Consuming Fachions: Typefaces, Ubiquity and Internationalisation


In this paper, theories of fashion, consumption and material culture are used to explain and understand the phenomenon of the proliferation of typefaces. The paper addresses the conference themes by presenting a successful research initiative which, due to its interdisciplinary nature, represents potential for institutional collaboration to further explore other overlooked products of internationalisation in art and design.

The late twentieth century witnessed the democratisation of typeface design and typeface usage due to the ease of access to desktop computer technology and a related exponential growth in the number of typefaces available to users of type. What is the cultural significance of this phenomenon? There are many late twentieth century sources of commentary on fashion, consumption and material culture, but none mentions typefaces within wider cultural terms. Similarly, while there has been passing mention to fashion and trends by graphic design and typography writers and commentators, none has identified a connection between typefaces and the theories underpinning fashion, consumption and material culture. Yet typefaces are a designer’s essential tool in visual communication and my PhD research showed they were viewed at the end of the twentieth century as collectable items, utilitarian objects, objects of beauty, envy and admiration.

In a world in which the competition for an audience’s attention is increasing exponentially, designers require new knowledge about typefaces for visually branding or customising their clients’ messages. In this paper, I explore theories from outside art and design to position typeface designing as an activity, and typefaces as artefacts, within a more comprehensive societal picture than the expected daily professional practice of graphic designers and everyday computer users. This paper will also show that by tracking and thereby understanding the cultural significance of ubiquitous typefaces, it is possible to illustrate the effects of internationalisation in the broader sphere of art and design.

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CAHALAN Anthony:

Anthony Cahalan has broad-ranging experience in graphic design, marketing, public relations and design education. He is currently Deputy Head of the School of Design and Architecture and Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Canberra. He is the country delegate for Australia of Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), and state president and national councillor of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA). He studied visual communication at Sydney College of the Arts, has a Master of Design from the University of Technology Sydney and has recently submitted his PhD thesis for examination to Curtin University of Technology in Perth.