Deconstruction and Graphic Design: History Meets Theory


  • Ellen Lupton
  • J. Abbott Miller


"Deconstruction" is a mode of criticism described by the philosopher Jacques Derrida in his book Of Grammatology, translated into English in 1976. The term has a broad cultural impact in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, spreading from departments of literature to the fields of architecture, graphic design and fashion. Our essay considers the relevance of deconstruction to the theory and practice of typography. The first section discusses deconstruction in relation to the recent history of design, showing how the term gained currency among graphic designers and eventually became the label for a new style. We then look at the place of typographic form within Derrida’s own theory, finding that the link between graphic design and deconstruction is far from arbitrary, but constitutes a central issue in his work. We end the essay by proposing the compilation of a history of typography and writing informed by deconstruction; such a history, running counter to the narrative of modern rationalization, would reveal a range of structures that dramatize the intrusion of visual form into verbal content, the invasion of "ideas" by graphic marks, gaps and differences.