Fontography / Iconography: On the Verge of Post Literacy


Are words not long for this world? CBC's Nora Young speculated that we were entering a post-literate world where symbols take the place of words. (I have searched for the audio clip with no luck. It was during the week of November 12-16 on Winnipeg's CBC Radio 1, Winnipeg during the program Up to Speed). She shared Peter Gabriel's web project where users enter a sentence and gabble interprets it as a series of images as illustrated above.

It's an interesting experiment in meaning translation from language to symbol. Try some yourself - see how you have to change words to find the most appropriate image. Your thesaurus will come in handy as you search for concrete words that represent more ephemeral ideas.


When I checked the Twitter feed at lunch today it seemed like #fonts was trending. Then Stephen Harris posted this with a link:

This amazing resource teaches everything a young publisher could want to know about typography as though it were a sensitive book on puberty. Fun AND informative. (Direct Link) Fonts themselves, independent of the message they carry, have a meaning and emotional impact on viewers. To think of Font as Art, and fontographers as artists (my favourite is Chank Diesel at creates an interesting bridge between the medium and the message.

Visual Literacy

So when a students takes 20 seconds to type the first sentence, then the remaining 30 minutes in the period selecting the font, size, and colour, are they wasting time? Or are they exploring art? Can we think of font selection as visual literacy. When a student prints a book report entirely in 14pt bold italicised Blackadder it is because they like the way it looks. And it does... like the Declaration of Independence, it looks nice. No one takes the time to read it, it's just a pretty piece of script. In this respect, students value their work as pieces of art.

Kids are also much more visual. How often do you see students performing a Google search using the image search function? I rarely see kids using the standard text search. This speaks to their visual understandings - why read a thousand words when you can look at one picture?

Gabriel's project, communication via commonly understood icons, animations, and memes seems not far off the post-literate future mentioned by Nora Young, and predicted in Orwell's Farenheit 451, not as state-imposed thought control, but as a natural evolution of language in a global digital world.

Can iconographic communication at once embody the richness, the artistry, and the precision of the written word? On the cusp of the internet of things (connected wearable or physically embedded technology) are words increasingly unnecessary? How will ubiquitous iconographic representations made possible by augmented reality affect the way we engage with information?

Or maybe it's just a fad.

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

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