A framework for graphic description in book design
Gillieson, K. (2008) A framework for graphic description in book design. PhD thesis, University of Reading
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This project is concerned with the way that illustrations, photographs, diagrams and graphs, and typographic elements interact to convey ideas on the book page. A framework for graphic description is proposed to elucidate this graphic language of ‘complex texts’. The model is built up from three main areas of study, with reference to a corpus of contemporary children’s science books. First, a historical survey puts the subjects for study in context. Then a multidisciplinary discussion of graphic communication provides a theoretical underpinning for the model; this leads to various proposals, such as the central importance of ratios and relationships among parts in creating meaning in graphic communication. Lastly a series of trials in description contribute to the structure of the model itself. At the heart of the framework is an organising principle that integrates descriptive models from fields of design, literary criticism, art history, and linguistics, among others, as well as novel categories designed specifically for book design. Broadly, design features are described in terms of elemental component parts (micro-level), larger groupings of these (macro-level), and finally in terms of overarching, ‘whole book’ qualities (meta-level). Various features of book design emerge at different levels; for instance, the presence of nested discursive structures, a form of graphic recursion in editorial design, is proposed at the macro-level. Across these three levels are the intersecting categories of ‘rule’ and ‘context’, offering different perspectives with which to describe graphic characteristics. Contextbased features are contingent on social and cultural environment, the reader’s previous knowledge, and the actual conditions of reading; rule-based features relate to the systematic or codified aspects of graphic language. The model aims to be a frame of reference for graphic description, of use in different forms of qualitative or quantitative research and as a heuristic tool in practice and teaching.