In recent years, graphic designers have presented challenges to dominant narratives within institutions of their discipline. Amid a range of intensifying social crises, long-neglected questions about working conditions and the nature of capitalism have become unavoidable.
This lecture, drawing on J. Dakota Brown’s recently completed dissertation research, argues for a new history of typographical labor. Shifting attention from the professional canon to the tools and techniques of everyday practice, Brown surveys a repressed saga of labor militancy, profit-driven automation, and anti-capitalist critique.
Our concluding discussion explores the present-day echoes of this complex and contradictory legacy: What would it mean for graphic designers to locate themselves in a labor history of typography?
This and all Letterform Lectures are a public aspect of the Type West postgraduate certificate program. Register to attend remotely.
J. Dakota Brown studied graphic design at North Carolina State University in the late 1990s and began working professionally at Thirst/Thirstype in 2000. He later pursued advanced degrees in critical and cultural theory at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University. His doctoral dissertation situates graphic design practice in a broader history of labor, technology, and capitalism. Parts of this ongoing critical research were recently published in the pamphlets Typography, Automation, and the Division of Labor (Other Forms Books, 2019) and The Power of Design as a Dream of Autonomy (The Green Lantern Press, 2019).
Dakota maintains an active design practice, with an emphasis on typesetting for books and journals. He currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.