The Typographic Medium

From History and Foundations of Information Science

The Typographic Medium

By Kate Brideau

An innovative examination of typography as a medium of communication rather than part of print or digital media.





An innovative examination of typography as a medium of communication rather than part of print or digital media.

Typography is everywhere and yet widely unnoticed. When we read type, we fail to see type. In this book, Kate Brideau considers typography not as part of “print media” or “digital media” but as a medium of communication itself, able to transcend the life and death of particular technologies. Examining the contradiction between typographic form (often overlooked) and function (often overpowering), Brideau argues that typography is made up not of letters but of shapes, and that shape is existentially and technologically central to the typographic medium.

After considering what constitutes typographic form, Brideau turns to typographic function and how it relates to form. Examining typography's role in both the neurological and psychological aspects of reading, she argues that typography's functions exceed reading; typographic forms communicate, but that communication is not limited to the content they carry. To understand to what extent the design and operations of the typographic medium affect the way we perceive information, Brideau warns, we must understand the medium's own operational logic, embodied in the full diversity of typographic forms.

Brideau discusses a range of topics—from intellectual property protection for typefaces to Renaissance and Enlightenment ideal letterforms—and draws on a wide variety of theoretical work, including phenomenological ideas about comprehension, German media archaeology, and the media and communication theories of Vilém Flusser and others. Hand-drawn illustrations of typographic forms accompany the text.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262045858 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 179 b&w illus.


  • “Kate Brideau's expertly researched book The Typographic Medium deals extensively with typography as a graphic medium in legal (intellectual property), visual (shape and style), and cultural (a range of languages and scripts) realms. The hand-drawn images are breathtaking in their capacity to illuminate subtle points of scholarship. What a rare treat to see typography treated with such erudition and insight.”

    Johanna Drucker

    Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

  • “How I've yearned for a book like Kate Brideau's The Typographic Medium. Type—virtually the exclusive province of book historians, print historians, type historians, designers, and calligraphers for so long—is at last being interrogated as medium. No one who works on type can afford not to read this book.”

    Thomas Mullaney

    Professor of Chinese History, Stanford University; author of The Chinese Typewriter

  • “If the primary requirement of typefaces is to be functional, why are there so many of them? Brideau shatters the 'crystal goblet' theory of type with insight, originality, and verve.”

    Rick Poynor

    Professor of Design and Visual Culture, University of Reading, UK; author of No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism

  • “Kate Brideau looks at letterforms as living things, fragments of form that engage memory and meaning through geometry, gesture, and intention. This book is a welcome contribution to typographic scholarship.”

    Jessica Helfand

    Design Observer

  • “A multifaceted take on typography, The Typographic Medium opened my eyes to new dimensions of a subject I thought I already understood. Integrating philosophical erudition with practical knowledge, Brideau has sketched out a compelling handbook toward the field's polymorphic futures.”

    Prem Krishnamurthy

    designer and curator