The space between Mary and Jesus

13.10.09 |


For many years now words have been my companion. Though not as avid a reader as I would like to suggest and though not as dedicated a writer as I would like to imagine, nonetheless playing with words is part of my repertoire. For me, concepts are always language-based (and therefore meaning-based). Design comes second with its strategies to produce and support the intention. As a colleague often says, “Design shouldn’t be decoration!”
I think he means that design is not meant to get in the way.

I have often thought about the use writing as well as reading plays in design practice. Although I must admit that I have often placed text I have never read, the same cannot be said for headings, subheadings or quotes. How can I possibly design without any regard to the content? Even when I designed a quarterly magazine in Dutch (with a burgeoning pre-school level knowledge of Dutch) the collection of letters that formed foreign words that received a typographic treatment had to be understood. I was, in a sense, giving something prominence over something else. I was choosing a school-yard type-based-message team. I was playing favoritism and I needed to support my reasons for favoring one word or phrase over another.

Disregarding this hierarchy by copying and pasting phrases into a layout can lead to disaster. The following two humorous stories of poor leading (and seemingly complete disregard for the reader) illustrate this crisis of delivery where design gets in message’s way. Although both show good intention, it’s as if no one actually stood back and read them. The spelling is accurate, the words are in the right order, but the message is lost somewhere between the first word and the last.

A month or so ago the local Catholic diocese of my neighborhood recently put up a sign up that read (in italics): Mary was the - – - – - – - -  huge space here - – - – - – - – mother of Jesus.

Seeing this sign made me remember a similar sign I saw in my hometown, just days after September 11th, a home medical supply company put up a sign that read: God Bless America Get Your Oxygen Here.

What one sign needed, the other had in abundance. What both needed it seems, was just a polish of a quick-read. A quick read from a designer’s perspective would have let Mary be the mother of Jesus and God could have blessed America without being linked to oxygen. Reading shows a spark of engagement, it lets us peek into the intention of the organisations we’re working for, the community we live in, and writing lets us contribute back. As designers, we’re not necessarily encouraged to do either, but I think both will make us better designers.

/// as posted on Design Assembly

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