Revolution Lullabye

March 18, 2009

Kirschenbaum, The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction.” In Eloquent Images. Eds. Hocks and Kendrick. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 137-156.

Kirschenbaum, writing from the perspective of applied humanities computing, contests the argument that digital media has allowed texts and images to be easily integrated with each other. He looks at the history of printing and how images are being made searchable through computer algorithms to show that texts and images are still treated differently in digital media because they have different material constraints and limitations. Some include the long upload time for images versus text and how images are still invisible (in many ways) and dense for search engines to navigate, explore, and use effectively. Mark-up language (SGML, XML) has helped some, but these tags force the designer to transform the image into formal elements and named categories. He shows that even applications like Flash (vector applications) do not truly integrate word and image into a usable form because they are designed from scratch, are time-consuming, and again, invisible to searching engines.

Quotable Quotes

“The notion that digital texts and images are infinitely fluid and malleable is an aesthetic conceit divorced from technical practice” (154).

“There are significant ontological continuities with analog media that are not adequately accounted for by casual assertions about the blurred boundaries between word and image” (153).

“The lesson in all this is that the material truths of digital reproduction exist in constant tension wiht the Web’s siren song of the visual” (140)

Notable Notes

images are costly problems in printed texts; they are often separated from the text (see Tufte for an exception) and this historic separation of text and image began in the days of the movable type press – images were etched, engraved, or photos that were designed separate from the text.

material limitations of printing led to design choices that last after the limitations end (Macintosh fonts as an example, pixelated)

applied humanities computing – digitizing archives, William Blake’s poetry and designs, art work

data becomes textual, not graphical (with mark-up language) (150)

uses his Flash/vector example of Lucid Mapping

If the text isn’t searchable, how interactive is it?

the material constraints of computing

January 12, 2009

Lupton, Thinking with Type

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

This book, written for both designers and students, gives a broad overview of the histories and theories of typography and broader text design along with specific techniques on how to analyze and create type, text, and entire documents. The book is divided into three major sections – letter, text, and grid – and each section begins with a historical essay followed by several practical examples of the design elements discussed. Lupton focuses particularily on how typography has answered the typographic and layout design challenges of digital media. Design, she argues, has now expanded beyond the printed page, as designers must create transmedia designs, designs that move from web pages to captions to pull quotes to logotypes to album covers. Designers, Lupton also argues, must attend to the needs of the audience, and today, the reader has become the user, whose time and attention is a valuable commodity which must be accomodated in the design of letters, text, and grids.

Quotable Quotes

Typography is…

“a tool for doing things with: shaping content, giving language a physical body, enabling the social flow of messages” (8)

“what language looks like” (1)

“an interface to the alphabet” (75)

“by and large, an art of framing, a form designed to melt away as it yields itself to content” (115)


“is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking” (67) Importance of white space

“has become a ‘transmedia’ enterprise, as authors and producers create worlds of characters, places, situations, and interactions that can appear across a variety of products” (75)

“is the art of situations” (193) Designers respond to a need, a problem.

“The history of typography is marked by the increasingly sophisticated use of space…Space has become more liquid than concrete, and typography has evolved from a stable body of objects to a flexible system of attributes” (68).

Users instead of readers: “searching and finding, scanning and mining” (76).

Notable Notes

Shift in cultural values throughout typographic history: humanist in the Renaissance and 15th century Italy (looked like handwriting), Enlightenment (fluid, fancy, sharp, clean, precise, use of the grid), Industrialization (monster fonts with big, bold faces made from wood-cut type), Arts and Crafts movement (pure, round, balanced, geometric shapes), Post WWII (mathematical, universal language, Swiss grid design), digital revolution (low resolution, bit-map pixel fonts), late 20th century (play with variation with computer capabilities.)

Type family includes regular, bold, italic, bold italic, small caps, lining numerals, non-lining numerals

databases create non-linear structures, space instead of sequence (69)

Barthes, Derrida, Ong, Raskin, Lunenfeld

Style sheets allow designers to think globally about the design of the entire structure instead of just the present page (74).

The computer has saved text – a “digital phoenix” (Lunenfeld quote – 76) because it emphasizes the printed word in a way TV and film do not.

Grids are about control, establishing systems for organizing content. Even the computer screen, which has so many curves and spontaneous elements, is based fundamentally on grids. This was emphasized with HTML tables, and Flash moves away a little bit from that, though it is based on an x and y grid. (113, 132)

for elegant design, do not have more than three visual cues for each level of hierarchy: symbols (A, B, C), indents, line breaks, font change (keep x-height the same), alignment change, bold, italic, color change, underline, small caps

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