Logotype: Modular Typography

Definition of Modularity (From the Cambridge dictionary)

the quality of consisting of separate parts that, when combined, form a complete whole.

In terms of design, modularity is a principle that helps manage content- it’s repeatable because its made from 1 module.

In the modular & matrix writing workshops of module 5002, I learnt to work with the restrictions of using a limited selection of shapes to compose letterforms. It was more challenging than I thought it would be. I found myself accidently breaking the rules. Because I was using paper, scissors and glue, it was possible to break rules. In today’s digital workshop, this wasn’t possible.

Other posts where I explore modularity:

Project #4 Drawing with a Grid

Grid Systems

Examples of modules

In today’s lecture we began by looking at examples of modules we are used to seeing in the world around us.

  • In pixellated photos, every cell is a module.
  • Graph paper consists of equally spaced lines, therefore squares.
  • In book design, the use of the grid makes an editorial layout an examples of modules.
  • Quilting Bees- popular in mid-late 19th century, mainly women, building a quilt together, creating a sense of community. Everyone expressing themselves via these individual squares. The pathwork designs are modular.

Modular Typography

Using a modular structure helps with decision making, as it gives some guidance to the designer, by providing limitations. Grids can start the creative process of the work, then you can focus on shapes, colour etc afterwards. It is 1 useful approach for designing logotype.

Arim Hofmann

Swiss designer, Arim Hofmann wrote a book about graphic design guidelines, called Graphic Design Manual, Principles and Practice. It was published in 1965 and outlined rules such as structure, form and line.

In his work, he demonstrated how many variations could be created with the single same modular, just changing positions.

The examples below are of typography that used a modular grid to compose. This is seen in the way the letterforms ‘fit’ together in the (left) example. The letterforms on the right combine wider horizontal strokes and thinner vertical strokes. This would indicate a grid that has narrow vertical columns and wider horizontal grid lines.

Karl Nawrot

Nawrot’s type design took inspiration from architecture, including in the way he worked on the designs. This was to use physical materials to build a structure, which he then drew letterforms (below, left).

Another method of his experimental typography was to create 150 different stamps and apply these to the same grid.

Nawrot names four of his typefaces on members of the Bauhaus school (below, right) : Josa (Josef Albers), Breu (Marcel Breuer), Mon (Lazlo Moholy-Nagy) and Pauk (Paul Klee).

Item Magazin Issue #4 ‘Strip’ Emilia Moro, Dylan Demtröder

In this issue of the student magazine, Item, the students were working with the theme of ‘strip’. Here, Moro and Demtroder have used Nawrot’s typeface Lÿno (co-designed with Radim Pesko.)

Item Magazin Issue #4 ‘Strip’ Emilia Moro, Dylan Demtröder

An example of a ‘stencil wheel’. Nawrot used these stencils to design letterforms, adding to them during the design process.

Albrecht Durer

In the 16th century, Durer designed modular type based on human proportions.

Fregio Mecano

This typeface was designed by an unknown designer in the 1930’s. It was made using the 20 components shown below, right.

These 20 pieces were found in the Nebiolo specimen from 1939.

Nebiolo Mecano 1940s
Jean-Claude Chianale

Design for a ballet identity system. Chianale has used an interesting grid when composing the letterforms:

The type applied to the poster design:

Jurriaan Schrofer

Dutch graphic designer, Schrofer’s dot matrices and sqaure grid system were progressive at the time and influence the way we approach type deisgn today.

Juriaan Schrofer (1926-90) The book, designed by Spin brings together a series of commercial and experimental projects from Schrofer

‘Writer Frederike Huygen, who provides an essay for the new book, describes Schrofer as ‘a computer-designer before the computer’.

Schrofer designed the book covers for Les Textes Sociologiques in 1970. Typeforms are used in an illustrative way. The underlying grid creates a gradient pattern across the type.

Wim Crouwel

Crouwel’s typeface New Alphabet was used by Peter Saville for Joy Division’s album cover:

When New Alphabet was first used, it was found illegible/ inaccessible for people. This modular typeface was adapting to the first digital screens, giving it its geomtric appearance.

Architype Stedelijk was the typeface he used in his well-known poster for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Interestingly, he kept the grid visible in the poster:

I like the Architype Stedelijk ‘a’.

Crouwel’s sketches, using grid paper to plan his letterforms.

The title for this poster has a uniform appearance, from its use of an underlying modular grid. There is a satisfaction to the neatness and logic of it.

Mario Eskercezi Studio

Typeface/ identity for the Victoria Brewery in Malaga. Since there a lot of tiles in the city, the designer took the environment as inspiration when designing the modular typeface for the beer advertisement. The grid pattern is also used in the background of the poster which provides a ground for the type to sit on.

The type could then be used within the environmental design, since it could be easily made up of equally sized tiles.

By designing our own grid, this will determine the design of a unique type. A possibility is to make our own grid- rounded. However, for today’s workshop, we were provided with a grid designed by our tutor. Below is the grid I was working with. The designs in the square were worked on by my tutor, I kept these for a reference to look at.

Illustrator Workshop

I ensured snap to point and smart guides were on. This helped when working with the grid. But even so, I still found that the shapes didn’t always fit exactly into the grid squares.

Effect> distort and transform makes shape imperfect to use in modular. (I didn’t use this effect today but I would like to try it in future practice).

Results from this workshop:

Using 3 different shapes.

Using 1 shape to create a curvy, twisted letterform.

3 different shapes.

The 3 shapes I used to design the letterforms below:

Language & Type (part 1)

History of Typography

In the 19th century there was a reduction in price of printing material. This enabled people to read, which allowed a democracy. (You can’t have a modern democracy if people can’t read). This reduction in price, lead to several things:

A rise in advertising- they saw posters competing in public. A visual noise shown in the painting by John Orlando Pary of a London street scene:

Both artists and writers saw this and were inspired. They turned to each other’s craft to enhance their work. Artists used words within their work, such as the collages by Picasso and Braque. Symbolist poetry came from writers reading the newspaper and seeing a contrast in the words about a variety of subjects.

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar, and Newspaper – collage by Picasso https://www.weinerelementary.org/picasso-and-collage.html
Modernsim & Post-Modernism

“From the end of the 19th century, modernism was shaped by the industrialisation and urbanisation of western society. It marked a departure from the rural and provincial towards cosmopolitan, rejecting or overthrowing traditional values and styles as functionality and progress became key concerns as part of an attempt to move beyond the external physical representation of reality as depicted by cubism and the bauhaus.”

Around the 1st World War, the western world was politically heated. Dadaism and the Constructivists came out of this time. Dadaists opposed the traditional beliefs of a pro-war society.

The optophonetic of Dadaist poet Raoul Hausmann, presented by Cecile Bargues http://www.diptyqueparis-memento.com/en/dada-optophonetic/
Cover of Merz, Kurt Schwitters, 1925

During the communist revolution, the art movements within this were the Futurists in Italy and the Vorticists in Britain. Their work represented the breaking up of the old world.


“Constructivism began as a Soviet youth movement. The Russian Revolution of 1917 involved many Russian artists, who combined political propaganda and commercial advertising in support of the new communist revolution.”


“Bless all English eyes” BLAST manifesto by the Vorticists. The harsh typography states a list of things the Vorticists were against (‘Blast’) and what they supported (‘Blessed’).

In the 1920’s, rules were written by Modernists and new typefaces were invented. This occurred at the rise of Fascism. Herbert Bayer was a designer who came up with the ‘Universal’ typeface, that he planned to be used by everyone, in a way of re-writing tradition. By changing what the world looks like, people are introduced to the new as it surrounds them in everyday life. This typeface at the time was extremely new and surprising.

Universal, 1925, Herbert Bayer

“Bayer’s Universal typeface was developed at the Bauhaus and is a reduction of Roman forms to simple geometric shapes. The circular form features heavily, and you can see how each character is closely based on the others.”The Fundamentals of Creative Design by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris

Radio design by Dieter Rams. His work was described as ‘quiet simplicity’. He was a pioneer of the Modernist movement and worked for Braun.

Jan Tschichold

Poster, Buster Keaton in “Der General”, 1927
Internal spread from brochure Merken Sie sich bitte: Die Reklamemesse, 1927

“New Typography uses white space to create visual intervals in an asymmetrical layout. An underlying grid unifies the page. Personal expression is rejected in favor of order and clarity. The predominant graphic design style in the world by the 1970s, the Swiss style is recognizable by its strong reliance on typography, usually sans serif type in flush left alignment.”

Late Modernism occurred in the economic boom in the 1950’s. Wim Crouwel’s posters from 1960’s-1980’s have a similar appearance to design now:

1967s New Alphabet Typeface. https://speckyboy.com/icons-graphic-design-wim-crouwel/
Wim Crouwel Leger Poster, 1957.

Matt Willey- contemporary designer

The New York Times magazine
NYT Olympics

“Post-Modernism developed following the Second World War and questions the very notion that there is a reliable reality through deconstructing authority and the established order of things by engaging the idea of fragmentation, incoherence and the plain ridiculous.

Post-Modernism returned to earlier ideas of adornment and decoration, celebrating expression and personal intuition in favour of formula and structure.”

Fuse magazine, founded by Neville Brody and John Wozencroft

An example of Post-Modernism, the designers expressed their imagination across the pages. Sometimes readability was compromised, as form reigned over function. The magazine was produced at the time when computer technology allowed designers to experiment with new tools.

Fuse 2, Runes: Edition Poster design by Neville Brody, 1991 https://www.amazon.co.uk/FUSE-1-20-TASCHEN/dp/3836525011

Automation is a phrase that is used to describe the transition from the old skilled job (for example, of typography) to the present digital age where the digital design tools are available to anyone.

Gilbert, Type with Pride https://www.typewithpride.com/

“On 31 March, 2017, Gilbert Baker the creator of the iconic Rainbow Flag sadly passed away. Mr. Baker was both an LGBTQ activist and artist, and was known for helping friends create banners for protests and marches. To honor the memory of Gilbert Baker, NewFest and NYC Pride partnered with Fontself to create a free font inspired by the design language of the iconic Rainbow Flag, the font was named ‘Gilbert’ after Mr. Baker.” This is one of the world’s first coloured fonts.

“The colour combinations are blended on letters to represent the ‘open and fluid communities’ that make up LGBTQ.” (from The Fundamentals of Typography 3rd edition)

Postmodern design:

Eye Magazine, Issue 102