The world has been talking about Ellen Lupton since the ’80s, when she graduated as a fine art student from Cooper Union. Intrigued by the visual art of writing, a younger Lupton did what she’s still doing today—taking her ideas and making them real. More than real. Larger than life. In ways that inspire people to talk about her work all over the world. She didn’t just design things. No. Lupton set about changing the critical discourse of graphic design to include the expressive potential of typography.
Yeah, she thinks big. Bigger. Biggest. And then she makes it happen. In ways that are accessible to everyone. For example, right after college, this future advocate of “do-it-yourself” design joined the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, where she set about visually constructing the principles of graphic design history and theory. (Whew.) She also started working as a curator, and her exhibitions provided another arena in which objects, images, and text were both the method of communication and the subject of inquiry. And she did it so playfully that she surprised her academic peers with her ability to make rigorous theory accessible and engaging. During this time, Lupton also began publishing as a critic, establishing herself as a leading voice in the field in publications such as Blueprint, Eye, Design Review, I.D., Print, Emigre andAssemblage.
And those are just the early years. In the mid-’80s, Lupton founded the Design Writing Research lab with partner J. Abbott Miller. Here, she set about integrating theory and practice in ways that still characterize the scope of her career. In 1992, Lupton became the contemporary design curator at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which is one of the few existing design curatorships in the country. During her continued tenure at the museum, Lupton has organized numerous exhibitions and major publications. Shows such as Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture and the National Design Triennial have innovated American contemporary design.
Ever democratic, Lupton’s Design Life Now (2006) included populist forms of social media such as blogs, open-source software and D.I.Y. magazines. She designs, writes, and educates without fear, inviting audiences to participate in the creation of an ever-evolving design discourse.
As director of the graphic design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art since 2003, Lupton has continued to practice an inclusive ethos of design and communication. In 2006, she and her grad students produced D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself, a manual for empowering non-designers with how-to skills.
Lupton is compelled to write. Powerfully. Her Thinking with Type is a best-selling title used around the world. She says, “I wanted to produce a book that addressed both the how and why of typography, with serious history and theory—and I wanted it to be fun, but not dumbed down. This is typography for people who think, but the book is not pompous or overly detailed.”
Today, Lupton continues to define graphic design. Her writing is itself an art. She uses theory not just as an intellectual endgame, but as a way to bring critical thinking into practice. She continues to challenge us to be thoughtful, avoid style over substance, and work to be smarter than we think we can be.
Don’t miss your chance to connect with one of the most influential and engaging designers of our time.
About Our Guest
Ellen Lupton is a writer, curator, graphic designer, and critic. She is a 2007 recipient of the AIGA Gold Medal, one of the highest honors given to a graphic designer or design educator in the U.S.
Lupton is director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, where she also serves as director of the Center for Design Thinking. As curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum since 1992, she has produced numerous exhibitions and books, including Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office (1993), Mixing Messages: Graphic Design and Contemporary Culture (1996), Letters from the Avant-Garde (1996), and Skin: Surface, Substance + Design (2002). Her book Thinking with Type (2004) is used by students, designers, and educators worldwide.
A prolific writer, Lupton has authored or edited numerous books. She has also contributed essays and illustrations to various publications, including Print, Eye, I.D., Metropolis, and The New York Times. A frequent lecturer in the U.S. and around the world, Lupton will speak about design
to anyone who will listen.