literate design – The structure and meaning of the text

Recently a senior design student stated that he was unaware that his design projects were being graded both on content and on form—the he assumed that the actual verbal content did not matter. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I tried to explain that we have always taken the position that design is essentially about problem-solving. And visual communication design involves knowing what it is that one is communicating.

In many conversations with art directors in researching an upcoming textbook, many have indicated that they are looking for someone with strong verbal, organizational, and visual skills. Writing is a vital component of both multimedia and graphic communications. Lance Rutter (of Tanagram, Chicago) underscored that a few weeks ago in saying he was interested in “literate” designers.

True, most production work requires that the designer merely follow the given copy; however anything higher and more creative—especially where the designer expects to be a participant in the decision-making process—requires that the designer pay attention to the connection of word and image in service of solving the design problem.

Four-year design programs, such as the one at Bradley aim to turn out thinking designers who have the potential to be art directors or creative directors, or heads of design firms. Highest marks go to those who creatively solve problems. Graphic designers work with words every day; and many hours are spent adjusting spacing, hierarchy, placement, etc, so the design reinforces the structure and meaning of the text.

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