The Role of Visible Language in Building and Critiquing a Canon of Graphic Design History


  • Dori Griffin


Throughout its first half-century of publication, Visible Language has contributed to the construction and deconstruction of a "canon" of graphic or visual communication design history. By including and excluding objects, practices, and makers from its literature, the journal has helped to establish a normative definition of what design history is and how it should function. The historical literature of Visible Language both participates in and, at notable moments, critiques a traditional canon: Eurocentric, male-dominated, artifact-focused, and professionally-oriented. This article views the historical literature of Visible Language through quantitative and qualitative lenses. Quantitatively, the article establishes how much of the journal's literature is historical in content, what explicit purposes this literature serves for the discipline, and what areas of geographical and subject-matter emphasis emerge over time. Qualitatively, the article explores how this historical literature has influenced the conceptualization and practice of graphic or visual communication design history as an activity, how it has contributed to the self-conscious construction of the formal discipline, and how the existing literature has both shaped past developments and suggested as-yet unrealized future trajectories.

Author Biography

Dori Griffin

Dori Griffin is an assistant professor in the School of Art + Design at Ohio University, where she teaches graphic design and design history. To date, her historical research centers around the production contexts and rhetorical meanings of popular visual culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her first book, Mapping Wonderlands, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2013. It focused on how popular cartographic illustration contributed to the creation of place-based identity in Arizona. Presently, she is at work on a visual history of the type specimen poster. Designed for students and teachers in the typography studio, the book emerges from research begun during a 2015 fellowship at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Cary Graphic Arts Collection.






Journal Article