In this series of exercises you will experiment with the typographic construction of the repetition of a cliché sentence. This follows from the previous study of typographic texture, but adds the crucial new dimension of linguistic meaning.

Clichés, according to Teju Cole, are “standard formulations in our language. They stand in place of thought, but we proclaim them each time—due to laziness, prejudice, or hypocrisy—as though they were fresh insight.”

A cliché, in its origin as a printer’s term, means a readymade sequence of letters that is used over and over again, to save the printer time when typesetting. Through standardization and repetition (qualities which, we remember, are fundamental to typography), clichéd language loses its freshness and impact. And, precisely because of this repetition, a cliché tends to conceal its original or literal meaning.

In this exercise you will use a range of typographic strategies to both make vivid the cliché’s repetitiveness and to defamiliarize it and bring its literal strangeness back to the surface.

1. Find a cliché. It can be a historical or contemporary one. It should be one which you can imagine both demonstrating the emptiness of and making new.

2. Compose a visually dynamic typographic pattern by repeating your cliché. Control all the formal qualities you experimented with in the earlier exercise. Pay attention to possible relations between typographic form and the meaning of the text. Make three compositions.

3. Print your cliché once, at a larger size. Using a scanner as a composition tool, manipulate the position of the printed sheet on the scanner bed as the scan is produced. As in the earlier exercise, vigorously experiment with a variety of formal patterns. Consider the element of time. Produce five significantly different compositions.


+ Cliché. Wikipedia
+ Steps to an Ecology of Mind. pp 25–26. Gregory Bateson. University of Chicago Press. 1972.
+ In Place of Thought, Teju Cole. The New Yorker. August 27, 2013.
+ An Inventory of Clichés
+ Typewriter Art. Alan Riddell. London: 1975.

Some clichés

time flies when you’re having fun.
it’s not over til it’s over.
you took the words right out of my mouth.
your guess is as good as mine.
you can say that again.
there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
when it rains, it pours.
the shoe is on the other foot.
a picture is worth a thousand words.
no news is good news.
you must know the rules in order to break them.