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When ‘the hook’ meets ‘the look’

By combining gripping writing with graphic design, I strive to develop a “total package” of communication

Jon standing with his self-portrait

All of the class' self-portraits, created using only type, were displayed on the second floor of the Larsen Student Union.

As a writer, my interest in fonts stopped at the decision to use either Times New Roman or Garamond. When I registered for Graphic Design I: Typography, I actually mentioned to graphic designers I know that it seemed impossible to devote an entire semester only to type. What could I possibly learn about something so simple?


But when David Kasparek, assistant professor of graphic design, began our first class with a question—“What is an image?”—I knew I had much to learn. Starting a class about typography with questions about images immediately forced me out of my preconceptions about graphic design. I was faced with a revolutionary idea: letters are images.


Letters suddenly became more than t, h, i, and s; they became the paint or charcoal used for a new piece of artwork. Our first project, in fact, was simple: create three sets of twelve squares—one set using one letter per square, the second set using two letters, and the third using three (using photocopied letters from an index in our textbook). Sounds easy enough. But I couldn’t just put a copy of a letter in the middle of a square. They had to look interesting. I had to create art. Those squares became canvases for abstract art, using only letters. Cut the letters! Break them apart! Make negative photocopies to make white letters on a black background! We could draw lines, squares, circles. But we had to show recognizable letter forms in interesting ways. A little more involved than Times New Roman versus Garamond.


  We also explored the way different fonts can combine to create a larger image. Our self-portrait project (right) consisted entirely of text. By using different fonts and different weights (bold, light), even different proportions (normal, condensed), we could create texture and shading that, together, built a self-portrait that possessed a “sketched” look. For this project, my writing skills went to work. Professor Kasparek allowed us to use “random” text (e.g., “aslkwhpiaok”) for some of the portrait, but there had to be some meaningful text. I used autobiographical vignettes to create most of my face. Other students in the class typed lyrics to songs they listened to as they worked. The visual and the verbal combined to make a cohesive piece of art.

Now, five projects into our semester, I have not only developed more confidence in my design abilities, but I’ve started to see things differently. Where I once shuddered only at the sight of grossly misplaced commas, I now cringe at the sight of bad signs or poorly designed flyers, and I have a better appreciation for the great ones. The world needs both writers and designers, and I am emerging as someone who can excel at both.

Jonathan Vaitl ’06
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