Pratt BFA Communication Design Thesis

Sarah Schoenfeld Graphic Design

From A to Z: A Designed History of the Latin Alphabet

Exhibition Design
Fine Art
Print
Video

The development of written communication marked the moment in time when prehistory became history. Written communication has taken many forms since its development, and many times piggybacked off of preexisting forms, eventually leading to where written communication is today. The development of written communication is mirrored in the development of the graphic designer. Long before the concept of the graphic designer was imagined, people throughout history utilized various techniques such as illumination or woodblock printing to portray written communication that would later develop into the practice of graphic design. The role of the modern-day graphic designer is as ever changing as the development of written communication. Traditionally speaking, the job of the graphic designer was to convey messages through the strategic portrayal of written communication. Today, that definition remains partially true, as graphic designers have evolved to utilize many tools in addition to written language to convey messages; some being concrete and others subliminal.

According to the works of Guy Dubord and Walter Benjamin, the messaging within a work of design, or any other artifact, is embedded with the history of the moment in which it is created, and analysing the artifact allows one to comprehend pieces of the society which that message was born out of. After analysing several artifacts from one society, through the lense of both history and art history,one can begin to develop an understanding of said society. This analysis reveals the key messages from that time and how they were portrayed, which contributes to the understanding of that period in history’s visual rhetoric: a pointed visual communication that is used to portray the reigning ideologies of a society.

For my thesis, I designed my own condensed history of the Latin alphabet by marking 26 of its major developing points sourced from both calligraphy and typography and analysing the historical data surrounding these developments. Utilizing connections made through this practice of historical analysis, I began to challenge the established visual rhetorics of artifacts containing examples of various styles of letterforms and generated duplicate designs of these artifacts utilizing other styles of letterforms. In addition to researching the historical contexts and experimenting with the boundaries of visual rhetorics, I simultaneously explored the more physical characteristics of letterforms. Through the practice of teaching myself how to write in several historical styles of calligraphy, I analyzed the strokes of letterforms and the motions taken and tools used to create these letterforms in order to get a better understanding of how forms of written communication develop over time. The understanding of this information revealed the technicalities of the designed aspects of visual rhetorics and how different technologies such as the printing press bear influence over societies and their decision making processes. In this critical analysis of the Latin alphabet set amongst an in-depth understanding of its historical development, viewers can be educated on the many variations of visual rhetorics and cultural significances that can be found within the history of written communication.

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