In Restless Aesthetic Pursuit: Recontextualizing Typography

Finding new ways to inject creativity, typographic expression, and a sense of play into typography.

Maria Smith Bohannon
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Communication and aesthetic resolution are primary considerations in solving design problems. Good, solid typography skills are critical for students, and for practicing designers. But once the typographic skills are honed, what’s next? This study takes a look at how we can inject more creativity, more typographic expression, and a sense of play into typography through analog and digital means, and how that might manifest creative growth.

Expressive forms of design and typography have gained favor at various points throughout design’s history, and two that struck a chord for this project include Futurist poems and Weingart’s typographic studies that intentionally sought rule-breaking. One of the propelling goals of this project was to find new ways to recontextualize typography—modifying letterforms—through physical slicing, cutting, rearranging, stabbing, altering and generally modifying portions of the text, whether it was taking cues from the written words or by analyzing an entire page. The idea of play is an overarching theme, as well as Robert Bjork’s “desirable difficulties”—more difficult tasks will slow down the learning process, but create better retention of the information.

Visual examples include interpretative typographic studies from students, as well as a series of personal studies based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Oval Portrait. These examples explore typographic methodologies that follow traditional typographic hierarchies and communication goals, as well as designs that break rules, push creative norms, practice self-directed expression and explore personally motivated designs—with the simple goal of discovery and creative expression.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.1: Quinnipiac University on October 5, 2019.

Creativity in Letting Go of Certainties

Dannell MacIlwraith
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Admit it; designers are control freaks.

I know that in both my work and my life, I have been a very intentional, controlling person who feels safe within a set of clearly defined parameters. But in order to grow, I have been experimenting with letting myself abandon control and accept uncontrollable components within my designs. The unexpected makes life and design interesting and stimulating. The detachment of control has added new systems to my work, practice, and curriculum. The elements of unpredictability, chance and accident have a long (but under appreciated) tradition in design, threading through the Dada movement and the visual culture of John Cage, Stefan Bucher and Daniel Eatock.

Relinquishing some control has added new techniques to my work, practice, and lifestyle. I employ my newfound methodologies in material explorations, layout techniques, and “blind” elements that create chance outcomes.

Chance methodologies that produce unexpected results can be integrated within both analog and digital techniques. These methodologies have included student projects utilizing india ink with air duster to create abstract shapes. These organic/non-controlled shapes are the first steps to animated illustration. ( Within my own work, I have used the weather as means of ‘choosing’ color for a website. The temperature dictates the color scheme for the site; the warmer the temperature the warmer the colors; the cooler the temperature the cooler the colors. (

My research is designed for me to accept the imperfections and chaos of life. There will be unexpected elements to work with and through. Is this a relatable subject to society? Designers are problem-solvers and form the elements of their work. The process of being a “chooser” and deciding on fonts, colors, and layout is authoritative. How can we teach our students to not only be ‘choosers’ but to be open to unexpected and uncontrollable outcomes? By letting go of control, we can gain new experiences and happy accidents.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.1: DePaul University on October 27, 2018.