The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall

Mark Addison Smith, Assistant Professor
Electronic Design and Multimedia
The City College of New York

The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall documents my typographic and theoretical process of discovering an instance of homophobic graffiti—gay fagget fucker die you know it’s a truck driver—within a midwestern truck stop men’s bathroom, translating the author’s letterforms into a coded-language system for the targeted queer community, and using my newly designed typography to “talk back” against and eradicate the source hate.

Cross-referencing design theory lenses of Sassure’s semiotics, Dunn’s graphic signal, and Meggs’ metasymbol against queer theory lenses of Kinsey’s bathroom, Foucault’s confession, and Munoz’s disidentification, my role as communication designer existed as analyst and visual-activist. I reappropriated the strokes, angles, and terminals of the graffiti author’s non-repeating 20 letterforms into a complete 52-character uppercase and lowercase alphabet based upon his writing style. Through a process of mirroring and overlay, I arranged these letterforms on top of each other to design a homosexualized alphabet of same-letter ligatures, or, same-sex letters having sex. I returned to the original bathroom stall and deployed my own response, let’s face it we’re all queer (a graffiti battle-cry from the 1970s New York City queer revolution), directly on top of his graffiti—to both reference the source of my redesigned typeface and provide the audience with a translation-key—in an act of eradication and reclamation. Through textual manipulation, I’m hoping to analyze the emotional baggage carried within the individual strokes of the author’s handwritten language, to uncover the latent homosexuality within his written homophobia, and to generate a letterform-based code in which the author cannot answer back.

Desire teaches us that the more something is kept as a secret, the more we are driven to uncover and interpret it. Design allows us to interpret it. Such is the nature of Foucault’s confession, and our desire—as interlocutor—to translate and assimilate…and, from a design perspective, to ultimately visualize identity-formation and reverse-discourse empowerment.


This research will be featured as a chapter in Routledge’s Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, to be released in 2016.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Bequeath(ed) Type

Liz DeLuna
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
Department of Art and Design
St. John’s University

Cemeteries provide a landscape rich in social, cultural and aesthetic history. They house the dead, but the grave markers designed and crafted by the living, leave a legacy of traditions, styles and preferences. This is especially evident in the variety of lettering styles that are particular to time periods and regions. Some gravestone carvers were more adventurous, others more conventional, and some eclectic, idiosyncratic and seemingly accidental. This lecture explores the process involved in creating a digital type family based on 18th century gravestone inscriptions and includes an examination of the original inspiration, visual exploration and primary research, as well as the use of relevant design technologies.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Not Dead But Sleepeth: A Study of Gravestone Lettering

Doug Clouse
Co-Founder and Principal of The Graphics Office
Adjunct Professor at Purchase College and the Fashion Institute of Technology

Doug Clouse will speak about his research on lettering on nineteenth-century American gravestones and memorials. His work focusses on lettering in the Midwest, with particular attention paid to gravestones in and around Wichita, Kansas and the work of the marble company Kimmerle & Adams. The liveliness and variety of letterforms on memorials by Kimmerle & Adams and other Kansas firms reflect the ambition of pioneer settlers as well as the influence of print typography on inscriptional lettering. The ebullient mix of scripts, slab serifs, serifs, grotesques, and shadowed letters, the way lines of letters curve and angle, and the integration of letters with ornament recall the fancy print typography of the 1870s and 80s. Clouse will look closely at the letterforms and trace the materials, skills, technologies, and beliefs about death that coalesced to create this brief Midwestern flowering of lettering in marble.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.4: St. John’s University Manhattan Campus on Thursday, February 12, 2015.

Colloquium 1.4: Call for Submissions

Deadline: January 15, 2015

The  2015 winter colloquium will be held at St. John’s University Manhattan Campus. We invite all Communication Design researchers to submit abstracts for consideration by our panel of peers.

For more details, see the Submission Process description.
Event Date: Thursday, January 15, 2015

Manhattan campus of St. John’s University
51 Astor Place
New York, NY 10003

Please RSVP if you plan on attending.

Reality Check: Learning About the Difference Between Design and Designer

Yue Chen
Art Director
Office of Visual Communication
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

Design critic Ralph Caplan wrote: “Learning how to write is not the same as being a writer.” The same principle holds true when it comes to design, and yet this simple truth is often forgotten in the classroom. While students are expected to learn how to design, many have failed to realize that technique alone does not automatically make them designers—attitude and work ethnic are just as important. In this presentation, I will discuss a few real-life lessons I developed to help students become more aware of the choices they make as designers, and how those choices can, for better or worse, affect their own lives and the well-being of society.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.1: Queens College on Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

ABC’s of Type Design

Liz DeLuna
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
St. John’s University

Every typeface has a story, and many typefaces have life cycles and histories that span centuries. These histories and stories reveal tales of historical and cultural context, modes of production, changes in production technologies and rationales for the emergence of styles and trends. This lecture examines the evolution of three distinct digital typeface designs, from research through design and production. My first foray into typeface design began when I discovered a late 19th century stone wall plaque in the Bowery Mission meeting room in downtown Manhattan. The letterforms on the plaque were carvings that had been done by hand, each one individual and unique. Excited by this discovery, I made rubbings of the letterforms. A desire to turn these eclectic letterforms into a typeface propelled my further explorations into typeface design. This journey eventually led me to the typeface design program, Type@Cooper. The process of designing a typeface requires a diverse and interdisciplinary skill set; relying on a web of historical, cultural, and technical understanding, as well as the more formal aesthetic and form making skills. The type designer inhabits a world somewhere between designer and engineer. My ongoing research explores the overlap between digital typeface design and traditional graphic design outputs.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.0: Inaugural Event at AIGA on Thursday, June 5, 2014.