Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Middle Years Students Thinking with and about Typography in Multimodal Texts

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Middle Years Students Thinking with and about Typography in Multimodal Texts

Article excerpt


During Anya's (all names are pseudonyms) interview about her Elements of Visual Design project, 'The Day in the Life of Bibble', she described how she used typography as a 'tool for doing things with (Lupton, 2010, p. 8). When talking about the word 'WOW' featured on page one of her work, Anya explained, 'The WOW because you don't say like, "Wow." You kind of say it with effect like, "WOW!" and I did it red just kind of like the "bang"--it's like "WOW!" and it's just like a vibrant colour' Further meaning is connoted by the large exclamation mark that follows the black capitalised letters of WOW, and by the red spiky shape that frames the word. Anya's explanation conveys the intentionality of her visual representation of the word 'WOW', and reveals her understanding that 'every typeface has a 'visual voice' ", and that readers listen to type (White, 2011, p. 149).

Typography can be defined as 'the art or process of printing from type ... the arrangement, style, or general appearance of matter printed from type' (Guralnik, 1976, p. 1539). Drawing on the etymology of the root words of typography, White (2011) states that typography 'literally means drawing with type' (p. 149). During a recent study that explored developing middle years students' visual meaning-making skills and competencies by concentrating specifically on a selection of visual elements of art and design in picture books and graphic novels, Grade 6 students had opportunities to develop their understanding of the meaning potential of typography. One requirement of the Elements of Visual Design project, the culminating research activity, was for the students to show their understanding of specific typographical attributes (i.e., size, shape, colour, style, and arrangement on page). Although the two focus students, Anya and Kalle, purposely orchestrated several visual elements of art and design in the creation of their multimodal texts, this article focuses specifically on the girls' 'typographic meaning-making' (Norgaard, 2009, p. 143).

Discussions of multimodality and typography, and the use of typography in literature are followed by a brief overview of the theoretical frameworks of the study. A description of the research context and the instructional unit is followed by a discussion of several examples of typography from the two students' final projects. Lastly, I consider the significance and potential of typography as a tool in textual meaning-making.

Multimodality and typography

'Contemporary forms of communication require working in multimodal texts' (Mills, 2010, p. 250). The modes of image, writing, gesture, sound, and layout (spatial) 'offer different potentials for meaning-making' (Kress, 2009, p. 54) and these modal affordances are connected to the 'material and the cultural, social, historical' uses of modes (Jewitt, 2008, p. 147). Multimodal artefacts include a combination of the 'semiotic resources for making meaning' (Jewitt & Kress, 2010, p. 343) of more than one mode. A multimodal approach to understanding communication and representation recognises how 'meanings in any mode are always interwoven with the meanings made with those of all other modes co-present and "co-operating" in the communicative event' (Jewitt, 2009, p. 15).

Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), situating their discussion of modes in a social semiotic theory that uses Halliday's (1978) work on the social functions of language, discuss how various modes fulfil the ideational, interpersonal and textual function. According to van Leeuwen (2006) and Machin (2007), typography is a mode as it can fulfil these three functions. The ideational function is achieved because typography can represent ideas, 'actions and qualities' (van Leeuwen, 2006 p. 143). With respect to the interpersonal function, typography can be used to 'express attitudes to what is being represented' (Machin, 2007, p. 92). Typography can 'enact interactions' and as illustrated by Anya's explanation, typography can 'perform' text as serious, exciting, traditional or modern (van Leeuwen, 2006, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.