Expressive Typography

I just finished up an expressive typography project for a visual design course. Essentially, the ask was to use typography to represent what a word means. It’s a pretty classic graphic design challenge or “thought starter” (this blog strongly endorses leverages corporate jargon). I took a little bit different approach to solving the problem.

Words are really visual… but equally, or maybe more, auditory. And creating expressive typography means looking at what things mean from a few angles. So, I started by thinking about the audio waveforms of each word. I picked 4 words. I recorded myself speaking them, then looked at the resulting waveforms. I’m not gonna post those recordings – regardless of how greatly I dare to be vulnerable, hearing my own voice say a single random word makes me feel weird.

Besides the waveform, I also thought about the shape the tongue and mouth make speaking a word. To me, that’s more accurately the word’s “shape” than anything you’d see typing it out. Below are the results, solving for:

  • Dance
  • Grotesque
  • Nervous
  • Syrup


This expressive typography assignment was pretty fascinating to work on. I’d like to do lots more with typography. Honestly, I get the sense that it goes fairly overlooked for a lot of more web-focused designers (myself).

I have a couple theories as to why. So much knowledge that is inherited just gets taken for granted – when the typesetting in most design applications is tolerable or decent by default, there’s much less of a pressure to pay attention to it. And, speaking for my day to day work, without much font flexibility inside an experience, it’s hard to spend any dedicated time thinking about it in the scope of 10,000 other problems to solve for.

My favorite word to experiment with was “dance”. I love dancing, and something about bringing the feeling of dancing to a written word is a really fun challenge. I think my next challenge might be to animate a few of these words. It’d be a totally different project, and in some ways less challenging. But, motion and movement bring such an unparalleled level of expression to ideas.