Robert L. Peters

24 June 2010

virtual typography | a book review

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London, United Kingdom

London-based designer Matthias Hillner (who has been on my radar since we met at the Oullim congress in Seoul, 10 years ago) uses a typography-led approach for developing multimedia and graphic design solutions. After earning a diploma in visual design (schwerpunkt Photography) from the College of Design Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany in 1994, he graduated with a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art, London, and subsequently launched the Studio for Virtual Typography. Since 2004, he has lectured at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in Kent, at London Metropolitan University, at Camberwell College of Arts in London, and at the University of Herfordshire; in 2006, Amersham & Wycombe College in Buckinghamshire appointed Matthias as Course Leader of BA Applied Graphic Studies, and in 2007 the Royal College of Art awarded him an MPhil (Master of Philosophy or Arts). Published in 2009 by AVA Publishing SA in Switzerland, virtual typography is Matthias Hillner’s first book—a “must-read” for any graphic designer or design student with interest in typographic communication and its effect on (and efficacy in) the frenetic world of information overload that surrounds us today.

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Leaving few stones unturned, virtual typography examines “visual data that appears in a near-typographical form, operating on the borderline between image and text.” It defines virtual typography and analyzes it in the context of digital media (e.g. moving image and new digital contexts) and explores the visual interpretation of verbal language. It “reveals how virtual typography can help in the presentation of words, and avoid misinterpretation,” by including type in an image. Presented in a highly structured yet visually engaging style, the book is richly illustrated and supported by case studies and examples of work from artists and designers including (among many, many others) Joshua Reichert, Alexander Rodchenko, the Bauhaus, David Small, Why Not Associates, Tomato, Neville Brody, Reza Abedini, Channel 4, and Pentagram.

A key argument made by Matthias is that in an image-saturated world, type design can have a hard time standing out: “Over the course of the twentieth century, people’s lives have become so interlinked and information so accessible, that we struggle to put up with the infinite amount of information with which we are confronted every day. The exchange of information that once enabled us to enhance social interaction is now often seen as a burden. The growing information overload has led to a change in the use of language. Where there is no time left for reading, we return to the use of images as substitutes for words.” Quoting the great Marshall McLuhan, he drives the point home: “Information pours upon us, instantaneously and constantly,” and, “Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. ‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening.”

My advice: 1) buy this book today; 2) savor and learn from it; 3) apply the insightful principles articulated in virtual typography to create more effective and more meaningful design solutions.

Congratulations, Matthias, and (on behalf of our profession) thanks!

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virtual typography

Author: Matthias Hillner

ISBN: 2-940373-99-X, 978-2-940373-99-4

AVA Publishing SA, Lausanne CH (link)

Softcover, 184 pages, full color

Size: 160 x 230 mm (6-3/8 x 9 inches)

$29.95 US

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Buy the book from your local bookseller (preferably) or on Amazon here. Read a great backgrounder written by Matthias for Icograda here. Visit virtualtypography.com. Contact Matthias Hillner directly: hillner [at] virtualtypography [dot] com.

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