I will begin not at the level of texts, however, but at the level of individual letter-forms. Earls, Drucker, and Chamberlin all trace an important lineage to the typographic experiments of the modernist avant-garde; I'm thinking especially of such movements as Dada, Cubism, and Russian and Italian Futurism. [2] These typographic experiments are being continued - with some important alterations - by a school of contemporary graphic designers, whose work is often called "the new typography" or "digital typography" or even "deconstructive typography."

Two points are important here. First, this design tradition was already several years old when it was invigorated by the 1984 mass-market release of the Macintosh computer; and nowhere was this more immediately so than within the pages of Emigre, an experimental typographic arts magazine which had begun publishing only two months earlier.[3] The second point worth emphasizing is that those designers who adopted the Mac and began using its desktop design capabilities as an instrument for producing experimental work, did so most often by creating fonts and page arrangements influenced either explicitly or implicitly by post-structuralist textual theory, which had in fact already found footholds in such institutional settings as the graduate design programs at the California Institute of the Arts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit.[4] (In 1978, the journal Visible Language published an issue in conjunction with students from Cranbrook, resulting in one of the earliest and most compelling documents of the conversation between experimental graphic design and poststructuralism.) Perhaps today's most famous exemplar of the new typography, which I like to refer to as "the other end of print," is David Carson, a former surf-celebrity who, with little formal graphic design training, got his start designing for a California zine named Beach Culture in 1989, and then went on to head up design and production for the alternative music magazine Ray Gun. Today, Carson commutes to art-school workshops and seminars around the globe while designing dissonance for the likes of Swatch, Hardees, and Coca-Cola.[5]

The kind of graphic design I've been describing here is responsible for our most commonplace encounters with what Michael Joyce labels post-alphabetic culture, particularly through its infiltration of the realm of advertising - post-alphabetic design forms the broader (secularized, if you will) visual and visible context for the work of Earls, Drucker, and Chamberlin. Moreover, the post-alphabetic aesthetic, as displayed in Carson's work, as well as in Emigre magazine, and the catalogs of Cranbrook and CalArts is one that appears precisely at the point of print media's imperative to formalize a representation of its own putative demise. That is, it is an aesthetic that is intensely self-reflexive in its attempt to depict, and at some level iconify, the material conditions of print's cultural exhaustion. For this reason alone this body of graphic design work bears close scrutiny by students of the new medias, for it dramatizes the relationship between print and electronic textual forms driven by the need of the former to assimilate and contain the ruptures of the latter.