Mark Sinclair Essayist
Claudia Klat Editor
Unit Editions, London, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Graphic Design
8.5 x 12 inches, paperback, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780957511415
Suggested Retail Price: $68.00

From the Publisher. Type Only celebrates a current trend in typography: type unsupported by illustration or photography. In other words, typography and letterforms on their own—solus. Through the work of around 100 graphic designers from around the world, Type Only explores the communicative and emotive power of type when used in isolation.

The book identifies the use of type “in isolation” as a growing and influential contemporary trend, but it also looks at the historical antecedents of this sort of work. In an introductory essay, Mark Sinclair, deputy editor of Creative Review, provides an overview of how typography has evolved from the early “type only” experiments of the Dadaists and Futurists, via Modernism and Post-Modernism, to today’s radical typographic trends, digitally made and shared instantly on the internet.

With the mass arrival of the personal computer in the early 1990s, typography made a quantum leap. What once took hours of manual labor, could now be done on the screen in real time. At the same time, designers also realized that many of the old typographic conventions and preferences could be bypassed. The result is a 21st-century typographic landscape with a multiplicity of styles and gestures: today, anything goes in typography—everything is permitted, nothing is forbidden. But among this stylistic explosion, one trend seems to stand out as uniquely of the moment. It is best expressed by the now defunct British design group 8vo, who said: “We believed that typography, the key building block of printed communication, could be the core ingredient of a graphic solution (unsupported by illustration or photography…).” In the pages of Type Only, we see what happens when designers from all over the world adhere to 8vo’s brave assertion. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is rude and shouty—but it all relies on the naked power of type and type only.

Features work from: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and the United States.

On 3 book lists
Ellen Lupton

This luscious compendium of contemporary typography and lettering is stocked with enough eye candy to make your teeth hurt. It’s like a 300-page Tumblr blog blown up onto big, tactile pages of print. A selection of historical examples at the front of the book and a sturdy, well-crafted essay by Mark Sinclair provide critical context. The rest of the volume, compiled and designed by Tony Brook, proceeds alphabetically by designer. Brook makes no pretense at deep structure. In place of themes or movements or geographical relationships, you get a raucous onslaught of visual energy. Fresh, surprising, and sometimes hard to look at, the work comes from dozens of designers, most of them young and European.

Sinclair’s essay is called “The Text is the Image,” a slogan that justly captures the project’s focus. Type Only is not about long-form typography applied to complex bodies of content; it is about making pictures, mostly abstract ones, with letters and words. The book’s predominant medium is the poster. Despite the poster’s waning public function, this vehicle remains the archetypal proving ground for experimental graphic design, inviting designers to build compact compositions and serial campaigns that viewers can absorb at a glance. Themes emerge if you look for them. Communication and “concept” succumb to extravagant formal play. Letters are cut, sliced, warped, and repeated. Strange beauty emerges from ugly accidents. Digital glitches disturb the hallowed ground of print. Is the end near at last?

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