Explore how you can set text at a slant, at different sizes, in different colours and fonts. Try using filters in your software for other effects.

Faded, rather insignificant, dreary grey letters, in a plain, unassuming typeface. huddled protectively together and hiding away in the bottom corner of the page.

A solid and sturdy, no-nonsense font. The drop shadow enhances its presence. You know this word will protect you, like a superhero.

This typeface has a flippant, disparaging feel. The letters have been slightly flattened to enhance the ‘shifty’ feel. Red gives a sense of wickedness.

This is a quirky, fun and cheeky typeface in warm, vibrant colours. The positions of the letters suggest bounciness and energy. This word is a bit of a cheeky show off.

A serious serif typeface, in black, like you would see printed in text books and literature. The formatting of the letters is intended to look like a mathematical formula.

A serious, sensible, formal serif typeface with large, no-nonsense letters in sensible dark grey. The underline and position of the word at the top of the page, gives an additional sense of importance to the word.

A sturdy, bold typeface with thick strokes, casting an elongated shadow in the same font.

A typeface with a colour and texture intended to look like glass. The letters break into many fragments when they hit the ‘ground’ at the bottom of the page.

A pale and delicate typeface with letters so small and insignificant you barely notice they are there. They are also hiding at the bottom of the page. You need to look down the whole page before you see them and even then, you might miss them.

A squat typeface positioned at the bottom of the page, to enhance the fact that this word is short in stature.

Letters in a mix of typefaces and lively, fun colours, dancing merrily across the page.

Ornate letters with a metallic gold effect, intended to look like heavy gold artifacts sinking into the sand at the bottom of the sea. The positioning at the bottom of the page enhances the fact that they are sinking downwards.

A thin, lightweight, handwritten typeface feels insubstantial on the page. This effect is enhanced by parts of the already ‘barely-there’ letters being rubbed out.

A decorative, thin, elongated typeface. The letters are leaning to the right to give a sense of being smooth and streamlined. This word is elegant and black, like a black cat.

A formal but contemporary serif font in eye-catching colours. The ‘M’ is intended to look like a bow tie. The word is positioned in the centre of the page because it is looking good and is proud to be seen.

A dark grey font with no sharp corners to enhance the effect of snow settling on these letters which would cover any sharp edges. Cut outs are intended to look as though the word is embedded in show.

A typeface in the colour of water, with drips.

The calming mantra of a repeated word, presented in gentle waves. The colours are intended to represent the tranquility of deep water.

The anonymity of a typed blackmail or ransom note. This typeface has a somewhat sinister feel.

A modern, sans-serif hairline-weight font with generous spacing between characters, positioned a little low down on the page to give a contemporary feel.

Red and dark grey are quite masculine colours, the colours of sports cars or danger. The red letters are zooming across the page, leaning into the wind. The trail of grey, slightly blurred letters, suggest motion, the points where the letters had been previously or perhaps, the remnants of a car exhaust.

A fat typeface with wide strokes.  The position of the this word at the bottom of the page enhances the fact this this word is short.

These large letters have been squeezed in the middle, like they are being squeezed by a fist or like a waist is squeezed by a girdle. The rounded font gives a sense of the letters being malleable.

A stiff type face with straight lines and jagged edges. The position of the two ‘F’s suggest walking with a rigid gait.

A plump and rounded typeface that fills the width of the page. The word’s position at the bottom of the page suggests that it is heavy and immobile. The colour is intended to look like dough.

The letters float across the page and have a psychedelic pattern.

An elegant cursive font in a classic royal blue colour. The drop shadow gives the word extra presence. The word is positioned at the top left of the page, so it is the first thing you see.

A lazy typeface with rounded edges, lying along the bottom of the page.

A decorative serif font, boldly taking up the width of the page. The different sized letters suggest that the font is moving towards and away from you.

A friendly, plump typeface in a pink candy-stripe colour like the paper bags you used to get sweets in.

Thoughts on This Exercise

At first, I really struggled with the first part of this exercise. I could not get to grips with how I could visually represent words when I was working with print-outs of the words and consequently could not change the font type, font size or colour. However, once I got going, I really enjoyed this part of the exercise. I actually found the very limited parameters in which I had to work, quite liberating. Effectively, a lot of the options for how I could have represented the words, had been taken away from me and I instead had to work with a very limited set to ‘tools’, i.e. the print out of the word, a sheet of A4 paper, scissors and glue.  I really had to focus on getting creative to find ways to represent the words and spent quite a lot of time, sketching and thinking of ideas before I actually stuck anything to paper.

Some words were quite easy  to represent, with quite obvious solutions, such as ‘shattered’. Others were much more difficult, such as ‘smart’.

I think for this part of the exercise, the most successful words are those where there was no obvious way to represent the word and I really had to think hard to find a way to represent it. I think my ‘peephole’ idea for ‘sordid’ and ‘modern art’ idea for ‘sophisticated’ worked the best. I was also pleased with my idea of representing a face for ‘serious’, and the wet, torn paper for ‘sodden’ but felt that these did not execute quite so well.

It was also very interesting to see the extent to which the use of the white space of the paper and the position of the word on the page could contribute to the meaning. I made the mistake of putting more that word on a sheet, primarily to save paper (!) and realised quite quickly that the words started influencing each other when they were positioned together on the page. You immediately start to question what the relationship is between the two words. In hindsight this was a mistake.

I found the second part of this exercise much easier to complete but also much less fun to do. The options of being able to change the typeface, font size or colour, or to be able to add a digital effect to the text, gave much more scope for how to visually represent the word but it was almost too easy to arrive at a solution and I felt that I was less likely to really think creatively. I also found that I was distracted by the technology, so I would spend more time working out how to apply a specific effect than thinking on whether that effect was really the best way I could think of to represent the word.

I think that the words which have worked best in the digital part of this exercise are my mathematical formula effect for the word ‘Scholarly’, as being able to manipulate the fonts to represent a formula worked particularly well.  The word ‘smart’ with a bow tie, just about in the position where it would be on a person, also worked well and being able to use a fat and rounded typeface in the colour of dough for the word ‘stodgy’ I thought was also very effective.

Part 4 – Research Point: Modernist Typography

The opening chapter of the book ‘Type & Typography’ by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam, includes the following statement:

“These theories form the basis of what is known as structuralism. The belief that meaning could be constructed by the transmitter of language was a natural extension of Saussure’s analysis. Through speech and writing, the architect of meaning was the author.

Saussure’s ideas, and those of his structuralist followers, influenced the development of modernism and have been embraced by practitioners of architecture, industrial design, graphic design and type design. What appealed to modernist thinkers was the belief that authors or designers could transmit fixed meanings through constructed forms.”

I didn’t understand a word of that, so I decided to use this as a basis for some research. I specifically wanted to find out:

  1. What is structuralism?
  2. What is modernism?
  3. How did structuralism influence modernism?
  4. How did modernism influence type design?

What is Structuralism?

Ferdinand de Saussure developed structural linguistic theory in the early 20th century. This theory put forward the idea of the ‘signifier’ – the sound or written letters that represent something, and the ‘signified’, the thing being represented. Meaning does not come simply from the ‘sign’ but in its relationship with other signs. Meaning is generated from the collective groupings of signs, i.e. it is the structure of language that conveys meaning.


the word branch on its own is ambiguous

‘Your local branch’ makes it clearer that we are not talking about a tree..

‘Your local branch of Sainbury’s’ – clearer still..

‘Your order will be delivered to your local branch of Sainsbury’s’ – now the meaning is clear.

Similarly, superfluous or unnecessary words will confuse or detract from the meaning.

‘Structuralism’ became the belief that meaning was constructed by the author, i.e. the graphic designer had control of the meaning of the message and could communicate a fixed meaning through a constructed form.

What is Modernism?

Modernism is a general and loosely applied term that encompasses various overlapping art movements from approximately 1905 to 1960. It broadly reflects two general art movement trends:

  • the abstract and non-geometrical style of expressionism, dadaism and surrealism
  • the more functional, geometrical styles of cubism, futurism, purism, suprematism, constructivism, de stijl and Bauhaus.

A Brief History of Moderism

1890 – 1905 Art Nouveau

Towards the end of the 19th Century, a number of artists and designers felt that Industrialisation had left the urban world without beauty. The Art Nouveau style emerged in response. Often used in relation with entertainment and the arts, the style was ornate and decorative. Modernist art movements emerged in response to this overly ornate style by simplifying their designs.

1905 – Sachplakat (Germany)

The move towards modernism began partly as a result of Art Nouveau simply starting to go out of fashion,  other industries wanting to use more deliberate design to communicate with their consumers and the impact of WW1.

In 1905, Lucian Bernhard developed a very simplified advertising poster design for matches that removed all non-essential elements and left simply the company name and the image of two matches. The focus was on the product and on the clarity of the message. This simplified style of communication became known as ‘Sachplakat’ (“Object Poster”).

Continuing this trend in 1914 and the outbreak of WW1, posters were designed to be simple with very clear messages.

1916 – Dada

The Dada movement was started in Switzerland by a group of artists that used art as a protest against the war. The Dada style was surreal and ridiculous and challenged how Europeans could claim to be rational and enlightened when so many of them were being slaughtered in the war.

1908 – 1912 – Cubism

Picasso and Braque work together to develop a new art style called cubism which reduced and abstracted a subject to a series of geometric ‘cubes’. Gradually the cubist influences made their way into graphic design with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire creating poems where the visual structure of the text was designed to complement the words.

Designers who incorporated the stylistic elements of cubism and other related art movements into their work were known as modernists because of the way they integrated modern art into their work. Initially, there was not much call for these new styles of working but one of the first outlets for modernist designers was the London Underground.

1909 – Futurism

A group of Italian poets, musicians and painters got together, called themselves ‘Futurists’ and called for Italian society to move any from its classical history. The Futurists were interested in influencing wider society and so developed experimental typography and graphic design.

1920 – Purism

Towards the end of WW1, the style of Purism emerged which aimed to harmonise the past and the future. Purism saw the emergence of the ‘machine aesthetic’ – a style that is influenced by the smooth, polished shapes of machines and an admiration for industrialised society.

1920 – Art Deco

Art Deco was a general term used for designs of geometric abstraction which played on the styles of cubism, futurism and purism into a fashionable style used for general consumer goods.

1917 – De Stijl

A Dutch art movement that brought together artists and architects to develop a style of reductive goemetric abstraction influenced by the concept of universal harmony and the machine aesthetic. The general belief was that limited elements could represent abstract ideas.

1915 – Supramatism (Russia)

In 1915, Kasimir Malevich developed a style of art which he called ‘Supramatism’  because it represented ‘the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art’. The style is a form of reductive geometric abstraction influenced by cubism and the machine aesthetic.

1921 – Constructivism (Russia)

Constructavism developed along side the growth of communism and featured a rejection of self-expression combined with a commitment to industrial materials. Works were created to serve a practical purpose and included practical goods such as propaganda posters. Graphic designers became more important. Photomontage became an important technique for constructavists.

This research needs to be completed

How did structuralism influence modernism?

How did modernism influence type design?