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Typography and typographic systems

Created by: Pablo Cosgaya In collaboration with: Julieta Goluscio Reviewed by: Guadalupe Gomis – Natalia Pano
  Artículo en proceso de traducción

Karl Gerstner understands a program as a system in which the set of its formal configuration components are organized according to a law that regulates its combinations, and thus, its possible meanings.

A general definition will let us know which system is a set of interrelated elements which contribute to a specific purpose. It might be useful to define the concepts that are part of this definition.

As we are talking about typography, design and communication, we will say that the set of elements is a group of graphic and non-graphic blocks which conform a communication campaign (posters, leaflets, graphic and audiovisual signals, stationery, tickets, promotional items, to name a few); by interrelated we mean that they share stylistic, syntactic and semantic criteria which articulate them and the specific purpose they pursue is what is expected from the campaign: to inform, to persuade, to identify, or several of these at the same time.

A system, then, will be conformed by a few variable and constant characteristics in the elements which make it up. Among others, the choice and typographic treatment, the presence or absence of images, the style, the format, the proportions (between the formats of each element, between its components and between the blocks of text and the margins), its chromatic characteristics, the type of information, the reading type and conditions, the printing quality, the writing tone.

Closed system, open system

A closed system is one in which the constant characteristics predominate in the different pieces or elements that make up the system. It is often more monotonous, lacking the surprise effect and, many times, predictable. One of the advantages of a closed system is that it is easily recognized.

An open system is that in which the pieces or elements that conform it show more variable characteristics than constant ones. Given its diversity, it is visually richer, but it might be difficult to recognize some of its elements as belonging to that system.

The program

There are people who maintain that a program is the function that relates the different graphic pieces of the system. It is an operation that should achieve that its element, in spite of their differences, be perceived as part of the very same system. However, as shown by the definition of the word, program refers to a list of instructions previously designed to fulfill this or that purpose.

So we can talk about the program when a number of possibilities or applications (instructions) suited to different situations, and which allow for coherence within diversity is established beforehand.

Thus, the program defines constant criteria that help us arrange the diversity both for formal as for conceptual aspects (conceptual breaking up of the pieces.)

Programmatic thought can be applied to different axis: programs can be developed based on typographic criteria (combinations, line breaks or relations between type sizes and leading, etc. —see examples at the end—), photographic criteria (shooting range, framing), chromatic criteria (tint, saturation) or we may create a program that organizes a complex operation where several programs are combined at the same time, i.e., a program of programs or a logic plan.

Thus, a system may be simultaneously guided by one or more programs. But not necessarily every system will be guided by one or several programs. That is to say, a system may consist of elements with constant characteristics that had not been planned as a program.

Elements of a system

In an article published some time ago in the tipoGráfica magazine, Norberto Chavez states that a graphic message, is not, but is useful for. “…The graphics message shows (…) its character of machine, of tool, of technical wit useful for producing some specific practical results.” And these results are, as we have already mentioned: to inform, to persuade, to communicate. Further on, he asserts that the message must fulfill six functions: (1) getting the sender in touch with the recipient; (2) informing the recipient about what the sender wants; (3) persuading the recipient about what it is said; (4) showing the sender and his attributes so as to let the origin be known; (5) explaining how that should be read and (6) pleasing the recipient. That is to say: contact, information, persuasion, identification, conventionality and esthetic.

Alumna: Fernanda Cozzi
Alumnos: Guisado, Vilardebó, Villanueva
Alumnos: Patricia Faggi, Ana Laura Cerdá y Federico Ulicki
Alumnos: Patricia Faggi, Ana Laura Cerdá y Federico Ulicki


A poster is a specific piece of communication: its message is transmitted throughout distance and many times the recipient is in motion. The recipient cannot take it with him to read it later (as he may do with a newspaper or a magazine), and that is why the poster should transmit its whole message in the place where it is seen.

If we may sum it up even more, we can say that the nucleus of the message a poster should transmit is constituted by the classic functions of visual communication: to communicate the what (in this case, an event), the when (the period of time when it will take place, and if necessary, the date and time), the where (place or places) and the who (the event organizer.) In order for this piece to meet this goal (to transmit the content, to inform the recipient), the proportions of its components, the treatment of color, the images and the text should be displayed in such a way that (as Chaves says) «they produce some effect on the recipient which is favorable to the intentions of the sender: to pay more attention to it, to understand it as it is intended, to make it personal, to feel oneself identified with the ideas transmitted, to feel joy at contemplating the message…»

No doubt that apart from the rhetoric and significant resources to which we resort to, a poster is a graphic piece characterized by its shortness. Minimun, clear, quick, shocking. Other attributes are: clarity, impact, good form. A poster for an event should inform the name of the event (if necessary, a description), date and time of the event (pay special attention in the case of periods of time, that is, when the event includes different activities) and the place of the event (again, we should pay attention to the fact mentioned above: one or several places.) An of course, we must identify the event and its organizer, our client.

Informative leaflet

An informative leaflet is a complex element. It does not behave neither as a piece of art, nor as a poster. It shares many of their goals, but its content is different. And so are the conditions under which the recipient gets access to it. He will certainly have time to read it, and he can take it with him. Going back to the analysis made by Norberto Chaves, we may see that out of the six functions the message should fulfill (contact, information, persuasion, identification, conventionality an esthetic), in the case of the informative leaflet, special care should be put in the treatment of the second one (information).

Information in the leaflet is transmitted by means of texts with different characteristics, with different levels of complexity and development. In order to guide our practice, we will mention some of the most frequent types of text in this piece of communication.

Informative text about the event

It has to do with the subject or purpose which is the reason for the event. It defines and delimits it; it explains the organizer’s approach, their points of view, the selection criteria for the participants. It is a text where ideological and technical contents predominate.

Informative texts on each activity

It is basic information, data for the potential audience to know where and when something will happen.

Sometimes a small specific explanation may be included in the information. For a better reading of this data, they are usually processed and arranged in such so as to make it more accessible and easier to perceive within all the information regarding the event.

Thus, the reader is simultaneously informed about more than a single piece of information, reading it in a manner that is not linear. That is to say, charts and graphics with double and sometimes triple entries are produced.

Textos informativos sobre cada actividad

Se trata de información básica, datos para que el potencial asistente se entere dónde y cuándo sucede qué cosa. A veces puede incluirse entre los datos alguna explicación específica menor. Para una mejor lectura de estos datos, se los suele procesar y ordenar de forma tal que sea más fácil acceder a ellos y percibirlos dentro de la totalidad de la información del evento. Así, el lector se informa simultáneamente de más de un dato, en un tipo de lectura que no es lineal. Para ello, se confeccionan cuadros y gráficos de doble y a veces de triple entrada.

Other pieces: Ticket

A ticket for an event has a specific function which is not that neither of informing nor of persuading, but it will be used as an element that allows access to the event. However, it should be somehow related to the other elements in the system that allow for it to be identified with the event. It requires special care in order to avoid falsifications or adulterations if the access is not free; thus we resort to special colors, security marks (stamps, tags) and sometimes they are even printed with non-conventional procedures, which are supposed to be of difficult access for counterfeits.

The information contained in it is similar to that in the poster: it will inform about the event, date and time (in general or about the specific activity) and place where the activity will take place. It is also numbered for internal control and it includes specific information such as row, seat, etc.

Some examples

Promotion for The New York Times

The receiver gets a promotion leaflet in the position of figure 1. When he opens it, he gets image 2, and thus, with each new foldout, 3 and 4, the format is duplicated, the text becomes persistent and the type sizes get bigger. After the dramatic climax which is shown in «…sell, sell, sell!» (image 4) it is rounded off with an advertising text inviting to advertise in the magazine (image 5: the purpose of the piece.)

Reading is affected by a rhythmical intensification and remains incorporated into a typographic composition. It consists of a sequence where the text (its content) and the typography (its shape) are simultaneously developed on each paper foldout. At the same time, in each instance there are parts hierarchically organized over other by adequate treatment of space and type size growth.

Identity program for boîte à musique:

In this second example we will see pieces belonging to a music store, integrated by means of a very peculiar typographic program. From the store brand (image 6) a structure was designed (image 7) where the constants of the brand (boîte à musique) are maintained and a typographic miscellany frame (rules with a width related to the stroke of the type that makes up the brand). Taking as guidelines the directions created by the brand, a structure which considers a few variations in format, proportions and possible configurations was built.

Each of these configurations allows for the brand to adapt to the specific characteristics of the pieces on which it is applied, be them advertisements (8 and 10) or stationary (9).

Identity for Bech Electronic Centre

This identity program answers the following questions: who? (Bech, the owner), what? (Electronic, the goods), how? (Centre, how it is offered.)

The coincidence with the initials of the brand (bec) is exploited in a crossword puzzle. Different letter combinations to combine the company’s name are practiced, with horizontal predominance in one case, and with vertical predominance in the other.

The presence of these combinations, adapted to the different proportions and formats of each piece (advertisement, promotional material, stationary) identifies the sender and unifies the system, based mainly on typographic resources.


  • GERSTNER, Karl. Diseñar programas. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 1979.
  • CHAVEZ, Norberto. «Pequeña teoría del cartel» en revista tpG 7 y 8. Buenos Aires, 1989.
  • MIJKSENAAR, Paul. Diseño de la información, una introducción. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2001.

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