How I Got Here: Ellen Lupton

The writer, curator and designer tells CR why we should all care about typography, why design thinking is so important right now, and what it’s like to be the author of over 20 books

Ellen Lupton is a writer, curator, teacher and designer. Based in Baltimore, Lupton is the founding director of the Graphic Design MFA programme at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). If that wasn’t enough, she also works as a senior curator of contemporary design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, a two-hour commute away.  

Throughout her career she has tried to open up design, in particular typography, to as wide an audience as possible. An AIGA medallist, Lupton has held numerous curatorial positions, written for many design publications, and has also authored over 20 books. Many of these books focus on design processes and design thinking, and she’s become known for her championing of the DIY design movement. Here she tells CR about her first job after graduating college, what “thinking typographically” means and the joys of book making. 

On family influences  My parents both taught English at a local university. My identical twin sister, Julia Reinhard Lupton, studied Shakespeare and critical theory; she is now a professor at University of California, Irvine. When we were in college, Julia turned me on to post-structuralist theory. Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault are still important to me today, even though my own writing aims to be transparent and inclusive. What did I learn from critical theory? Language is political, representation shapes content, and much of what appears natural and inevitable is, in fact, a cultural product. Typography is not a neutral container for content.

Cover of Design Writing Research by Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller, 1996