Typography, Automation, and the Division of Labor: A Brief History
Author: J. Dakota Brown
Publisher: Other Forms (2019)
Typography was born in the mass-production mechanism of the printing press. It has thus always been implicated in automation—and, thereby, in the distinctly modern dynamics of overwork, underemployment, and runaway production.
In this compact illustrated essay, J. Dakota Brown reinterprets the history of graphic design by situating it in the history of capitalism. Beginning in the early industrial era, Typography, Automation, and the Division of Labor: A Brief History traces the rise of the design professions alongside the gradual fragmentation and decline of the printing trades. Along the way, Brown re-reads the trajectory of the modernist “machine aesthetic” as a series of historically-specific reactions to the changing economic and technical realities of typographical practice. This dual contribution to labor history and design history incorporates the crisscrossing perspectives of design professionals and production workers, modernists and postmodernists, bosses and union reps, and materialist thinkers from Adam Smith to El Lissitzky.