Written word alive and well, it’s just not in fashion

The written word is ‘the latest thing’, according to Robin Garms (Letters, DW 21 November). That’s good to hear, Garms as I’m a journalist and copywriter.

However, coming from a director of a group going by the name of Tribal DDB London, your tip does invite caution. Your examples of verbal, or ‘real’ communication are also good examples of how we are using and creating visual communication on an unprecedented scale.

The most active text messagers use logos and ‘smileys’, not to mention acronyms and vowel-less abbreviations. Graffiti, thanks to stencilling, is more image-based than ever. E-mail allows us to send high-resolution images instantly, anywhere. ‘Words on clothes’?

OK, but are they words that say something (like Katherine Hamnett’s ‘Say no to Pershing’ T-shirts of 20 years ago) or are they simply typographic decoration? We are all active in generating more non-verbal visual communication, and we are all active in consuming more.

Many of the world’s biggest brands, Shell, Nike, Renault included, have dropped their names altogether from their graphic identities. Global distribution has given us product instructions with no words in at all. I’ve just finished work on a book called World Without Words (to be published by Laurence King in spring 2003, if you’re interested).

It’s a scrapbook, for want of a better word, of the extraordinary array of wordless graphic communication at work in the world, from international roadsigns, aircraft safety cards, brands and soap powder pictograms to comic strip-style health pamphlets and pictorial warnings to future generations at the gates of nuclear waste dumps.

The book isn’t proposing or even predicting a world without words. It simply compiles evidence of our visual literacy, which is advancing with every generation. As a writer who works closely with graphic designers, I find that interesting.

The written word is not dead. I’m just not sure it’s ‘the latest thing’.

Michael Evamy

Design writer

London SE3

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