Rise of the Typeface as Image: Moving from the Static Mind to the Empty Eye
When Twitter was text-only, I confess to finding it a dry and wanting experience. I realize that sort of goes against my living mantra that The Word Rules — but I do think what sort of word rules us is important.
Now that Twitter are publishing inline images with Twitter streams, I actually appreciate the “worth a thousand words” addition to the brittle 140 character limit of a Tweet. Now the word reflects the image and the image reflexes the 140 construction.
The new power of the image on Twitter inspired my Tweet yesterday that led to this article:
What Twitter realizes now is that the eye gets bored with text flashes and the soul wants a more immersive, fleshier, richer eye experience. Why type something when a picture will do?
We’ve also seen this rise in modern advertising where we now have special typefaces that look like images. Simple text is no longer effective. Blowing up that text into Headline sizes doesn’t help, either. We want the wacky and the obtrusive. The gaudier the font, the better!
Are we perceiving this “text as type” with our eye or our mind?
We viscerally react to the big and the brave — but can plain text ever be bolder or more than just a point size?
Authors used to be able to weave a stretch of words into a larger palette of understanding, but today we need to go beyond the power of the alphabet and employ the graphic cipher as well to initiate non-cryptic cognizance because people can’t wait to understand. They need to know now. The rise of Vine and YouTube and Google Glass and other mimetic memes are causal proof of where we want to tumble headlong as a society.
When you wrote the word “red” everyone understood the meaning. Now red can mean anything in the solitary mind, but when you see the color red as a group, the shared experience is much more powerful and socially charming. Instead of wondering about meaning and intention, we can all look at the same exemplar and “know” intention without divination.
The word is much more wonky, risky, work — and while that can be perpetually interesting and immortal — oftentimes the power of the semiotic begs a more important, central, role in the life of a community than the urgent text of the city.
Can images alone create meaning? Or do we first need to define context with patterns of words swirling around syntax and glossings? Did the verbal groan first find footing on a cave wall as a painted image or as the scrawled start of an alphabet?