Living Surfaces: Digital Typography


Educated at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art, graphic designer P. Scott Makela was an early adopter and exploiter of new digital technologies. He was commissioned by the American Center for Design in Chicago to create a poster announcing a new conference dedicated to the emerging fields of digital media. “Living Surfaces” refers to the dynamic landscape of flickering computer screens, the real time interaction of the Internet, and the rich, immersive experience of sound and vision in multimedia. Makela’s characteristic use of strong, muscular typography married to powerful iconographic images and filtered through a digital lens of heightened color and morphic distortion is reflected in this emblematic piece that captures the mood of the period just as the frontier of the commercial Internet was opening.

Living Surfaces describes the new approach to the printed page that defined the avant garde graphic design movement during the late 80’s and 90’s. It was primarily driven by the “new” digital technologies, post-script type, and dramatically cropped images but also by the zeitgeist of the time. Political climate and social change once again felt very much uncertain, unsettling and confusing for most people. There was a blurring of lines between traditional “counter-cultures” such as the surf scene, street life, homelessness and that of main stream media, particularly in advertising. David Carson famously said “print is dead” referring to the seemingly overnight switch to everything digital. It was predicted that there would no longer be a need for paper. Smart phones were not here yet but wireless was, producing rather low resolution and partially transmitted imagery. Digital typography was replacing the precision of photo type much to the chagrin of most long time designers. Production processes were dramatically changed forever.

Your assignment is to look at 3 designers from this period. I have listed five important designers that helped define this style below, but you are not limited to just this list. You are to create a set of three posters about one contemporary issue of today. Do this as if created by each of your three designers. In other words, pick one issue. Create three posters/ads about that issue, each one in the style of one of your designers.