Week 5: Literature Review


  • Lupton, E., 1993. (qtd. by Barbara Glauber). In: B. Glauber, ed., Lift and Separate: Graphic Design and the Quote Vernacular Unquote. New York: Cooper Union, p.5.
  • Poynor, R., 2013. No more rules. London: Laurence King.
  • Keedy, J., 1993. I Like the Vernacular … Not!. In: B. Glauber, ed., Lift and Separate: Graphic Design and the Quote Vernacular Unquote. New York: Cooper Union, pp.6–11.


What is meant by vernacular typography exactly? The concept of the vernacular within graphic design came about in the 1970s to 1980s as a reaction to the rule-based schools of modernism. Designers took inspiration from outside of the design world, and vernacular came to mean “natural, unschooled sensibility free from the stylistic self-censorship of modernism” (Lupton, 1993). Equally, Poyner states that “vernacular design’s appeal lay in its authenticity, the sense that it was a natural, unfiltered expression of the way people felt, of their local concerns, untainted by strategy, marketing imperatives and the slickness and calculation typical of the design’s elite professional class” (Poynor, 2013). Both Lupton and Poynor recognise that work termed vernacular took an instinctual route with design, free from the calculation and underlying marketing strategy. The recognition of vernacular resonates with the aims of Stowe Framework, because the project aims to reflect what is here in the community.

A champion of vernacular design in the 1980s, Tibor Kalman and his New York design company M&Co viewed vernacular design as “just there, part of the landscape, a form of visual slang” and that it was “a source of clean, honest inspiration” (Poynor, 2013; Lupton, 1992). While Kalman accurately recognised that most people pay no attention to their design environment, his view was naive to the politics between the dominant culture and subcultures by which he was inspired. Vernacular, and drawing inspiration from it, has its problems. By designating a design or piece of typography as vernacular, it creates an ‘othering’ of the said piece and a division that suggests some design work is more laudable because of its origins. Lupton describes “the term ‘vernacular’ is also relative: it places a standard language against a lesser dialect, a dominant culture against a secondary subculture” (Lupton, 1992). In this project, ‘othering’ could take the form of comparing branding of multinational companies, for example, Nando’s, Sainsbury’s, HSBC, against small businesses with signs designed by the community. In Walthamstow, it is the multinationals that stand out and seem ‘other’. While Stowe Framework concentrates on what I see as the vernacular, it includes visual references to large scale because to the people of Walthamstow, these pieces of lettering are as much part of the environment as a local butcher’s prices on a chalkboard.

Nag’s Head pub, Walthamstow Village

The research underpinning tries to embody Kalman’s technique of seeing what is truly there and often overlooked, while respecting the context by reporting and analysing. As Keedy describes: “What is needed is an awareness of what crossing cultural/historical boundaries actually means, as well as an understanding of the importance of context” (Keedy, 1998). Stowe Framework focuses on typography rather than overall vernacular design, but the same design criticism applies to typography as a subset of designed work.


One thought on “Week 5: Literature Review

  1. Pingback: Week 5 Overview – Anna Robinette

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