Ellen Lupton

“Think more, design less.”

Ellen Lupton is a writer, curator, and graphic designer. She 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.

Lupton fused her talents as a writer and designer with an abiding interest in post-structuralism to visually construct the principles of graphic design history and theory on a shoestring budget. She and her grad students produced D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself, a manual for empowering non-designers with how-to skills. Lupton describes herself as a libertarian who believes in an “open source movement,” and advocates advocates exposing all methods of production: to this end, she has taught a course on code writing with a graduate student at MICA, and recently hosted seminars on independent publishing and blogging for designers and writers.

“Verbal literacy is good for literature–Shakespeare means very little to people who can’t read or write. Likewise, visual literacy is good for design: when people experience the power of typography and images first-hand, they can better understand design that is produced at the highest level.”

Lupton received the AIGA Gold Medal in 2007 as she is this profession's constant reminder to strive for conceptual depth, avoid style over substance and be smarter than we think we can be. She has contributed to various publications, including Print, Eye, I.D., Metropolis, and the NYTimes.com. Her editorial illustrations have been published in The New York Times. A frequent lecturer around the U.S. and the world, Lupton will speak about design to anyone who will listen.


  • Publications
  • Exhibitions


  • 1981 - Began school as an art major at Cooper Union College
    1985 - Graduated from Cooper Union College with a typography degree
    1986 - Founded the Design Writing Research lab with J. Abbott Miller
    1989 - A Pedagogical Scrapebook about the Work of Ican Chermayeff
  • 1990's

  • 1991 - A Better Mausetrap: Patents & the Process of Invention
    1992 - Became curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
                    Graphic Design in the Netherlands A Selection of Recent Work
    1993 - Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office [image]
    1995 - Elaine L. Cohen
    1996 - The Bathroom, the Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste
                    Letters from the Avant-Garde: Modern Graphic Design
                    Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office
                    Letterhead Show
                    Mixed Message: graphic design in contemporary culture [image]
                    Mixing Messages
    1998 - Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age: Selections from the Merrill C. Berman Collection
    1999 - Design Writing Research [image]
  • 2000's

  • 2000 - Design Culture Now: National Design Triennial
                    The ABC's of Bauhaus, The Bauhaus and Design Theory
    2002 - Skin Show
    2003 - Became the director of the graphic design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art
                    Inside Design Now: National Design Triennial
    2004 - Thinking with Type [image]
    2005 - Swarm: The Fabric Workshop and Museum
    2006 - D.I.Y [image]
                    New Design from Israel
                    Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present
                    Design Life Now: National Triennial
                    Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005
    2007 - The D.I.Y. Design Deck
                    Skin: Surface, Substance, and Design
                    AIGA Medal Winner [image]
                    D.I.Y. Kids
    2008 - Indie Publishing: How to Design and Publish You Own Book [image]
                    Graphic Design: The New Basics
                    Rococo: The Continuing Curve, 1730-2008
    2009 - The Typographic Desk Reference
                    Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
                    Living World
  • 2010's

  • 2010 - Thinking with Type (rev) [image]
                    Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects
                    Why Design Now? National Design Triennial
    2011 - Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content
                    Graphic Design: Now in Production
                    Graphic Design Worlds / Words
                    Graphic Design Thinking
    2012 - Designer For Social Change: Strategies for Community-Based Graphic Design
                    The Complete Engraver: Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals, and the Etiquette of Social Stationary
    2014 - Typorama: The Graphic Work of Philippe Apeloig [image]

Reverse Engineering

Thinking With Type

This is a type book for everyone: designers, writers, editors, students, and anyone else who works with words. Presented through succinct, decisive language and carefully curated examples, the book explores the history, theory, and practice of typography. It serves as a handy reference, a classroom textbook, and a welcoming introduction.

“In short, it is a compendium for literate typographic practice.”

The main point of Thinking with Type is this concept of education. Lupton is exposing the knowledge of the publishing industry to all its members instead of restricting it to the elite designers. A lot of Lupton’s work is about sharing information and making it easy to be understood. Throughout the book, visual examples show how to be inventive within systems of typographic form–what the rules are and how to break them.

The interior of the book is simple on the use of colors with the text being only one of two colors: black or red. Ellen Lupton has a strong affinity for Scala Serif which is clearly seen in this publication, but as the book gives many examples of layout and type choices, Scala Serif is not the only typeface used. In addition to the type, tan blocks are used to provide examples as well as a wide variety of published cover and layout examples.


D.I.Y. Design It Yourself

D.I.Y. was written, researched, designed, and produced by students and faculty in the Graphic Design MFA program at MICA. Directed at general readers, the book has been sold in a varity of non-traditional venues. Embracing the do-it-yourself revolution in art, design, and technology, D.I.Y. has helped expand the discourse of graphic design.

“People don't just eat food anymore, they present it; they don't look at pictures, they take them; they don't buy T-Shirts, they sell them.”

D.I.Y. has received both positive and negative criticism, which Lupton predicted. Some are concerned that the designing profession will be devalued by an increase in the number of self-taught designers. Lupton believes, however, that an increase in the public’s knowledge about design is a good thing, that a dispersion of knowledge will raise the general literacy about design and will therefore improve the overall market.

The controversy around D.I.Y. involves questions of commerce, but it also encompasses theoretical questions about politics, culture, and social conditioning. Lupton believes in an “open source movement,” of which D.I.Y. is a part. She believes that the entrepreneurial attitude present in D.I.Y. is inherently political in nature.

“The fact of being able to publish, being allowed to publish because the tools are available, is a political change. Knowledge is a very free thing.”