thoughts on expressive typography [as applied to the "next steps" project] / by tyler galloway

from an email to the "next steps" crew:
one thing i would encourage you all to think about is how to move beyond the expected level of typographic manipulations that designers think of when we use the term "expressive typography". you have encountered this a bit with your first project for emmy -- it is a similar challenge. sometimes designers will refer to this as the "slice and dice" method of expressive type, where it simply becomes a formal exercise of destroying the type in various ways, irrespective of the semantic content of the words.

doing this in a conceptually relevant way first involves knowing the content well, which you all are doing already by reading this stuff multiple times. 

next, it involves making some decisions about the nature of your interpretative task on multiple levels. again you are doing this in examining the larger-scale relationships between the "reported" or "documentary" text, which attempts to be a neutral carrier of information, and your personal interpretations. you looked at the right-side-up/up-side-down option, the left-page/right-page option, and the left-column/right-column option. then we discussed how those may change throughout the longer publication to maintain interest and create variety. but there may be more options that are not yet in play, or hybrids of the above options. the design decisions in the more experimental books that tony has shown you, like "the telephone book" are not arbitrary decisions -- they arise from an understanding of the content and a desire to make the reader experience it in a very particular way. this leads me to my next point...

the interpretative task also occurs on a conceptual level, where you are figuring out what the heck it is you want to say through the act of interpretation. are you simply saying "hey, this idea is really important" or are you saying "this idea connects to this other idea, which is also related to this one over here", or are you saying "look at how jumbled this conversation is" or "let's count the number of times 'gentrification' is actually uttered"? you can certainly perform all of those tasks, but they are all very specific and should arise from the content itself, reflecting your understanding of it. you may be able to do any and all of these things in one book simultaneously, but they would need to be carefully orchestrated so we can follow each trajectory easily. this can be done through space allocation (page numbers always occur in the same area on a page), through color application, through typeface choices and scale, etc, etc.

a couple of the visual moves that you all made that stand out to me are the use of the vellum with the color highlights and the various gray tones of the text. the vellum makes me look at the connections between the straight text and the interpretative text, almost like a map key, so i want to flip it back and forth to find those connections. the layout with the vertical line dividing the two columns of interpretative text made me look for those connections as well, because it seemed to mimic the layout of the straight text. the text grayed out at various levels seemed to indicate vocal levels or levels of recording fidelity, which struck me as a novel thing to comment on. 

whatever it is that you choose to focus on, it is better if it is specific, rather than just saying "well, i'll make some type really big and jumbly to show how people are talking". how can you express ideas about the straight text that people will want to not just look at, but read and experience in a way that is different from reading the straight text? what new ideas, relationships, emphases, commentary can you bring to the original transcription? 

you are starting to do much of this and the part of your conversation that i heard wednesday was good, so basically, just keep pushing hard to go deeper with this exploration, considering the book as a whole. you are doing some very interesting things with tony's book project too, so let those design principles flow freely across the two projects. that not to say just use the same ideas for both, but take the concepts you are learning and apply them appropriately to the unique content areas you are dealing with.