The Typographic City: Social Commitment and Graphic Design in the Urban Space in Two Late Modernist Italian Projects

By Luciana Gunetti and Name Surname.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Between the late nineteen-sixties and the late nineteen-eighties, the field of Italian graphic design saw many practitioners attempt to test and apply ideas more immediately related to the social function of design. Their new approach to design tried to overtly oppose the rampant consumerist models with a very constructive, empirical approach that to some extent represented a novelty in the contemporary history of Italian design that favoured the balance of forces rather than direct opposition. A central event in this context is the development of what for lack of better terms can be called “urban typography,” a form of graphic design that intervened on the whole surface of the urban space. This paper looks at two examples of such interventions and at the historical and theoretical framework in which they were developed. These limited, practical interventions were structurally aimed at functioning as a mediation between institutions and community, with a focus on inclusion and on the local dimension. They were articulated as single projects rather than general theorisations and programmatic manifestos. This paper subsequently argues that the experience of “urban typography” has to be framed in the contemporary European cultural milieu which saw, on the one hand, a modernism appropriated by ideologies and corporations and, on the other, the logic of the grand, radical intervention revealing its utopian character. Urban typography, in other words, was an alternative to the polarisation between ideology and professionalisation. It offered graphic designers who embraced this concept an alternative to ideological commitment and professional mannerism.

Keywords: Graphic Design, Planning, Post-war, Politics, Italy, Exhibition, Design, Albe Steiner, AG Fronzoni, Commitment, Typography, Politics, City

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.489-498. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.635MB).

Dr. Luciana Gunetti

Managing Curator, Archivio Albe e Lica Steiner, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy

Luciana Gunetti is an architect and a design research consultant based in Milan, Italy. She was awarded her PhD in Industrial Design and Multimedia Communication from the Politecnico di Milano, after completing a post- graduate course in Industrial Design at the SSDI School of the Federico II University of Naples. Since 2000 she has been involved in research projects in theory and history of Communication Design, also collaborating with the Faculty of Design of the Politecnico di Milano on a regular basis. She also worked in AG Fronzoni’s famous practice-workshop in Milan, inventorying part of the archive. Her long-term research projects include the mapping and designing of new info-display systems for the archives of several protagonists of Italian communication design history. She is currently the acting curator of the Albe and Lica Steiner Archive, an important collection of artifacts privately donated and managed by the Department of Architectural Design of the Politecnico di Milano.

Name Surname

PhD Candidate, School of European Languages, Culture and Society, University College London, London, UK

Gabriele Oropallo lives and works in London, England, where he is completing a PhD on social and political commitment and graphic design in late Modernism at University College London. Looking at examples from the late modernist canon, his research assesses the extent to which design and social commitment can be associated, and argues that the expansion of graphic design into the urban space provided an opportunity for designers to overcome the impasse between radicalism and professional mannerism. In 2006-2008 he was awarded a Marie Curie fellowship by the European Commission for his research at the UCL Centre for European Studies. He has published and presented on his research and allied topics internationally, also being a guest lecturer at the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA in April 2008 and at the University of Reading, England, in November 2010 and February 2011. In May 2010 he organised “Critical minds: Critical spaces”, an international symposium on critical design, architecture and planning at University College London. In March 2011 he curated and chaired “The Ethics of Graphic Design? Social Commitment and Visual Communication”, a public seminar. In parallel with his academic activities, he is involved in other projects aimed at bringing research and scholarship to wider audiences, as curating, photography and documentary film-making.

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