Towards a Typographic Pluriverse

The notion of decolonizing type is massive in scope: from its history, to its design, application, technology, and future.

Laura Rossi García
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University

This research examines the history, practice, and pedagogy of typography. Typography is at the core of design—both implicit and explicit in its role in shaping language, culture, and power structures—but it is mired in “racial homogeneity and dominated by white men.”1 The selection, use, and application of typography—from style to legibility—can uphold or disrupt dynamics of power: who can read it, who uses it, who made it, whose voice does it carry—human, machine, the included or the excluded. While there is great movement to decolonize design, less is happening specific to decolonizing typography, or decolonizing type pedagogy. “Letterforms are loaded cultural objects” 2 —a container for language— and an “extension of the spiritual, social, political, and historic mind-set of nations”.3

The very notion of decolonizing type is massive in scope: from its history, to its design, application, technology, and future. How do we broaden and re-frame the structures and systems that exist in order to make room for oppressed and marginalized voices and make inclusive the societies in which we live? This presentation will introduce a series of case studies that serve as examples for how to reconsider the very root of thought around type systems and their effects and influence on our students, the field of design, and ultimately our products, systems, and societies.

1. Munro, Silas. “Typography as a Radical Act in an Industry Ever-dominate by White Men,” AIGA Eye on Design, August 26, 2019. Accessed: December 15, 2020. URL:
2. Munro, Silas. Ib, id.
3. Shehab, Bahia and Haytham Nawar. “Early Arabic Printing” in A History of Arab Graphic Design. American University in Cairo Press: 2020. pp. 29-41.

Redefining The Default: Decentering Pedagogical Perspective in the Typography Classroom

Educators need diverse representation in course materials—students must feel seen in order to truly succeed.

Mia Culbertson
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Typography is central to design, yet the standard curriculum centers around Western, able-bodied, straight, white, and male figures, frequently misrepresenting or excluding marginalized communities. In educational and professional spaces, this can have harmful effects on BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled designer and student communities. Creating a typography classroom that prioritizes equitable representation will avoid alienating minority student communities and reduce stereotyping through uninformed design decisions.

There has been a recent push in our discipline to decenter and decolonize our curriculum with the publication of resources like Decentering Whiteness in Design History Resources (Pass et al., 2020) and Extra Bold (Lupton et al., 2021); in this presentation I will discuss the importance of doing so specifically within the realm of typography. As the visual preservation of language, typography can be intricate, particularly when positioned within the larger context of world history. As often seen in other fields, minority communities’ contributions are often excluded from the canon despite frequently serving as the foundation on which Western designers expanded on; for example, facets of typography in the Belgian Art Nouveau movement can be linked to traditional Congolese motifs.  

To send emerging designers out into the world who truly understand the cultural nuances of typography and creating with rather than for communities, educators need diverse representation in course materials—students must feel seen in order to truly succeed. Teaching non-Latin communications such as the ancient Vai syllabary and introducing designers from marginalized communities like Angel DeCora empowers students and ensures these significant contributions to the development of typography are not forgotten or “othered”; it also helps ensure students’ broad perspective and historical context as they develop their own typographic practices, avoiding stereotypes and appropriation in design. Decentering pedagogical perspective in the typography classroom has widespread implications for marginalized student communities and our discipline at large.

Social Media as Design-Writing Process Tool

This process relies on steps familiar to designers: problem identification, research, and the cyclical process of iteration, making, and user testing.

Dori Griffin
Assistant Professor
University of Florida

Writing, like design and design education, is an iterative process which benefits from informal peer critique.  Type Specimens: A Visual History of Typesetting & Printing (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming December 2021) is a global narrative of typographic history. It considers the problem of typography as a tool of capitalism and colonization and — according to Reviewer Two — “irresponsibly shows beginners too many [global] examples that aren’t canonical.” The Cary Fellowship at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Design Incubation Fellowship, among others, have supported its development. Throughout, social media played a key role as a process tool in the book’s research-writing-design. This approach echoes how designers and educators deploy informal peer critique in the studio as a community-driven teaching and learning tool. This presentation explores how social media can support meaningful design-writing scholarship. This process relies on steps familiar to designers: problem identification, research, and the cyclical process of iteration, making, and user testing. As design develops a disciplinary literature of its own, designers can bring visual ways of knowing and learning to the process of writing our own diverse and often previously unknown histories. We can leverage tools seemingly alien to the scholarly writing process: sketching, informal peer critique, and social media texts, images, and discussions. I’ve approached Type Specimens as a project framed by code-switching and multilingual text production; the visual is, after all, a set of languages. Social media has been a powerful tool to fuel and document this process. This presentation shows that journey.

One Year On: Reflections on the Launch of the Chinese Type Archive

An open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology

Caspar Lam
Assistant Professor of Communication Design
Parsons School of Design

YuJune Park
Assistant Professor of Communication Design
Parsons School of Design

Within Chinese typography, the lack of common reference points and conceptual frameworks have made it difficult for students and designers to understand this area of design. To address this gap, the Chinese Type Archive was launched at the start of 2020 as an open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology. Conceived as a purpose-built resource dedicated to bridging and creating cross-cultural connections between Chinese and Latin typography, the Archive provides easier access to hard-to-find typographic material through linked data, lists of previously unnamed historic typefaces, and tracking of evolving conceptual terminology. In its origin, the project reflects a broader wave of renewed interest in Chinese typography from practitioners over the last decade. The first phase of the project began with a seed collection of data, university and design organization funding, and several rounds of technical iteration before its beta launch.

Now, one year later online, we present our continued progress with the project with reflections on community feedback and the project’s iterative methodology. These have led to new insights on barriers-to-entry, the cataloguing process, and the formation of online communities with networked, crowdsourced knowledge. Beyond the immediate impact on the discussion of global typography, the project has raised new questions on how designers should conceive of typography. In addition, the project has tangible ramifications on our idea of collections as a way of creating new sources of design knowledge that can engage designers at any level: student, professional, educator, and researcher. The insights gained from this case study has direct ramifications on design pedagogy and practice, particularly in how the acts of collecting and cataloguing can be powerful methods for learning, contextualization, and critical making.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.2: 109th CAA Annual Conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.

The Machine Hand

Contemporary type design history of emulating hand manipulation of a brush.

Ryan Molloy
Eastern Michigan University

Single-line fonts—also known as engraving fonts, pen plotter fonts, and stick fonts—have a long history ranging from architectural hand drafting to use on pen plotters and engraving devices. As applications of digital fabrication—cnc milling, 3D printing, laser engraving, pen plotters, and craft cutters—have become more commonplace the demand for single line fonts has increased. Majority of the fonts produced and used today are outline fonts, enclosed and filled vector graphic forms. In contrast, a single-line font is composed solely of single vector lines (not enclosed). In applications of digital fabrication the use of single-fonts significantly reduces production time because machine paths are not duplicated.

Contemporary type design has long had a history of emulating the contrasting strokes created through hand manipulation of a brush. The increased demand from maker communities for single-line fonts has led to the development and commercialization of new single-line fonts or tools to convert outline fonts into single-line fonts. However, despite the traditions of type design and the movements of the machine allowing the potential to mimic traditional form of lettering most single-line fonts are designed only for a constant stroke weight. This presentation will showcase a number of personal typographic experiments and typefaces created in an attempt to find novel solutions and applications to the design of single-line fonts. From pen plotters, to engraving, to the creation of letterpress wood type, and drawing inspiration from calligraphy to graffiti the work seeks to ask how can we further reinsert the hand into digital writing.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University, MI on October 17, 2020.

Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University

A Virtual Conference October 17, 2020, 1PM EST.

Presentations will be published on the Design Incubation YouTube Channel after October 3, 2020. Virtual Conference will be held online on Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 1pm EST.

Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University (#DI2020oct) will be held online. Registration for this event below.

Hosted by Maria Smith Bohannon and the Dept of Art and Art History at Oakland University, MI. This event is open to all interested in Communication Design research.


A Design Conversation of the Interaction between Iranian and American Visual Culture
Setareh Ghoreishi
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Exploring Connections between Environment and Community Through Design
Danilo Bojic
Assistant Professor
Winona State University

The Machine Hand
Ryan Molloy
Eastern Michigan University

Let’s Stay Neighbors: A Case Study in Civic Engagement
Chad Reichert
College for Creative Studies, MI

Sustainable Design Thinking: Changing the Design Process
Maria Smith Bohannon
Assistant Professor
Oakland University, MI

Graphic Design Principles: A History- And Context-Based First-Year Design Textbook
Anita Giraldo
Associate Professor
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

Patricia Childers
Adjunct Professor
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

The Children of Loki: Pairing Norse Mythology With Contemporary Visuals to Create a Provocative Narrative
Jimmy Henderson
Graphic Designer

Jimmy Henderson | Design & Illustration

Core Values Matter: The Role of the People in Shaping Corporate Responsibility
Lilian Crum
Assistant Professor
Lawrence Technological University

Why Design Educators Should Embrace Collaborative (Group) Work in the Design Classroom 
Abby Guido
Assistant Professor
Tyler School of Art and Architecture

Tangible Type with 3D printing

The first phase of a research project to develop and find the place of the emerging technologies in typography

Taekyeom Lee
Assistant Professor
Illinois State University

Technology and design have been in a symbiotic relationship, and the demand for the typography with 3D printing has already arrived. Like the digital revolution with the introduction of personal computers generated radical changes in typography, the new digital fabrication techniques urge designers and educators to embrace the new possibilities. As 3D printing has become more refined, efficient, and accessible, what designers can do with the new printing technology? This project is the first phase of a research project to develop and find the place of the emerging technologies in typography.

Designers can use a variety of printing techniques to produce visual materials and to solve visual problems. 3D printing can change the notion of printed text and how we experience materialized type since the tangible type does not lie on the static surface or live on-screen as a mirrored image. 3D printed tangible type acquires characteristics such as dimension, structure, materiality, and even physical interactivity. For this project, various conventional and unconventional materials in 3D printing were used to explore both the challenges and potential for typography. 3D printed tangible type not only amplified visual but physical interactions. The tangible type provides engaging tactile experiences, which would be more intuitive, expressive, and memorable. It also became relatively challenging to ensure the legibility of the written text and write a long text. More investigations should be followed as the technology will get more refined. This project could be inspirational for both professional practices and educational settings, such as typography, graphic design, and digital fabrication courses. As the outcome provides three-dimensional experience and substance, a new application of this design could be used for spatial typography and developed for people with vision impairment.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.3: Fordham University on May 16, 2020.

Practicing Type in the Age of Screens

A panel discussion among design innovators about their design and use of type in today’s changing environment.

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Type Directors Club
347 W 36th St., #603
New York, NY 10018

Typeface design and the implementation of typography has never been more exciting. In many cases, type is presented on monitors, tiny and huge electronic visual displays, i.e., screens. In collaboration with the Type Directors Club, Design Incubation will moderate a panel discussion among design innovators about their design and use of type in today’s changing environment.


Liz DeLuna
St John’s University

Dan Wong
New York City College of Technology, CUNY


Jason Pamental

Javier Viramontes

Nancy Campbell

Ksenya Samarskaya

Developing Design Curriculum Assessment Goals and Student Learning Outcomes; A Case Study: Typography

Walk through the process of project creation to meet learning outcomes, evaluation of success, and mapping outcomes to student learning.

Andrea Hempstead
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

No matter your design school pedagogy, the need for defined and executed assessment and student learning outcomes is important for institutional and programmatic accreditation. This can seem a daunting task for most educators, and particularly so for those teaching in creative disciplines. When academics hear “assessment” and “learning outcomes” they often become angry. This anger, is often fueled by fear that the “institution” is trying to control classrooms, or worse, justify teaching positions and approaches. Ultimately, these institutional measures have the best interests of the student at heart. Done correctly, assessment and defined student learning outcomes help to guide instructors to create and revise curriculum to meet student needs and are flexible enough to allow for unique classroom experiences.

Assessment models favor a tiered approach to learning. Typically, there are touch points throughout curriculum where student learning outcomes are introduced, reinforced and mastered. Ideally, outcomes are not addressed solely in one course, but built upon as the student learns and progresses through the program. Once developed and implemented, these learning outcomes can be assessed to evaluate where student learning could be improved, but also can reinforce successes and program strengths. Additionally, program assessments can serve as documentation to reinforce the need for program funding to improve areas of weakness. Assessment documents can serve as justification for improved facilities, software purchases or even faculty lines.

This case study walks through the process of project creation and implementation to meet course student learning outcomes, evaluation of student success regarding course outcomes, and mapping these outcomes to how program student learning outcomes are introduced, reinforced and mastered. Assessment of the project includes analyzing student course outcomes and progression of overall program student learning.

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

Reading Color: Type in and on Color

A synthesized, inductive approach using Itten’s contrast of extension and Albers’s experimental color studies in application to the visual gestalt of typography.

Jeanne Criscola
Assistant Professor
Central Connecticut State University

Much has been theorized about the transformation of communication from cave paintings to written language and how humans employing materials and technologies impacted their evolution. In 1493, Johannes Gutenberg’s technologies marked a milestone for communication and its distribution with the mechanization of movable type printing. The transition from hot type that went obsolete in the 1950s, to cold type that met its demise around 1985 with desktop publishing, was short-lived. Now, digital typesetting technologies offering myriad configurations of size, font, and layout—in seemingly infinite spectrums of color—present limitless opportunities for the practice of communication design.

This fusion of type and color presents challenges for pedagogy and discourse in the fields of typography and color where they have historically been considered separately in books and in coursework. In typography books, examples typically use letterforms in varying degrees of sizes and contrast to demonstrate colors’ influence on legibility. In books on color theory, the properties of color are often demonstrated with pie-shaped diagrams, color wheels, grids, and in continuous bands. Each pedagogy falls short of modeling today’s communication technologies where typography and color are intrinsic, inseparable, and synergistic.

Methodologies that facilitate the study of typography and color in context and in situ would be welcome by educators and professionals alike. For educators, infusing color theory into the study of typography has advantages for curriculum and course development. For the design student, learning color theory with letterforms integrates their study and practice.

This paper sets out to initiate a synthesized, inductive approach using Johannes Itten’s contrast of extension and Joseph Albers’s experimental color studies in application to the visual gestalt of typography.

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