Lenora St. Blog

On Walls, Text, and Intention

graphic design degree

by Lorena Howard-Sheridan, Cornish Design faculty

Conversations about walls have been fairly heated in the last few years, because walls are strong symbols of separation between sides and because, sadly, they are also about protection.

Let’s take a moment and think about a different kind of wall—an ordinary one, yet covertly controversial: the one you are climbing right now, from left to right, from top to bottom, as you read this blog entry. You see? You are moving down this little wall, built with irregular blocks called letterforms, and bound by rectangular space.

Perhaps you find it absurd to compare a text to a wall, because walls are hard and indifferent, while texts should be fluid and inviting. Texts should breathe. But consider for a moment the sign-up agreements that pop into your screen every time you download an app: dense masses of writing that illustrate how an efficient wall can be made out of words; a savvy way to persuade a reader to stay away.

student work cover design
Book design by student Elizabeth Abramchuk

Tricky-lingo and awful length aside, a reader-friendly text can be the difference between reading and not reading at all. Not to pontificate, but in this world, way too many novels remain shelved because of sloppy layouts. The same can be said for well-intentioned, yet badly organized, pages crammed with text that intimidates young readers and students early on. Did this ever happen to you?

This is one of the superpowers that comes from learning to work with typography in graphic design: we learn and explore tricks that can actually improve our history with reading, one page—one screen—at a time. We know that even if our computers and apps produce professional-looking walls—I mean texts—there is an art to making the eyes of readers at home. We are not even talking about illustrations here, just text and intention: rhythms built by strokes, typefaces that deliver atmospheres, column widths that carry our sight, optimal formats and scales, but especially, the silent passenger on every page: s p a c e. Space that lets your mind forget about the text and glide through content. Walls that breathe and take down walls.

Associate Professor Lorena Howard-Sheridan is faculty lead for type design at Cornish. She specializes in identity systems and publication design (magazines, books, book covers, and collections).

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