Postmodernist Typography: A Practical Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Postmodernist Typography?
  2. History of Postmodernist Typography
  3. How to Identify Postmodernist Typography
  4. Applications of Postmodernist Typography
  5. How to Use Postmodernist Typography Effectively
  6. Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
  7. Case Studies of Postmodernist Typography

Imagine you're painting a picture with words. Now, think of typography as your paintbrush, and postmodernist typography as a style of painting. It's a bit different, a bit quirky, and definitely breaks traditional rules. That's what we're going to explore today in this practical guide on postmodernist typography philosophy.

What is Postmodernist Typography?

Let's start at the beginning. Typography is all about how text looks - the style, arrangement, and appearance of printed matter. Postmodernist typography, however, is a little bit of a rule-breaker. It's like the rebellious teenager of the typography world. This style of typography is not about sticking to the grid or following a set pattern. It's about breaking free and experimenting with different shapes, sizes, and arrangements of text.

Postmodernist typography philosophy believes in the power of perception. It's not about making sure each letter fits neatly within a line. Instead, it's about creating an experience for the reader. This typography style plays with the reader's perception and emotions. It's more about how the text feels rather than how it looks. It's a non-spatial, non-linear process which abandons the thoughts of a grid. That's the beauty of it.

Let's break down the main features of postmodernist typography:

  • Non-spatial: This means that the text isn't tied down to a specific space. It can float, twist, or even overlap with other text.
  • Non-linear: In postmodernist typography, text doesn't have to follow a straight line. It can curve, zigzag, or even scatter across the page.
  • Emotion-driven: The focus of postmodernist typography is on the viewer's perception and emotions rather than rules such as readability. It's about creating a feeling rather than making sure every word is easy to read.

Remember, postmodernist typography is all about breaking the mold. It's about pushing boundaries and trying new things. So, if you're someone who likes to play by the rules, this may be a little out of your comfort zone. But, if you're someone who likes to experiment and push the boundaries, then postmodernist typography philosophy may be just what you're looking for.

History of Postmodernist Typography

Let's take a step back in time. Postmodernist typography didn't just pop out of nowhere. It has a history, a past that shaped its future. It came into existence in the mid to late 20th century as a reaction to modernism.

Modernism, with its emphasis on order, simplicity, and clarity, was all about function over form. It followed strict rules and guidelines. Postmodernism, on the other hand, said, "Hey, why not both?" It aimed to bring together form and function, blending the two in a way that was both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

The pioneers of postmodernist typography, like Wolfgang Weingart and April Greiman, were not afraid to break the rules. They played with space, form, and function, creating designs that were as much about the viewer's experience as they were about the text itself. They asked, "Why not?" and in doing so, established the principles of postmodernist typography philosophy.

For example, Weingart's work is known for its layered, collage-like feel. He often overlapped text, mixed different typefaces, and disregarded traditional grid structures. He was a rule-breaker, but he did it with a purpose, and that's what postmodernist typography is all about.

Greiman, on the other hand, was one of the first designers to embrace digital technology. She saw the potential of computers and used them to create designs that were impossible to achieve with traditional methods. Her work is characterized by its use of digital imagery and unconventional layouts, and it played a significant role in shaping postmodernist typography.

These pioneers laid the foundation for postmodernist typography, and their influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary designers. Postmodernist typography continues to evolve and push boundaries, proving that rules are meant to be broken.

How to Identify Postmodernist Typography

Alright, so we've had our history lesson for the day. Now, let's switch gears and talk about how you can spot postmodernist typography when you see it. At its core, postmodernist typography is all about breaking the rules, but it's not just about random chaos. There's a method to the madness.

First, look for mixed typefaces. Postmodernist typography often uses multiple typefaces in a single piece. This might seem like a no-no in the traditional typography rule book, but remember, postmodernist typography is all about challenging conventions.

Second, keep an eye out for unconventional layouts. Postmodernist typography doesn't stick to the grid. The text might be arranged in a circular pattern, scattered across the page, or overlapped in a way that creates a sense of depth and dimension. It's all about creating an engaging visual experience.

Third, watch for the use of color. Postmodernist typography often uses bold, vibrant colors to draw attention and create contrast. The color can be used to highlight certain words or phrases, or to create a visual hierarchy within the text.

Finally, pay attention to the interaction between text and image. In postmodernist typography, text and image often work together to convey a message. The text might be integrated into the image, or the image might be used to add meaning to the text.

Remember, postmodernist typography is not about following the rules. It's about using text to create an engaging, visually stimulating experience. So next time you see a piece of design that makes you stop and take a second look, take a moment to appreciate the postmodernist typography philosophy at work.

Applications of Postmodernist Typography

Okay, now that you know what to look for, let's talk about some of the ways postmodernist typography is used in the real world. It's not just for art galleries or design textbooks, you know. In fact, you might be surprised at how often you encounter it.

One of the most common applications is in branding and advertising. Companies use postmodernist typography to stand out from the crowd and create a unique brand identity. It's not just about selling a product—it's about telling a story, and postmodernist typography is a powerful storytelling tool.

Take the logo for MTV, for instance. The bold, dynamic typeface and the way the letters interact with each other is a perfect example of postmodernist typography. It's edgy, it's different, and it immediately sets MTV apart from other television networks.

Postmodernist typography is also widely used in the publishing industry. Book covers, magazine layouts, album art—these are all places where you might see postmodernist typography at work. The goal is to catch your eye and make you want to pick up the book, flip through the magazine, or listen to the album.

But postmodernist typography isn't just for commercial use. It's also used in public spaces to create a sense of place and community. You might see it on a mural in your local park, on a sign for a community event, or in the design of a local restaurant's menu.

So there you have it. Whether it's in the logo for a major corporation, the cover of your favorite book, or the sign for your local farmer's market, postmodernist typography is all around us. And now that you know what to look for, you'll start noticing it everywhere. That's the power of the postmodernist typography philosophy.

How to Use Postmodernist Typography Effectively

So we've seen where postmodernist typography is used, but how can you use it effectively in your own work? Well, the key is to remember that postmodernist typography is all about challenging the norms and pushing boundaries. But, like all great power, it should be used wisely. Here are a few tips.

Know the rules before you break them: Postmodernist typography is about questioning traditional rules and exploring new possibilities. But to do this effectively, you first need to know what those rules are. Make sure you have a solid understanding of basic typographic principles before you start experimenting.

Think about context: Postmodernist typography is bold and eye-catching, but it's not always the right choice. Consider where your work will be seen and who will be seeing it. For example, a poster for a punk rock concert might be the perfect place for some postmodernist typography, whereas a formal invitation might not be.

Don't be afraid to experiment: Postmodernist typography is all about innovation and creativity. Don't be afraid to try different typefaces, play with scale and proportion, or mix and match different styles. You might be surprised at what you come up with!

Keep the message clear: While postmodernist typography can be fun and playful, it's important not to let your design get in the way of the message. After all, the main purpose of typography is to communicate. Make sure your text is still easy to read and that your design enhances the message, not obscures it.

So, if you're feeling a little daring and want to give your designs a modern edge, why not give postmodernist typography a try? With a little practice and a lot of creativity, you'll be mastering the postmodernist typography philosophy in no time.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Embracing the postmodernist typography philosophy can be a thrilling journey, but it's not without its pitfalls. Here are some common mistakes people make when starting out with postmodernist typography, and more importantly, how you can avoid them.

Overcomplicating Things: With all the freedom postmodernist typography offers, it can be tempting to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. However, this can result in a design that is confusing and hard to read. Remember, less is often more. Challenge the norms, but keep your message clear.

Ignoring the Audience: Postmodernist typography is all about breaking rules and setting trends, but that doesn't mean ignoring your audience. It's important to consider who will be viewing your work and what their expectations might be. A design that's perfect for a graffiti art exhibition might not be so well received in a corporate brochure.

Falling into the 'Style' Trap: Postmodernist typography isn't just a style—it's a philosophy. It's easy to fall into the trap of using postmodernist typography as a simple aesthetic choice, but it's so much more than that. Remember, it's about questioning norms and pushing boundaries, not just looking cool.

Not Practicing Enough: Like any skill, mastering postmodernist typography takes practice. Don't be discouraged if your early attempts don't turn out exactly as you'd hoped. Keep experimenting, keep learning, and keep pushing yourself. You'll get there.

So, now that you're aware of these common mistakes, you're well on your way to mastering the art of postmodernist typography. Remember, it's all about pushing the envelope and having fun with your designs. So go ahead, break some rules, make some mistakes, and most importantly, create something amazing!

Case Studies of Postmodernist Typography

Let's take a closer look at a few examples that perfectly illustrate the postmodernist typography philosophy in action.

First up, we have David Carson's work for Ray Gun Magazine in the 90s. Famous for his rebellious approach, Carson often used unconventional and chaotic layouts that challenged the very essence of legibility. In one memorable instance, he typeset an entire interview with Bryan Ferry in the Zapf Dingbats font. Why? Well, he confessed he found the interview boring. It's a classic example of how postmodernist typography can be used to question and subvert the traditional norms of communication.

Next, we have the bold and playful work of designer Paula Scher for the Public Theater in New York. She masterfully combined typographic chaos with control, using large-scale typography to create dynamic and engaging posters. The posters didn't just inform—they became a vibrant part of the city's visual culture. Scher's work is a fantastic example of how postmodernist typography can be used to create a strong visual identity.

Finally, we have designer Neville Brody’s work for The Face Magazine. Brody’s experimental layouts and bespoke typography rejected traditional design rules, reflecting the magazine’s cutting-edge content. His designs were more than just aesthetically pleasing—they were a visual manifesto of the magazine's identity. This is postmodernist typography at its best—challenging, thought-provoking, and deeply intertwined with the content it presents.

These case studies show the power and potential of postmodernist typography philosophy. Each example offers a unique take on how to challenge norms, engage audiences, and create visually stunning work. So, what will your take on postmodernist typography be?

If you enjoyed exploring the world of postmodernist typography and want to learn more about innovative typography techniques, check out 'The Basics of Holographic Bubble Typography' workshop by Aryaman Munish. This workshop will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to create eye-catching and unique typographic designs using holographic bubble techniques.