I’ve been thinking about words a lot lately.

A few scenarios have arisen in my life where an ill-formed sentence wasn’t the reason for miscommunication, as most miscommunication is presumed to be, but rested in the interpretation of a single word.

I hadn’t realized that language and communication are not just about a word’s widely agreed upon definition, but the meaning that an individual attributes to it. Our interpretation of context lies in the subtleties of our experiences with, not the word but in the concept it represents and how our own life experience relates.

An example of this I’ve recently bumped into: In my day job, I work in a fast-paced environment designing product support materials for an Education Technology Start-Up company. You would imagine we’re all a bunch of logophilies, and you’d be correct. My team makes very intentional choices about how we represent challenging concepts so that a wide array of folks with different learning styles can easily digest the information we have to give.

With such a laser focus on our end-users, there have been a few interesting situations surrounding the words we use to communicate amongst ourselves, ironically about communication.

In internal conversations one of my coworkers keeps asking “wait, but what did you hear?” I admittedly haven’t known what to do with this question because, as a visual communications expert I am continuously asking myself, and others “what do you see?” I actively work to cross-reference what’s in front of me against my life experience, and education so as to not accidentally craft say, an inappropriate image within a larger graphic.

What I did realize is that, people transmute their experience with a concept not just to visual elements, but also to words.

Graphic designers view words – and literacy –  in a special way.

Design-O-Vision Breakdown

  • A word is comprised of a letters.
  • Those letters are set in a typeface.
  • That typeface is made of shapes.
  • Those shapes look like lots of other things (it’s like noticing a cloud looks like a giraffe, but a Q set in Bodoni looks like an obese penguin)
  • The word has a definition and a meaning.
  • Does the definition overlap with what the shapes in the typeface resemble.
  • Do the word, and the shapes in the typeface inspire connection and emotion in people who see it.
  • What other subtle queues in either the typeface, or the definition can be used to foster an even deeper emotional link to the concept being conveyed?

As designers, we’re constantly evaluating the world using our eyes, but also using a combination of our life experiences and subconscious minds, and a lot of us look to internal discussions rather than external ones.

So, if you find yourself in an external conversation with a peer, or a client, pausing to check what both parties heard is an incredibly valuable tool to help you develop what you see.

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