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One of the reasons I have been in love with letterforms for so many years is that they collectively carry meaning. They give form and permanence to words. They transmit thoughts and ideas. So the purpose of letters is noble and essential, and that would be enough of a reason to revere them. But there is so much more to letterforms, something completely different that also fascinates me, they are real physical shapes each one a little work of art. And if you can use those little artworks those expressive shapes to convey an idea visually and intellectually that is expressive typography.
There is no single style of expressive typography. One designer who is most well known for his expressive use of typography is Herb Lubalin. You may have seen these classic images which use type itself and only type to convey a concept visually as well as verbally, a seamless connection that looks inevitable when you see it. In France the graphic designer Massin was also influential in his use of expressive typography. His best-known work in this country is his groundbreaking typographic treatment of the Eugene Ionesco play The Bald Soprano.
Massin used photographs of the actors in silhouette surrounded by bursts and cascades of their dialog in wildly varying sizes and styles of type. His goal was to create a theatrical experience on the printed page, it became a classic of expressive typography. Here are some examples I would like to show because the form of the typography amplifies the meaning of the text. And together they send one strong message. The head line chill factor is built from type meant to resemble blocks of ice a perfect complement to the topic and to the opposing imagery.
It's also turned on its side so that its height matches the image on the other side it's a cohesive hole. These great examples from wired are part of a series where the number three is customized to express the idea of the text. On the left the three is being sucked into quicksand, on the right at three is formed by a mass of forward projecting laser beams. My colleague Roberto De Vicq from the Type Directors club created this beautiful expressive book cover, the concept of descendants is expressed by his fanciful descenders flowing from the title.
Here you can see a simple but effective typographic treatment which conveys the concept of warfare and pairs up an active image with active type. Your message will always be most powerful when the words and the image are a perfect match. Give it a try. Expressive typography requires a little bit of inventiveness and a sense of play, maybe a little irreverence. Look at the letterforms think about the meaning you want to convey. Then think about how you might modify the shapes of the letters or arrange or customize them to bring additional meaning to the words.
You don't always need a lot of special effects and filters just a good idea, sometimes a simple solution is the most effective. Expressive typography has the power to say more than just the words themselves.
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