ISEA2011 WORKSHOP: Typography in Design curricula

Typography in Design curricula (ISType Workshop Series)

Workshop Leader: Karel van der Waarde

In order to position ‘typography education’ within a curriculum of visual communication, it would be beneficial to start from a description of professional practice. Based on research in a city in the Netherlands, a description of the professional activities of graphic design was developed. This description shows that graphic designers make decisions about three fundamental visual areas. Firstly, graphic designers consider visual elements (text, images, schematic elements, and combinations) and their relations. Secondly, graphic designers consider the visual strategy and try to achieve the maximum effect to achieve specific aims. And thirdly, graphic designers consider the position of the commissioner in relation to the position of the observer/reader/user/beholder. The combination of these three activities, which can be described as ‘visual logic’, ‘visual rhetoric’ and ‘visual dialectics’ can be seen as a form of ‘visual argumentation’. All graphic designers – whatever their individual preferences or specialisms – seem to provide visual arguments for their commissioners.

However, the development of these visual arguments is only part of the services that graphic designers provide. Based on the work of Donald Schön, another eight ‘reflections in action’ are essential for a professional practice. Apart from the specific knowledge and skills to consider visual configurations, it is essential to organise projects, critically consider the approach, guide a project all the way to its realization, and consider the effects on personal and company positions. All nine reflections directly influence each other, and any design decision will affect the other reflections. These nine reflections are considered fairly simultaneously in a non-specific order. The order probably – and this remains to be investigated – depends on project characteristics and the individual characteristics of a designer.

Based on this description of professional graphic design practice, it is possible to look again at the position of typography within graphic design education. In the first place, it is possible to review the role of typography in each of the nine reflections. This reveals how deeply engrained typography is for the profession of graphic design. Secondly, it is possible to consider the role of typography as part of the development of a visual argument.
This approach makes sure that typography is situated at the appropriate positions within a visual communication curriculum. This position must directly reflect professional practice as well as relate directly to visual theory and practice based research.
Bio of the Presenter
Karel van der Waarde studied graphic design in the Netherlands (The Design Academy, Eindhoven) and in the UK (De Montfort University, Leicester and the University of Reading). He received his doctorate in 1994 for a dissertation entitled: ‘An investigation into the suitability of the graphic presentation of patient package inserts’.

In 1995, he started a design – research consultancy in Belgium specializing in the testing of information design. His company develops patient information leaflets, instructions, forms, protocols, and the information architecture for websites. Most of the projects are related to information about medicines for patients, doctors and pharmacists. Typical products are information for patients (Bayer Pharmaceuticals, GSK, Proctor & Gamble, Novo Nordisk, Genzyme, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Omnicare, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Tibotec, Voisin, …), and information for doctors and pharmacists (Ministry of Health, Brussel; RIZIV, Brussel; BCFI, Gent).

Avans University of Applied Sciences (Breda, The Netherlands) has appointed him as scholar in Visual Rhetoric in 2006. This research post investigates the development and use of visual communication with a longer term aim to support the relations between practice, research and education. The research focuses in the next three years on the criteria that are used by different groups of people to evaluate and assess graphic design. The framework of this investigation is provided by the relations between ‘visual argumentation’ and ‘graphic design’. This describes graphic design as three different kinds of argument-types: ‘visual logic’, ‘visual rhetoric’ and ‘visual dialectics’.

Karel van der Waarde frequently publishes and lectures about visual information. Publications have appeared in Dutch, Polish, Japanese, English, Spanish and Portuguese. He is moderator of the InfoDesign and InfoDesign-Cafe discussion lists.

Van der Waarde is a life-Fellow of the Communications Research Institute (Melbourne, Australia), a board member of International Institute for Information Design (IIID, Vienna, Austria) and editorial board member of Information Design Journal, Iridescent, the Poster and Visible Language.

Contact Email:,

Posted by:  Ebru Surek