Katherine Gillieson  Design & Writing

Research on graphic language

My research deals with meaning in graphic language, especially in book design and diagrammatic representation. I am interested in the way that illustrations, diagrams and various forms of text interact to convey ideas: the graphic language of “complex texts”. As a case study, I am looking at commercial non-fiction books on science for older children, published in the UK. My research examines how design contributes to meaning in a text, and the nature of graphic genres in this form of publishing.

To this end, I am developing an evaluative framework that will incorporate descriptive models relevant to visual communication (from fields of design, art history, linguistics, etc.) as well as new categories designed specifically for book description. Broadly, the model proposes to describe design characteristics of complex layout in terms of elemental component parts, progressively larger groupings of these (in the form of nested graphic discursive structures), and finally in terms of overarching architectural qualities of the book as a whole. The model also makes a distinction between “context-based” features contingent on socio-cultural factors, the reader's previous knowledge, and the actual conditions of reading, and “rule-based” features, which relate to the systemic or codified aspects of graphic language.

One of the premises of this research is that the book is a product of its environment. The limits of meaning of graphic language are linked to the context in which the book is read, and the corpus for study is composed of individual instances of design and production. See a couple of quick comparative image galleries: the leaf rubbing and potato box children's experiments.

This research draws from theoretical work in the field of communication design, art history, semiotics and linguistics, literary criticism and media studies.