Unseen Images

Some years ago, I was on a jury in a book design competition. I remember a beautiful photobook full of images, north sea landscapes, interspersed by indoor scenes, documents, crumpled letters, the texture of aerial photos. In the whole book, there were almost no words, no text, no typography. One of my colleagues complained, “Is it even design?”

We took the book off the shortlisted pile, but my colleague’s remark stayed with me. How did typography come to be a necessary condition for graphic design? As an object, that photobook was beautifully printed and carefully bound, its contents meaningfully organized. If it were a wordless arrangement of matter – a piece of furniture, a house – no one would doubt its designed condition.

Today, graphic design and typography are considered almost equivalent. Was it always like this? The history of graphic design is full of purely iconographic objects, but typography has taken over design in the last decades. Is it even possible to think of a non-typographic graphic design?

Image itself turned into something unseen by design.

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