In investigating ‘How unconventional typography might influence readers experience’, I conducted a study of Émigré magazine – a primary source of deconstructive typography from the post-modern period. Émigré important because it was produced across the majority of the post-modern period.
This study will focus on the earlier issues in which the deconstructive culture was most prominent, before its eventual decline into the 21st century (Lupton & Miller 1994).
Original Émigré magazines were collected. Émigré Issues no.5, no.6, no.7, no.8, no.9, no.19, no.21, no.25,
no.26, no.28, no.29, no.30 and no.31. Photographs of each spread were compiled in a tabular database. These were labelled both sequentially and by content type (eg. interview or essay). Analysis data was captured and coded for each spread. Generally this included notable or interesting typographic decisions and their intended effects. With this data collected I was able to disassemble from sequential order and reassemble by grouping similar phenomena or content type to find commonalities. This process formed the basis of my qualitative analysis. Additionally generalised quantitative data about the intensity and time spent engaging with each spread was collected, guided by two personas reflective of the ISTD target audience. Personas were used to generalise this data collection for the purpose of creating a user journey map. It was unfeasible to test the magazines on a real audience because the magazine is a historical primary source and a realistic context is not possible. Émigré Magazine Index is an online database hosted by the University of Minnesota. The index gave me data for specific typefaces used in each issue that I had physically collected.
Saturation of findings occurred after analysing approximately 2/3 of the collected magazines. At this stage the typographic instances remained varied, however the purpose of these typographic devices became common. The emerging patterns had been identified and internalised. An iterative mind-mapping method was used to synthesise, focus and connect the key findings.
The typography of Émigré magazine has three major components that influence a reader’s experience. Radical type design is a fundamental feature of Émigré for both internal typesetting and for selling to consumers through the Émigré digital type foundry. It must be acknowledged that showcasing the typefaces would have been motivated somewhat by this business venture. Typographic layout utilises common techniques to create engagement within a spread and between pages within an article. Deconstructive layouts also influence engagement by defying codified typographic rules of the period. This engages with a typographic literate audience who are active stakeholders in the post-modern culture. The highest level of experience is determined by the flow and structure of the magazine. This involves how articles and sections connect, and what elements change or remain constant. Additionally other elements of the magazine, such as paper stock and colour are considered influential to the overall experience at this level of structure.
Émigrés type design was championed by the work of Zuzana Licko. Sharpness is a common visual trait throughout the 14 typefaces identified in the magazines, regardless of what category they fall into. This is representative of the digital technology – Apple Macintosh – used to craft the type, evoking a futuristic style that distinguished itself from the type of the past.
The earlier issues feature bitmap type that in essence have been designed for the screen. In a printed context the type is a blatant statement in the typographic legibility debate. It is apparent that as Émigré matures, so do the skills of the type designers and technology, which allows for more refined type design to be produced. The sharpness is represented through these typefaces in a number of ways including angled terminals, varying stroke weights within a glyph and various combinations of organic and geometric forms in the glyphs. A traditional typographic assessment could say that these typefaces are jarring and too ‘visible’. Whereas a post-modern view could say that these typefaces are strong vessels for meaning, have interesting textures and are perfectly legible enough for their context and purpose.
Émigrés use of new digital type transcends as commentary within the deconstructive discussion. The digital type validates itself as a tool to communicate. This can be considered engaging to the audience because the type is aesthetically quite different to anything else of the time. Also like minded designers and typographers would appreciate the post-modern sentiment in the usage of the new digital type. It defies traditional, fundamental teachings in the field and questions what acceptable typography is.
Typographic layout and typesetting – overseen by Editor/Art Director/Producer Rudy VanderLans – is another significant influencer of the readers engagement. The engaging effects on the reader are the same as those facilitated by Émigré’s radical type design. Typographic techniques utilised to defy convention are the retention of orphans and widows, long measures, large leading, all caps body text, variable alignments, setting type into the fold, etc. While these are blatant expressions of post-modern sentiment they are also used in interesting and flexible ways to enhance engagement on a spread or within an article.
Émigré has been crafted to be a versatile magazine that allows readers with different motives to have an engaging experience regardless if they are reading or skimming. One technique used is to visually connect high level hierarchal elements such as titles to body text. This attempts to draw a skimming reader into the depth of the text. Another technique is having multiple readings on a page, allowing the reader to dictate how in-depth they read into the topic.
Differentiation of typographic treatment is used to distinguish different types of content on the same page. This involves the reader in an action of typographic decoding to figure out the sequence of information, demanding more of the reader and manipulating their engagement. The goal of this is for skimmers to be captured and channeled into a great reading experience, this in turn converts them into a more engaged audience. One motive for this is to enhance an honest sharing of ideas and knowledge, while also giving the content the value and respect that it deserves. Another view is that Émigré benefits from engaged readers who continue to purchase the magazine and share it with their peers.
Structure and flow of Émigré is the high level influencer on the reading experience. It is equally as important as type and layout but less obvious. Principles of scale, proportion and space are used to create relief from the often intense and highly engaging text content spreads. Variation in typesetting, typeface, grid, colour, stock, etc, are also utilised to create differentiation between sections of the magazine. The reader’s engagement and the intensity of the spreads crescendo as the reader progresses through an article. This is followed by a section of relief – which may be a page with large display type for another article, an advertisement, or a showcase of an artists work. Relief is very important as it breaks up the content – which in certain issues is quite dense. It gives the reader time to internalise the information and refresh before concentrating on the next article.
Another important structural commonality found is the management of experimental typography. Two main factors influence how experimental or intense the typography of a piece of content is treated. Content that demands attention and reading is appropriately treated. The typography of articles, interviews, essays, etc, is more restrained than internal pages, which includes contents, introductions, subscriptions and back issue purchasing – among other things. The lower importance of these internal pages combined with the fact they generally have less written content results in a more playful execution of typography. Empathy with the readers experience journey suggests that the type of people engaging with the content of lower importance are avid Émigré readers and have an appreciation of typography. Engagement with this type of content suggests the reader is more likely reading cover to cover, rather than skimming. They are Émigré enthusiasts. The highly experimental pages connects the producer with the reader, through the interpretation and appreciation of experimental typography. The reward for interpreting the type is a feeling of personal connection (Tarallo 2011; Lefèvre 2010). This can transcend time – when analysing the content I felt I was having a casual conversation about typography with the producer. The exemplary typography Émigré exhibits the result of having a strong affinity between writing and type (Ayiter et al. 2013; Sadokierski 2011). VanderLans orchestration of the reading flow is a credit to his involvement as a producer (Hunter 2006). This is illustrative of the post-modern sentiment to create a meaningful experience and shared connection with the reader.
By not analysing a complete set of Émigré, some data might be over looked. However due to the saturation that occurred after analysing only 8 issues, the data is likely to have produced the same findings. If later issues of Émigré were observed there would have been some noticeable differences in the data as the aesthetic and format changes. The type design data relies on the accuracy of the Émigré Magazine Index, which did not have data for one of the magazines I analysed (Issue 25). With greater time and resources, a more comprehensive study of Émigré could be produced. This could look into the magazine’s role and influence on design culture.