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Chapter 3 - Deconstructing Magazine Typographic Design

"Good design contains an unconscious prognosis of future tendencies because it is based upon the atmospheric conditions created by the manifold cultural and social requirements of a certain period which already carries the germ of the future."

L.Moholy-Nagy (1)

The design of media texts is an area that has seen little critical analysis compared to the content of media texts. However, design is as equally important as content, if not more so. Design has an effect on the audience before they have begun to decipher the content of a media text, even if they do not explicitly recognise this factor. Print magazines operate in the realm of cultural politics by fostering, creating and maintaining subcultural groups, and their visual design plays a central role in this process. Typographic design makes up a large component of the visual interface of the magazine text. Therefore it must be questioned to reveal the political, economic, institutional, cultural and technological traces of meaning embedded in the graphic representation of a text.

The magazines from which the following seven examples were taken are: Ray Gun, Wired, Rolling Stone and Cream. Due to limitations of space, this project cannot provide a comprehensive study of all magazine typographic practices, or indeed a complete analysis of these specific magazines. The following magazine spreads will be analysed as case studies, using the interpretative and questioning strategies of deconstruction. Case studies are in-depth analyses that examine the "particularity and complexity" of cases and can be used as a research tool in many contexts.(2) As case studies only examine a few cases at length, it would seem to be a contradiction that generalisations can be made. However, it is recognised that certain things will come up more than once to legitimate generalisations being drawn across a wider scale of any given subject.(3)

The examples selected for analysis in this chapter can be generally situated on the border between mainstream and avant-garde. Contemporary culture’s rapid mainstreaming of avant-garde practices, in an effort to keep up with society’s demand for ‘newness’ is validation for such an intensive study of examples that may be considered as unrepresentative of the wider scale of magazine design practices. Ray Gun represents perhaps the most ‘avant-garde’ of the magazines examined here, however its design has been appropriated by mainstream culture to such a degree that it is no longer recognised as ‘avant-garde’. Wired, Rolling Stone and Cream can be considered mainstream magazines, but are relatively avant-garde in regard to their attitudes towards design and visual expression.


Ray Gun is an American based magazine that has been produced since 1992, and is distributed internationally. The original premise behind Ray Gun was that it would be the music and fashion magazine of the 1990s, and pick up the slack left by the music press's move to conservatism.(4) Ray Gun's most prominent visual period was under the art direction of David Carson from 1992 to 1996.

Rick Poynor says that in the four years since its launch in 1992, Ray Gun’s design was heralded for being "radical", "subversive", "revolutionary", "innovative" and "ground breaking", but it has become so thoroughly assimilated by the mass media it is now "unrevolutionary."(5) The April 1999 issue of Ray Gun, number 66, sees the magazine reveal a significant design overhaul that is far removed from the typographic ‘anarchy’ of the David Carson days. This significant design change would clearly be influenced by several political, economic and social factors. However, in the editorial introduction of the April 1999 issue, Ray Gun’s editors and designers articulate the design reorientation in the following terms:

"The dawning of a new century has given us an opportunity to reexamine the role, the mission, and the focus of Ray Gun, … Ray Gun does indeed have another new look – cleaner, leaner and stronger … the shorthand we’ve been telling ourselves in the halls is "legible but credible".(6)

This redesign of Ray Gun points to the fate of ‘avant-garde’ practices that tend to be quickly appropriated by mainstream capitalist culture and subsequently results in the obsolescence of those same ‘avant-garde’ practices. This cyclical movement of avant-garde into the mainstream also subsequently leaves a further space for more notably radical avant-garde practices that would take up from where Ray Gun has apparently left off. The following Ray Gun spreads are from its earlier and more notably ‘avant-garde’ period, and were designed by David Carson.

RAY GUN - 1994 - Brian Ferry spread

The body text of this Ray Gun spread, (Plate 1) appears in the typestyle Zapf Dingbats.(7) Zapf Dingbats substitutes alphanumeric codes for symbols, thus "a b c" is represented as "a b c". This spread would have first appeared in an alphanumeric typeface and then mutated into picture symbols in the midst of the magazine’s digital production processes. The absence of alphanumeric characters inhabits the presence of the Zapf Dingbats’ icons in this spread, as it is a common typestyle on computers. As such it traces the process of mutability within the digital environment to change one form into another. The process of the mutation of these typographic signifiers is an absence of this printed text. This trace to the presence of digital-electronic production, and its subsequent mutation of signifiers, brings into question the stability and fixity of the signifiers of language in the digital-electronic age.

The use of non-alphanumeric signifiers for a whole story in an English language magazine plays with the dominance and acceptance of meaning systems. It could be claimed that this Brian Ferry article is not readable due to its pictorially codified nature. As symbols, icons and pictures can be traced back in history to the earliest forms of written communication it would seem inevitable that iconic and pictographic signifiers should move from mere decoration to an important message carrier. With the proliferation and popularity of obscure dingbat typographies in the digital age such a shift has great potential, and thus the content of this magazine spread could quite well be readable along iconic lines.

The design of this spread supports the desires of Generation X that thrives on rebelling against traditional conventions. Ray Gun’s audience are Generation X’ers, who would be familiar with the design and editorial attitudes of the magazine. Thus the typographic design of this spread would presumably be well received. However, those unfamiliar with Ray Gun’s style and attitudes would find it difficult to make sense of this spread compared to more straight forward or traditional magazines such as Time or Woman’s Weekly. The typographic design of this spread exclude a wide general audience for one that is smaller, but loyal to Ray Gun and its stylistic expression of culturally encoded political statements. This Ray Gun spread engages itself in a form of elitism, where only a select socio-cultural group which is literate in the multi-layered, expressive and subversive practices that Ray Gun’s visual design demands can interpret the various levels of meaning of this spread’s typographic signifiers.

To reveal the full political and institutional implications of this spread, the context of this typographic manifestation must be taken into account. The spread is about Brian Ferry, a musician who had his fame a generation before that of Ray Gun’s identified readership group, Generation X. It is highly unlikely that Ray Gun readers would find a long article about Brian Ferry at all interesting. Therefore Ray Gun’s designers have mutated this article into picture symbols that considerably liven up the dense block of text. Through the manipulation of typography, Ray Gun is making a cultural and political statement about Brian Ferry on behalf of the socio-cultural and political orientations of its readers, who would presumably consider Brian Ferry an irrelevant figure. However, Ray Gun could also be seen as doing Brian Ferry a favour in returning him to an arena of discussion and commentary by including him in the magazine in the first place. Primarily though, the typography of this spread reveals the active role that Ray Gun’s producers have taken in enculturating the reader into their own institutional and cultural politics which are similar to those of the audience, through the iconic transformation of linguistic signifiers.

This spread is a typical Ray Gun challenge to deeply engage its readers in the decipherment of its content and ideas, further reinforcing the exclusivity of Ray Gun to a very specific and select group of readers. Due to the availability of the Zapf Dingbats typestyle on personal computers, it would be possible to reconstruct the visual signifiers of this spread and then mutate them into alphanumeric signifiers that reveal the content of the article that has been subsumed by this play of signifiers. This Ray Gun spread could even be interpreted as a graphic design work in which signifiers exist for their own aesthetic sake, beyond any quest for meaning – the ‘art for art’s sake’ argument.

The exact intentions of Ray Gun’s producers are not explicitly clear in this spread and the interpretation that each reader will derive from this spread will be essentially limitless in differentiation. Readers’ interpretations of this spread will essentially differ in relation to several things: their degree of knowledge and experience with the magazine; their knowledge of the digital production environment that allowed this particular typographic mutation; their knowledge of the ideologies of the magazines producers; and their knowledge of Brian Ferry. Ray Gun is a magazine that generally likes to see its audience partake actively in the construction of the messages and meanings that their spreads contain rather than be passive consumers of the text’s meaning, thus this spread’s typographic design stimulates many possible traces of meanings.

RAY GUN - 1992 - Too Much Joy

This Ray Gun spread (Plate 2) features an interview with a band, a collective group of musicians.(8) The major part of the typography on this page has imploded to such a degree that it strongly pushes the boundaries of legibility.(9) Implosion of typography is a production technique where characters are made to burst inwards on each other, overlap and merge together. In the digital environment, typographic forms are mathematical codes and are not hindered by physical edges such as lead and metal typewriter forms, so implosion is a simple process. Kerning, the spacing between letters, and leading, the space between lines of type, can be reduced on the computer to a degree that forces letters to meld into one another and the spaces between lines of type to collapse. This spread’s typography however not only implodes, but also explodes.

The page creates an expressive visual representation of a band interview situation, a specifically oral-aural communication. Generally, music interviews are casual and chatty where interjection and talking freely over others is often a part of the activity. The typographic signifiers of this page are densely layered, seemingly randomly arranged, exploding and imploding, and thus represent the dynamic interchange of dialogue of the five people partaking in this particular interview.

There are several typestyles used within this page. It is impossible however to accurately identify each of these by name as there are so many typographic forms available to the magazine designer and many of them can be very similar. Since typographies themselves have the capacity to possess the appearance of a personality, each typeface used on this page traces an intertextual connection to the personality and voice of each individual in the band. Irrespective of whether a distinction can be made between each band member and typographic form, the different verbal characteristics represented by the type can be determined. Most predominantly represented is a loud deep voice through the large bold type,(10) a softer and articulate person through the white script typestyle,(11) and a buoyant, eclectic personality through the notably hybrid typeform that blends the representational characteristics of several typestyles.

The consistency of one typeface throughout the entire opening section is a trace to the dominance of one person speaking throughout the interview, however this person is not signified with a dominance of the spoken voice. Random interjections by other band members are at times overpowering. The large bold type, set in all capitals, implies an overpowering dominance of voice where it forcefully impresses itself over the other type, obscuring all that is behind it. This spread’s typographic design can be seen as participating in a deconstructionist play on the Western hierarchical division between speech and writing, a matter that Derrida debates most deeply in his text, Of Grammatology.(13)

‘Allatonceness’ is a notion that has come to prominence in the electronic and digital ages.(14) ‘Allatonceness’, whilst most notably described in reference to the late twentieth century, has a much longer historical presence in oral culture as verbal communication often manifests itself in a manner that can be described as ‘allatonce’. This Ray Gun page presents a typographic visualisation of the ‘allatonceness’ a verbal conversation can exemplify. The interpretation of this typographic presentation is however largely tied to the perceptual orientations of audiences that deeply engage with the digital-electronic technologies, as they are skilled at listening and interacting with many things at once.

This Ray Gun spread plays on the distinction between explosion and implosion, and redefines these binaries as interactive and co-dependant notions. The implosion of typography on this page results from an explosion of speech from each individual in the interview. Type explodes from the photograph at the bottom right of the page, then implodes into a lively discussion that flows up the page. The band photograph is partially obscured by typography, which adds to the sensation of the words exploding directly from the band member’s mouths. The explosion and subsequent implosion of this typography creates an intertextual connection to the speech bubble. The type is sparse and tapered nearest the photograph at the bottom of the page, and expands up the page, encompassing more space. A common way of visually representing verbal dialogue is cartoon-like speech bubbles and can be found in many printed texts.(15) It is by confining the explosive discussion of five people talking to the boarders of a page, the visual representation reverses from explosion into implosion and simulates an intertextual allusion to the textual confines of a speech bubble.

The fact that some sections of type are barely legible does not deter the Ray Gun reader from any communication of meaning at all. Rather, this presentation is an expressive visualisation for the reader of a dynamic oral environment. Thus in this Ray Gun spread, the digital environment has revealed its ability to produce signifiers that refer to the signifiers of other signifying systems. The typographic signifiers on this page trace the absence of sound, but also the presence of the variable typographic signifiers traces the signifiers of oral communication such as level, inflection and inconsistency of voices.


Wired began in 1993 and continues as a prominent voice in the now massive array of digital commentary magazines. Wired is produced in America and distributed internationally. Heller and Fernandes describe Wired as:

"...the first mass-market magazine of the digital age – the Rolling Stone of the web-site-set – and its colourfully layered, hyper-text and raucous picture format has become the standard for how to design digitally in print."(16)

WIRED 2.12 - December 1994 - Net Surf - p.195

Titled "Netsurf," (Plate 3) is an often regular section in Wired contains short commentary about new things on the Internet. The design of this page indicates a significational play between an activity in the natural world and its metaphorical parallel in the technological world. The term ‘netsurf’ itself reveals a trace to surfing in the ocean. ‘Netsurfing' is a digital-electronic activity that involves fluidly navigating around the texts of the Internet in a manner that is not unlike surfing in the ocean.

This page’s title - "Netsurf", is distinguished as two separate words, ‘net’ and ‘surf’ through colour and bold configurations. These typographic signifiers trace the manifestations of hypertextuality. In the digital environment once a hyper-link has been activated it changes colour, and a dominant secondary colour is white. The white colouring of the term ‘net’ suggests that the reader has interactively chosen and entered the technological path over the natural ‘surf’ pathway, that has bought them to this page of the magazine.

The body text of this spread is set in two columns that do not resemble the rigid grid format that most magazines adhere to.(17) The two columns are in a curved wave-like pattern; you could almost be mistaken for feeling the constant flowing, rolling sensation of the natural ocean. Creating curved columns is simple in the digital environment due to its fluid placement of type into text boxes.(18) The text in the columns has been forced justified which cleanly defines the curved columns.(19) These typographic curves intertextually link this technologised printed text with the natural tidal pull back and forth, which underpins the fluidic motions of the ocean.

The body text is presented bolder than most other text type featured in the magazine which aids the visual strength of this text and page, not supported by traditional vertically straight column pillars. The typestyle used in this spread is a ‘san serif’.(20) San serif typefaces were originally developed during the Industrial Revolution in response to the evolving technologisation of the time.(21) The use of a san serif typestyle for this spread is a purposeful choice as they implicitly represent technology based environments. The complete visual design of this page however exoticises this technological representation by the intertextual connections between the page’s fresh ocean colours and typographic curves reinforcing the presence of softly rolling waves.

The design of this spread attracts two dominant types of audiences: the technologically attuned reader, the computer buff/geek; and the surfer, or the reader that can be persuasively lulled by clever design. Whilst Wired predominantly serves the subcultural group that engage with, and are interested in digital-electronic technologies, it tends more towards design techniques which will aid the integration of subcultures that are less knowledgeable in the technologies Wired involves itself in discussing. This attitude towards design reveals the considerable economic agenda of commercial magazines to attract the largest possible audience and sustain the financial viability of their magazine.

WIRED 3.01 - January 1995 - You Used to Watch Television. Now it Watches You. - p.124-5

This Wired spread (Plate 4) is about surveillance videos in public and private spaces. The typographic design of this spread essentially reveals the digital environment’s mutability but also supports the notion that typography is a signifying system that can be powerfully imbued with meanings beyond that of the typographic representation of the word.

The left-hand page contains a pixelated image of a still from a security camera’s black and white surveillance monitor. Above and over this image the typography is layered in different sizes, styles, and in black and white. There are lines through some pieces of the type, which includes some numbers and symbol script, with the predominantly English alphabetic characters. Some sections of the type are even totally blocked out. Highly manipulated, layered and broken representations such as this are described as deconstructionist typographic practice. Deconstructive designs generally signal a breakdown of structure, fixity and the suppression of a transcendental signified, such as ‘the truth’ for example, as a result of a vast proliferation of signifiers.

There are several paths of interpretation emphasised by the typographic signifiers on the left-hand page of this spread. Primarily they trace the complex levels of codes and procedures one must endure to access a computer database. A reader’s subjective knowledge and perceptions of digital-electronic technologies will come into play here in determining a dominant meaning implied by this Wired spread. These typographic signifiers could signify the shifting levels of identification that a computer itself will go through to grant and/or restrict access to its databases. It could be that the owners, managers or content producers of the computer or television that are behind the ‘screen’ restricting access. It is also implied that these typographic marks are signs that a hacker is attempting to break into top secret databases. In the digital environment ‘firewalls’ are used to restrict the access of unwanted hackers.(22) In this printed environment, a firewall has been created by typographic manipulation and layering, that blocks the reader’s movement in engaging more deeply with the text.

The image of the person's face on the left page is imbued with religious symbolism - it alludes to a Jesus-like figure. This image, combined with the layered and mutated typography, tends to imply that the self is no longer a sacred entity with a soul and personality. Rather, the individual in contemporary society has become a barcode number on a digital database. Barcode numbers can be used to constantly monitor an individual’s activities and movements. To illustrate the lost sense of self-identity that is implied by this Wired image and typographic manipulation, let me use myself as an example. In the greater scheme of things, the powerful political and economic leaders of this nation do not recognise me as Larissa Elaine Moody, a young woman with ideas, aspirations and fears. Rather, I am 202 212 195C to the socio-economic controlling institution Centrelink, 201 600 961 to the powerful economic institution known as the Australian Tax Office, and in the alleged learning oasis of the university, they just call me 967-1895.

This Wired article begins centered at the top of the right-hand side page in small, black, san serif letters that draw the reader in as if they are discovering classified information. But half way down the page the reader is visually jarred by the word ‘caught’. This word is displayed largely in a san serif font that traces the processes of digital mutation, through a motion blur filter and forced justification across the width of the page.(23) There is a sense of speed implied by the word ‘caught’, due to the blurred edges of each letterform alluding to an object that is fast rushing past. This particular typographic signifier is powerful and highly directed in its impact, and resonates in the reader who has now possibly conjured up feelings of someone or something (such as a computer) watching them. After being ‘caught’, the story continues in a small paragraph centered at the bottom of the page. The size and position of this piece of text emphasises the isolation of the story from other elements on the page; this also isolates the reader, reinforcing a possible growing sensation of uncomfortableness. The typographic design of this page has successfully weakened the reader into the powerfully directive and emotive textual environment that Wired’s producers have created.

The dominant inflections from this spread’s visual design is the exposure of the underlying political-economic control of computer networks, and subsequently the control of society by technological gatekeepers. This visual presentation pushes the reader to critically examine technology and those who control and operate it, rather than simply take it for granted. If these pages were presented in a more traditional way with two plain columns on a white background, a pull quote, boxed picture and banner headline, the meanings interpreted by the reader would be vastly different than those of this particular presentation’s reading. Through the design of this spread, Wired has actively implicated itself into the critical questioning of the technology they usually support and advertise vehemently. Although Wired readers could be considered as ‘technology-friendly’ due to their intensive interaction with communications technologies, this particular spread manages to arouse and play on the techno-fear of its audience and society generally about the ‘real’ way in which many digital media technologies are used. This Wired spread explicitly reveals the nature of typographic signifiers to communicate messages, ideas and emotions without the actual magazine article being read in its entirety.

WIRED 2.12 - December 1994 - The Transom - p.45

The content of this Wired page (Plate 5) is an online news journal geared specifically to 18 – 34 year olds. Through its visual design, this page suggests the aesthetic of speed, virtuality and hypertextuality. The directional layout and colour of the typographic signifiers trace the fast delivery of information in the digital environment. The colour and three-dimensionality of the elements on this page underpins the trace to the virtuality of the digital environment.

The page’s title, "The Transom" is curved and stretched out of proportion from a traditional horizontal plane. The upward curve and bright orange representation of the letters against the blue background alludes to a sensation of fluidic oscillation in the static two-dimensional print environment. The body text of the short article is fluorescent pink. Fluorescent colours are used consistently by Wired to create intertextual links between the texts of the digital-electronic environment with the textual representations of print culture.(24) The extensive use of fluorescent colours in Wired generally implicates the typographic signifiers of this page into referring to itself. Self-referentiality, the capacity of a signifier to refer to itself rather than a corresponding signified, or meaning, has come into prominence in the digital-electronic age as a result of the ability to produce signifiers that reference other signifiers ad infinitum. The brightness and contrast of the typography in relationship to the other elements on the page gives the typography power to jump off the page and move into an illusionary three-dimensional space. It can often seem as though words are flying out of your computer screen but it is only an illusion of the digital-electronic screen’s two-dimensional surface. The colour of the typography alone is powerful enough to lift it off the restrictive confines of a static page, however the skewed angle at which the type has been positioned is the necessary complimentary factor.

The elements featured on this page are oriented in the same direction, thus the information appears to be fast passing by from right to left across the page and moving out from its apparent depths to its outer surface limits. This reinforces the illusion that the type is speeding past us, the column of text is aligned left and jagged right so the lines of type inconsistently trail off behind the type moving rapidly in front. This column of type has been digitally manipulated to enable it to be rendered at an apparently three-dimensional angle. This is obvious since it has not just simply been a matter of angling the top and bottom edges of the column text box. Three-dimensionality and movement can be implied through the digital production environment’s ability to precisely and extensively manipulate the spatial position of typography.

The typographic manipulations of this page brings dynamism to the static printed form, if only an illusory dynamism. The sense of dynamism common in digital and electronic media such as computers and television is something that magazines up until the advent of digital print design software, have found difficult to represent.


Rolling Stone has been around since the sixties in America, but has fractured into country specific versions that are primarily designed the same but have different content. The following spread was derived from the Australian version of Rolling Stone.

ROLLING STONE - August 1997 - The Proud Highway - pps.74-75

The layout of this Rolling Stone spread is an expressive reflection of the content of the larger article. The content of this feature is a collection of letters by Hunter S. Thompson, an American writer and journalist. The letters featured in this spread were written between 1956 and 1967. These magazine pages have been designed as pages within themselves in order to represent ‘real’ letters that have been positioned onto Rolling Stone’s actual pages.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote the letters in this spread before the proliferation of personal computers and electronic word processing, therefore the entire article has been displayed in a typewriter-like typeface. The use of this specific typeform draws an intertextual link between personal letters written in the 1950s and 1960s on manual typewriters and this digitally produced magazine spread. The photograph on the left page, a snapshot of Thompson working at his typewriter, also creates a direct correlation between the overall content of the story and the typographic choice. An authentic typewriter often displays natural imperfections in response to an individual’s particular use of it. The varying pressure with which each typewriter key is hit results in a slightly different impression. Well-used typewriters tend to have keys that are bent out of alignment and/or have worn edges. Thus authentic typewriter typography is generally a random combination of dark, light, ink blotted and scratchy looking letters. A typewriter cannot delete what has already been typed, like digital production mediums can; thus some words are crossed out with a secondary typewriter imprint of ‘x’ over the words that are intended to be erased or disregarded.(25)

However, this spread has actually been produced by a digital font, which programmatically represents the typewriter’s inconsistent impressions and sense of journalistic urgency. Even in respect of the typeface’s intertextual connections to original typewriter imprints, these specific signifiers are far too consistent to be a manual typewriter imprint. Close examination of each letter of the alphabet in this spread will prove this, as every character is the same as its direct replica. One slight contradiction is the appearance of the two number 6’s in the title, one is filled and one is not. This can however be easily achieved in a digital production environment through image manipulation programs. The asterisks that divide the sections of text have been inconsistently applied with the bold function to appear as if the typewriter key has been hit with irregular force. This spread thus plays on the digital-analog, perfect-imperfect distinctions.

Typewriters are still around today but it is the electronic typewriter that prevails complete with options for deleting and editing text before it prints the line or paragraph. Appropriations of typewriter type in the digital environment have become an increasingly common sight in contemporary culture. They trace the possible absence of creating new forms by merely composing digital hybrids of already existing typeforms through the digital production practices of quotation and pastiche.

By crossing out, yet leaving present, the crossed out word as a feature of the text, this spread suggests a trace to an active deconstructionist work. Essentially, these signifiers are a reference to the limitations of textual production methods before the development and proliferation of digital technologies. However, there is a notable intertextual reference here to the theory that informs Deconstruction. The practical application of Derrida’s notion ‘sous rature’, translated as ‘under erasure’, involves writing a word and crossing it out, but still printing both word and deletion.(26) For a deconstructionist, this feature of the text opens up another textual path that could be followed ad infinitum.


Cream is a quarterly culture magazine produced in Australia by Future Perfect Publications. Cream is a relatively new magazine with only six issues produced to date, covering the last year and half. Due to its relatively recent beginnings in magazine culture, Cream reflects a considerably fresh and ‘avant-garde’ visual feel.

CREAM - Autumn 1999 - Issue 5 - Contents - p.3

This Cream content’s page foregrounds the pixelated texts and fragmentation of the digital-electronic environment. The majority of typefaces used on this page emphasise the structure of the digital bit and pixel, the discreet units that combine together to make meaning in the digital environment. The title of the page, ‘Contents’, at the top right hand corner, most obviously emphasises the fragmentation and the discreet units of digital information. These highly bitmapped typefaces trace a lineage back to the early days of digital typographic production of the early and mid 1980s, which are now considered highly primitive in regards to the high resolution and output of contemporary digital production tools.

There are minimal grammatical marks such as commas, capitals or full stops to break up the textual information of the page. Instead, the information is broken up by colour: the page numbers are black, and the contents of the pages are in a red-brown. This dual use of colour strengthens the trace to the binary structure of the digital environment that is already strongly implied by the fragmented typestyles used on this page. The lack of grammatical marks implies a trace to an evolving form of reading and literacy that is bound up within the digital-electronic environment. This being to get information ‘allatonce’, rather than in the traditional fragmented, linear and logical way with grammatical pauses, stops and separations.

The main block of text has been force-justified. The computer makes its own adjustments to spacing so that text is evenly aligned on each side of the space allocated it. Forced justification is not economically feasible by any other technological means of type manipulation than the digital computer. Manual typewriter texts are always left aligned and jagged right. In the case of lead printing, forced justification is achieved by manual hand setting, a laborious and time-consuming activity considering that digital production tools can shift even the smallest amount of space with the click of a button or the tap of a key. The presentation of this page emphasises the immense shift from manual to machine labour that the digital computer has enabled.

Above the main body text sits a mark which reveals an intertextual connection to the well-known barcode, the magnetised graphic mark which finds itself on most commodities in contemporary culture. This typographic signifier reinforces the notion that the magazine reader is a consumer and part of a highly commodified culture, that barcodes and sells ideas as well as products. Layered underneath the text, down the left-hand side of the page, is a large repeat of this barcode number. The layering of signifiers subsequently also creates layers of meaning. This example of typographic layering traces the many instances of subliminal barcoding in contemporary society due to its lightened colour and position underneath other signifiers. Layering of typography in this fashion is an explicitly digital manifestation where texts are built in computer programs such as Photoshop and Quark Xpress specifically by layers which can be as numerous as the text producer desires. To achieve layering in an analog design and printing situation, the various levels of the text would need to be separately produced and then in a sequential order, printed one at a time without the computer’s ‘undo’ function.


These deconstructive analyses have revealed that typographic design is not just an aesthetic practice but an inherently political, economic and institutional practice. Magazine producers actively shape the way meanings, messages and ideas communicated through typographic presentations, although this is not often explicitly recognised by the magazine reader. Due to the active role that typographic signifiers and their layout play in magazine texts, it is a vast misrepresentation to identify typography as a transparent media form. This chapter has proposed then that the full implications of meaning cannot be derived from a text without also consideration of its visual design, especially typography. In performing such a form of textual analysis, one is essentially critically analysing of institutional, political and economic systems of society that create texts in this era of technological immersion.


(1) L.Moholy-Nagy, Vision In Motion, Paul Theobold & Co, Chicago, 1969, p.57.

(2) R.E.Stake, The Art of Case Study Research, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 1995, p.xi.

(3) Stake, 1995, p.7-8.

(4) L.Blackwell, The End of Print, The Graphic Design of David Carson, Laurence King Publishing, London, 1995, unpaginated.

(5) R.Poynor, ‘Alternative By Design?’ in Ray Gun, Out Of Control, Simon & Schuster, London, 1997, p.231.

(6) R.Bookasta, E.Gladstone, M.Woodlief & R.Frost, ‘Letter from the Editors,’ Ray Gun, Issue 66, April 1999, p.16.

(7) ‘Body text’ is a design production term used to describe the main section of a typographic text that usually consists of paragraphs. Body text is used in conjunction with the notion ‘display text,’ which refers to headlines, captions and drop caps, to describe the various elements of a typographic text on a printed page. See T.Litchy, Design Principles for Desktop Publishers, Scott, Foresman Computer Books, Illinois, 1989, p.25. Secondly, ‘spread’ is also a common design phrase used by magazine publishers to describe a collective group of pages that are designed as a whole or even the design of a single page. This Brian Ferry article is a spread over two pages.

(8) Since this Ray Gun page was not derived primarily from the magazine, but a book reproduction of the page, the image was too small to decipher the typography and determine who the band of musicians may be.

(9) ‘Legibility’ is the traditional notion that describes the clarity of type for reading purposes.

(10) An example of a bold type would be Bodoni or Capitals.

(11) A script type is one such as Script MT Bold.

(12) Hybrid types are those such as Polaroid 22 and Kaputt

(13) J.Derrida’s, Of Grammatology, trans. G.C.Spivak, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1976, deconstructs the Western philosophical opposition of speech and writing. Writing has been traditionally considered as an inferior copy of the spoken word, however Derrida argues that writing is an active form of representation that invades thought and speech. This Ray Gun page reveals Derrida’s argument that writing is not simply the inferior binary opposite to speech, but writing inhabits speech, and even makes the physical qualities of speech possible.

(14) Marshall McLuhan argues in reference to the new electronic and emerging digital technologies of his time that, "ours is a brand new world of allatonceness. "Time" has ceased, "space" has vanished. We now live in a global village…a simultaneous happening." M.McLuhan & Q.Fiore, The Medium is the Massage, An Inventory of Effects, Bantam Books, New York, 1967, p.63.

(15) Comic strips are the most prominent texts to use ‘speech bubbles’ in order to illustrate spoken and thought words from written words. The Face magazine regularly uses speech bubbles to enclose short articles and information, which implies a sense of orality present in the written text. For a specific example see The Face, October 1998, Issue 21, p.45.

(16) S.Heller & T.Fernandes, Magazines, Inside and Out, PBC International, New York, 1996, p.109.

(17) Typographic grids are widely used in the construction of magazines, newspapers and books, providing an underlying foundation for page design. Andre Jute says, "the primary purpose of the grid is to create order out of chaos." A.Jute, Grids, The Structure of Graphic Design, Rotovision, Switzerland, 1996, p.7. Holtzschue & Noriega, describe the typographic grid as a "modular, two-dimensional grid that employs the X (vertical) and Y (horizontal) axes of Cartesian coordinate space…the typographic grid uses a rectangular or square module within which the relative areas of text, image, margins, and columns are manipulated." L.Holtzschue & E.Noriega, Design Fundamentals for the Digital Age, Van Nostrand Rhienhold, New York, 1997, p.162.

(18) A ‘text box’ is the notion used by computer design programs and designers alike to describe the way text is entered into and manipulated in the digital-electronic environment. Text boxes can be created in traditional squares, rectangles and columns or freeform shapes.

(19) Forced justification is the process by which the computer can automatically adjust the spacing between type to evenly align it on both sides of a text box.

(20) A ‘san serif’ type is one without serifs, the little end strokes, or tails that traditionally denoted a writer’s pen strokes between letters.

(21) ‘San serifs’ first appeared in a type specimen by William Caslon IV in 1816. Robin Kinross says the early nineteenth century demanded new kinds of printing and new means of transmitting information. Through the advancing development of printing presses and typographic production, san serifs typestyles popularised as the representational forms for political posters, railway timetables, manufacturers’ catalogues and advertising. R.Kinross, Modern Typography, An Essay In Critical History, Hyphen Press, London, 1994, p.28.

(22) Marcus Goncalves explains a ‘firewall’ to be "a router or computer (usually called a bastian host) positioned between your internal network, or Web site for that matter, and the wild Internet. Its purpose, as a security gate, is to provide security to those components inside the gate, as well as control of whom (or what) is allowed to get into this protected environment, as well as those allowed to go outside it. It works like a security guard at a front door, controlling and authenticating who can or cannot have access to the site." M.Goncalves, Protecting Your Web Site with Firewalls, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1997, p.156.

(23) Filters in Adobe Photoshop 4 used to blur type and images to imply motion and speed are; blur, motion blur, gaussian blur, radial blur and smart blur.

(24) See J.Plunkett & L.Rossetto, Mind Grenades, Manifestos For The Future, HardWired, California, 1996, unpaginated.

(25) The typographic signifier of ‘x’ is in itself one that has many fascinating traces of meaning that could be followed endlessly. For example, consider these uses of the signifier of ‘x’: Generation X, The X Files, X marks the spot, and X is often also used as the typographic mark for an unknown quantity of something in mathematics.

(26) Sarup says that Derrida derived this strategic device from Martin Heidegger who often crossed out the word ‘Being’, but let both the crossed out and uncrossed out word stand as the word was ‘inadequate yet necessary.’ M.Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism, Harvester Wheatsheaf, New York, 1988, p.35.