Typographic Shifts Arising from the Connection between the User, User Interface and Typographic Layout



Media & Communications Design
Software, UX & Game Design


  • typography, grawlix, user-generated content


Typography is constantly shifting its form according to technologies and audiences. Understanding the constant motions of typography is critical in designing forms of visual communication. In addition, current digital technologies provide novel opportunities for users to participate and co-create new typographic conventions. Online ‘fandoms’ consist of communities with interests in cultural phenomena, ranging from fan art to celebrities, to artefacts. Fandoms are an example of user-generated content with strong typographic shifts.

This study undertook grawlix as a case, to examine the relationship between online users, typographic layouts and digital technologies, with the aim to understand current conditions of typography. Grawlix is a series of symbols (e.g. !@#$) and visual effects that are used in comics to enhance the narrative and to disguise potentially offensive content, like expletives. However, online users are introducing new typographic conventions and uses of grawlix in digital settings.

In particular, this study describes and explores those conventions that manifested in the typographic layouts of Twitter as a popular digital platform. Waller’s (1987) typographic genre model was used to understand the connections between the online user, interface and typographic layout. Data was obtained through three methods: participant observation of a fandom, document analysis of interface and typographic layouts, and semi-structured interviews with online fans. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was also used to describe the experience of the online user as a producer of typography and audience.

The primary finding of this research is that the narrative use of grawlix in print media shifts to a medium of social and emotional self-expression in a digital setting. The study suggests that the distributed aesthetics of typography produced in a digital setting are dynamic as these are continuously consumed and redistributed by online users. It is no longer the designer’s sole role to manipulate and produce typography; rather, the designer has become a central collaborator in an organic process of online typographic development.

Keywords: typography, grawlix, typographic genre, user-generated content, typographic layout, online fan


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