An Interview With Ellen Lupton

Graphic designer, curator, artist, educator and writer, Ellen Lupton is perhaps best known for her Thinking With Type—a book that in many respects opened up typography to a wider audience. Many have remarked that she made learning about typography fun; and ‘do I look fat in this paragraph’ and ‘typography is what language looks like’ are now oft-quoted phrases. She also stirred up some controversy over her Free Fonts Manifesto, which you can read about here.

How did you become interested in typography?

I discovered typography as an art student in the early 1980s. I had played around with lettering in an amateur way as a teenager, but I had no notion of typography until I was exposed to it in a typography course taught by George Sadek and William Bevington at Cooper Union. I was stunned.


Why the fascination with type?

Typography is the convergence of art and language. This makes it hugely powerful as a tool and a means of expression. As someone who had always been interested in writing yet had identified herself as an “artist,” this was a huge personal discovery.

Typography is what language looks like.–Thinking With Type

Where do you find your inspiration?

I am inspired by magazines and newspapers, by movies and television, by reading, by looking at what designers are doing. I’m inspired by my students. I love art and painting.

What would be your biggest piece of advice for aspiring type users/typographers?

Spell check.

What common mistake(s) do you see designers making that could be easily remedied?

Newcomers to design do things like mixing larger capital letters with lowercase, supposedly for emphasis, resulting in ugly mismatched weights. My students avoid printing out their work, to save time and money, but then they are disappointed that it doesn’t look good. I explain to them that everything looks good on the screen, because of the glowing light and the way we are constantly adjusting the scale of the image to suit ourselves. The same layout may die on the printed page.

Do you have favourite type designers and typefaces?

I am a huge fan of Martin Majoor, who created Scala, Seria, and other typefaces. I also love Lucas de Groot, and I have been using his typeface Thesis for many projects. It’s a slab serif that comes in many wonderful weights as well as a sans version—wonderful for book design.

Scala by Martin Majoor

Seria by Martin Majoor

Are you working on any type-related projects right now? A follow-up to Thinking With Type, perhaps?

I am working on an expanded edition of Thinking with Type, which will come out in 2010.

If you missed the link to Martin Majoor’s article, My Design Philosophy, then you can read it here (an excellent piece).

Other Ellen Lupton-related resources:

Thinking With Type–web site
design*sponge: Inside Ellen’s home

[Thanks to Lauren of Creative Curio for composing the interview questions.]

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