Research project, ECAL 2021


Words form language – Typography forms meaning

Even though the typographer’s work conventionally is to layout a given text in the most readable or accessible way, to guarantee the least interference possible between the text and the reader, there is a task beyond that: Typographers may put forward the distinct qualities and ideas of a text by translating it into a coherent visual form, a form that communicates a specific idea. As such typography is concerned with the meaning of words and their arrangement within a given surface.

This research focusses on ways explored in typography to use letters as means of expression in order to emphasize the semantic, phonetic or visual qualities of language. From the liberated language of the Futurists to the experiments of the Dadaists, and the “New Typography” in the 1920s and into the heyday of Swiss modernist typography, we have seen a constant investigation into experimental uses of typography. But when speaking of typographic design and its influence on language, the voice of the concrete poets is often overlooked. As a poetic movement that emerged in the beginning of the 1950s in several European countries and South America, concrete poetry established itself internationally before fading into oblivion by the end of the1970s. This research tries to contextualize concrete poetry within the field of typography with a particular focus on the work of Swiss-Bolivian poet Eugen Gomringer, one of the key figures of the movement.

Main applicant
Simon Mager (project leader)

Research team
Simon Mager (researcher)
Leonardo Azzolini (researcher)
Davide Fornari (supervisor)

Supported by
ECAL/Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne
DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion (Graphic Culture Research Grant)
Swiss Design Network (Workshop Grant)

Launch of the series Visual archives, with Giliane Cachin, Davide Fornari, Sarah Klein, Robert Lzicar, Simon Mager, Andrea Wiegelmann, Zurich, Never Stop Reading, January 29, 2020.
Josef-Müller Brockmann Prize Ceremony, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich, November 6, 2019.
JRC Pre-Conference, HEAD Geneva, November 14, 2018.

Simon Mager, Words Form Language, Zurich: Triest verlag, 2021.

The Bulletin of Graphic Culture Research Grant 2020, DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2020.

November 2017 – March 2021

E+U Hiestand, Eugen Gomringer, neu neue neu, 1962.

Courtesy of Ursula Hiestand

Ludwig Gosewitz, Typogramme 1, 1962.

©Eugen Gomringer, Ludwig Gosewitz